Meet a Data Scientist

As science and technology evolve, so do options for careers in science. I thought it would be interesting to introduce you to some of these newer types of scientists. First up is my colleague, Joe Gambino. Joe started out his career as a mechanical engineer. After applying his skillls at a large company and a small start-up, he went back to school to become a data scientist. 

What is a data scientist?

That doesn't have an easy answer. Data science is still so new that data scientists themselves are still figuring out how to explain what they do. But a general definition that I like is someone who works with data to find answers that we wouldn’t be able to answer without that data. The challenge there tends not to be working with the data, but figuring out what questions to ask.

Specifically, though, much of this is accomplished with coding and math. I need to figure out what math needs to be done and then get the computer to do the math for me. I code in a language called Python, which is the easiest language to get started with. It could easily be taught in middle school!

Why did you decide to become one?

I really wanted a job that would let me code more. I love coding. I also missed doing math. Math was always one of my favorite classes in school, and as an adult, I wasn’t getting to learn new math skills like was in school.

Coding is really fun because code is made up of blocks. Each block is a puzzle, and solving each puzzle is really rewarding. So I get to fill my day with lots of little victories!

Is data science a specialty unto itself or do data scientists typically work within a given discipline?

It can be either. At my job, it’s a set of skills that we apply wherever needed. So the first step is learning about the problem. We start all our projects with research where we go out and talk to the people involved, then we come back and work with data.

What is a typical workday like?

I don’t have one. Our project is in the middle of research right now, so it’s lots of interviewing and then synthesizing all our learnings into a map that we can follow. On the surface though, that just looks like a lot of talking. Today was the first day I actually wrote some code in a few weeks.

What’s cool about being a data scientist?

The coolest part is that data science is not a job where I am expected to already know how to do things. I’m expected to be able to figure out how to do things once we decide what needs to be done.

All my coworkers come from different backgrounds and know lots of different things. It would be impossible for any of us to know everything, but by putting all our heads together we can figure out anything.

Who would make a good data scientist?

Someone who is insatiably curious, likes to experiment, and thinks math is cool!

Learn More

If you're insatiably curious about data science, look for online courses from reputable sites like Coursera and EdX, and also read about the process a pair of educators used to teach data science to 6-9th grade students.