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When I grow up I want to be a … disk whisperer

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Do we really need data scientists to parse our way through all that big data, or will programmers and engineers and admins handle things OK?

In a kind of weird coincidence, the same subject recently found its way into several business and technology trade press pubs -- almost as though it had been deliberately placed there. The topic was “the next big thing” in corporate career paths. It described a degree that you, if you’re unemployed, should be working to obtain to ensure your re-entry into a workplace that has left you behind, or what you should be pressing your children to pursue instead of those silly sheepskins in fields like philosophy, fine arts or history.

What was this high-and-to-the-right profession that was sure to propel its practitioners into the very Valhalla of corporate corner officedom? The authors of the pieces I read defined the career simply and inauspiciously as “data scientist.”

Wow, I thought. The moniker sounded somehow technical and even computer related. It was also very similar to “data management professional,” an idea I’ve been pressing for a long time to underscore the need to wrangle all our unruly bits into a form that will enable them to be protected, preserved and stored more efficiently. I always suspected that someone had been reading those words I had dedicated to defining this professional discipline within the framework of IT skills, knowledge and disciplines. Who cared if they’d captured every

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nuance or syllable of data management professional, at least they were referring to it as “data science.” I was thrilled.

But, when I read on, I saw that a data scientist was defined as someone who could read and interpret the results of big data analytics software. That’s a lot different from what I had in mind -- sort of a subset of a subset of a subset in my Venn diagram of future IT disciplines. In fact, the very idea of a data scientist, thusly described, kind of made me think of parallels in other careers. If you’re old enough, you may remember someone pumping gas into your car when you went to a filling station, operating the elevator and asking you which floor you wanted, or perhaps a human being taking your deposits and cashing your checks with a smile and a lollipop. Data scientists are like that, in my mind.

This was first published in October 2012

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