Hiring a data scientist

Posted to Statistics  |  Tags:  |  Nathan Yau

Thomas H. Davenport and D.J. Patil give the rundown on what a data scientist is, what to look for and how to hire them. It’s an article in Harvard Business Review, so it’s geared towards managers, and I felt like I was reading a horoscope at times, but there are some interesting tidbits in there.

Data scientists don’t do well on a short leash. They should have the freedom to experiment and explore possibilities. That said, they need close relationships with the rest of the business. The most important ties for them to forge are with executives in charge of products and services rather than with people overseeing business functions. As the story of Jonathan Goldman illustrates, their greatest opportunity to add value is not in creating reports or presentations for senior executives but in innovating with customer-facing products and processes.

I still call myself a statistician. The main difference between data scientist and statistician seems to be programming skills, but if you’re doing statistics without code, I’m not sure what you’re doing (other than theory).

Update: This recent panel from DataGotham also discusses the data scientist hiring process. [Thanks, Drew]


  • I like the idea of adding scientist to the end of titles, you can make anything sound more prestigious. I think I might change my title to Cartoon Scientist. If you have enough experience you can also begin the title with Senior.

    It’s kind of fun to switch out “Data scientists” in the following statement.

    “Cartoon scientists don’t do well on a short leash. They should have the freedom to experiment and explore possibilities.”

    “Toddlers don’t do well on a short leash. They should have the freedom to experiment and explore possibilities.”

  • Jesse Kuhnert September 19, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    I work with a group of statisticians with myself being a dev “groupie” and intermittent shared experiment peer that interacts with group and feel confident in saying that statistician == data scientist and anyone claiming otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or is being dishonest. ;)

    Weirdly enough after working with these guys I think statisticians rock / are awesome / make me incredibly professionally happy to feed off of and interact with. So great, opens whole new doors you neer knew existed no matter how great a developer/other prof you may think you are.

  • Computerworld posted a story today, Big Data, Big Jobs? on what employers will be looking for when hiring for big data related jobs. http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9231445/Big_data_big_jobs_


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