Thornton May: Stalking the elusive data scientist

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The newest fantastic animal to inhabit the human imagination -- joining a long list that includes the dragon, Gorgon, Loch Ness monster, sphinx, unicorn and yeti -- is the data scientist. This mythical beastie has come to dominate the dreams of many of the otherwise sane people who run organizations. They see themselves locked in an epic struggle, coming up against a horde of data but armed with inadequate skills. As this pitched battle rages, the cry is heard: "Data scientists will save us!"

Feeding this vision are troubadours with PowerPoint presentations. They show up on the big data rubber-chicken circuit -- that surfeit of conferences ginned up to take advantage of the rapidly growing interest in high-end analytics -- to sing a narrative with three verses: There is ever more data, goes the first. There is potentially huge value in that expanding data set, runs the second. There is a rich and rapidly expanding tool set to assist in extracting value from that data, concludes the third. These are sung in a round over and over and over, but the air finishes on a very different note, with the sage on the stage saying something to this effect:

"And oh, by the way, you need really bright analytic geniuses/rocket scientists/quants/data scientists, who are very rare and very expensive. Despite this, you should buy our tools and get started anyway."

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