DJ Patil, credited with coining the term “data scientist,” is regarded as one of the most influential data scientists in the world. Currently serving as a board member at healthcare startup Devoted Health, he has held data leadership roles at eBay, PayPal and LinkedIn. In 2015, he was appointed by President Obama as the very first U.S. Chief Data Scientist, where he was tasked with transforming the U.S. federal government into a data-driven enterprise. His efforts led to the establishment of nearly 40 Chief Data Officer roles across departments and programs.
Joining us this year as our keynote speaker at the Modern Data Stack Conference, DJ recently sat down with us to offer his thoughts on what it takes to be successful in the world of data.
Having worked in academia, government and the private sector, you’ve been at the forefront of building data products. Tell us about some of the toughest challenges you’ve tried to solve with data. How do the problems people try to solve differ? How are constraints different or the same?
The problems across academia, government and the private sector have many similarities. The biggest one being that it is small, stupid problems that prevent people from doing their job. Take for example cleaning of data. We still find an insane amount of time goes into cleaning data. Same goes with getting access to data or the necessary context to understand the data.
Once you get the data and context over to people with the right skills, the rest is easy.
While it may be tempting to assume that appointing a chief data or analytics officer will solve every data problem for business, the reality is that most companies need to assemble a leadership team with a variety of nuanced skills and areas of focus. What is your philosophy on leadership? What separates a good data leader from a great one?
The defining trait of great data scientists is curiosity and a passion for learning. Given how much change continues to take place in the data space, it is essential to keep learning.
My philosophy as a manager has been to really think of my job as to remove speed bumps and hurdles that prevent the team from doing their work. Many times that means helping create alignment and holding space for the bigger questions to be asked about ethics.
How did your experience of being the first Chief Data Scientist of the United States impact what you are pursuing now?
One of the key lessons President Obama taught me is that the data points have names. You have to get to know their names. Understand their stories and how they got to where they are. Only then can you solve the problem. All too often we abstract ourselves from the people in the data sets and when we do that we’ve done a disservice to those people impacted by our decisions about the data.
We’d love to hear a preview of your session at MDSCon and things our attendees can look forward to.
What happens when you get a team of data scientists together to address a national crisis? It’s a surprising amount of impact. I’m going to give a behind the scenes of the first 100 days of the COVID crisis.
Where do you see the future of the data industry going? What absolutely excites you right now?
One of the very exciting things is the number of people who are training to be data scientists. With this kind of infusion of talent, we’re going to see an incredible amount of innovation in tackling new problems. Things like finding new treatments and cures for cancer.
Register with the discount code MDSCON-DJBLOG to get 25 percent off by February 14, 2023! So what are you waiting for? !