Engineer’s Corner: What Does a Data Scientist Do?

data scientistBy Jim Girouard

Over the next three years, there will be a three-fold increase in global data, bringing us to a whopping 40,000 exabytes by 2020. That’s 10 to the 18th power, or one billion gigabytes. Can you even picture that much of anything?

What’s causing this explosion of data? All of us. Sensors in an array of new technology, all part of the Internet of Things, are throwing tons more data into the ether every day: our computers, smart phones, and tablets, even our cars, thermostats, and refrigerators. In this brave new world of interconnected devices and more information about people and products than ever before, who will rise to the challenge of tackling Big Data?

Answer: The data scientist.

It’s no wonder companies are clamoring for these specialists right now: a hiring trend that shows no sign of slowing. Data science is so much more than data analysis; it goes beyond the numbers into the realm of making executive, data-driven decisions. Take, for example, a company in the middle of a merger.

Everyone’s first thought is the human-resources piece when two companies combine, and it’s an important consideration. But what about each organization’s information systems, which have no idea how to talk to one another? What about the doubling of suppliers, shippers, and customers?
These are questions that need quick and effective solutions, and this is where a data scientist shines. Unlike data analysts, they’re trained in distributed database query systems that synergize all formats of data between companies. And from there, they can help the new, merged company make decisions based on accurate information they have collected, curated, analyzed, and synthesized into realistic projections for the future.

Data scientists have a foot in every box: math, computer science, and business. Because they don’t work in a silo and understand the work of computer scientists, analysts, and others, they also know what questions to ask and how to make these different links in the chain more efficient. This holistic background makes them valuable at all stages of the data-interpretation process, especially when it comes to reporting out to executives.

Data scientists are prepared to do more than just show off the numbers. They can break down the data into a meaningful story that’s easy for a boss from any field to understand and act upon. They know how to build a business case in the language of executives and defend their analysis in order to enact change. And thanks to their exposure to the business edge of industry, data scientists are aware of the moving parts that make up a company’s ecosystem, from leadership to the customer.

If you aren’t optimizing the data your company collects with the help of a data scientist, you could be missing out on valuable insights and opportunities. The equation is simple: knowledge = power = prosperity.

About the Author

jim g pic

Jim Girouard is a Senior Project Development Manager at WPI. Prior to joining WPI, Jim has over 30 years of experience in manufacturing engineering and managerial roles in the high technology sector, most recently as Vice President for Manufacturing, Engineering and Test at THAT Corporation, a local analog semiconductor company. Self-described as a life-long learner, Jim holds a BS in Civil Engineering, an MBA, a graduate certificate in Power Systems and a Process Improvement Certificate, all from WPI.


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