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March 1, 2012

Data Entrepreneurship

I have been thinking a lot about what a data scientist really is and how we, as academic and business communities, can help more people develop important data-driven skill sets. But every time I use the term “data scientist” to describe what I’m seeking something doesn’t feel right. Probably because “scientist” to me implies something being done in a lab, not in the external world. Perhaps it’s because when I think of data scientists I am thinking about people who pursue Ph.Ds and focus on research, while what I’m really talking about is something entirely different. What then?

The Data Entrepreneur. This is related but different field of study, one that is laser-focused on application versus research. It is a broad-based interdisciplinary program that integrates topics such as software development, data architecture, algorithmic development, database management, machine learning, statistics, optimization, user experience and web design, with classes in entrepreneurship, finance, management and leadership, marketing, data hacking (taught by people from start-ups) and extensive field work. Essentially, taking classic informatics that blend CS/Engineering and Math/Stats and melding it with Entrepreneurship, business foundations and workplace experience. These people will be equipped to both solve hard applied data problems and start companies. By having the knowledge of how to manipulate data and the empathy and experience of leveraging data for the benefit of the enterprise (social or commercial), these are people who will have the skills and perspectives to change the world.

This is a work in progress, but as data sits teetering between opportunity and crisis we need people who can shift the scales and transform data into real assets. And the conclusion I’ve come to is my attempt to re-define the Data Scientist is the wrong approach. I’m talking about a whole new class of people: the Data Entrepreneurs.

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