Why the Data Scientist is the New Developer
Technology is advancing faster than we ever could have imagined. Artificial intelligence (AI), which was once the topic of science fiction movies, is now becoming mainstream. Our thermostats know when to turn the heat up or down, depending on our behavior and the weather outside. Our cars can drive themselves. And countries around the world are using robots for everything from selling coffee in Japan to patrolling shopping malls in Silicon Valley. But as AI gains traction in the real world, technology professionals need to rethink the skill sets of the people they hire to move the business forward. It’s no longer sufficient to focus talent searches on people with old-school tech skills. In fact, I believe that there is a new breed of developers that combine tech-savviness with strong data analysis skills: the data scientist. And that’s who you should hire.
Think about it. If we use self-driving cars as an example, the developers must not only program the car to stop and go. They also need to teach the self-driving car how to drive by feeding it data so it knows which direction to go, when to stop, how to park itself without hitting another car, and more. And once the car is on the road, it’s a data-enabled device, collecting information literally at every turn. It’s critical that the developer working on the car can analyze the data, understand what it means, and apply it to continuously improve the quality and capabilities of the vehicle. It’s a complicated task, with many levels of complexity, as explained in this article. So, while traditional programming skills are important, in this example, having the skills to interpret and analyze the data is critical to everyone’s safety.
Finding top talent that blends the skills of traditional developers with the savviness of a data scientist isn’t easy. But it’s critical to invest in people with these skills, especially as new technologies such as AI continue to grow. But how do you find these people, and how do you know if they have the skills you need?
When interviewing candidates, I look for candidates who possess the following three traits:
- Data Savviness: if you only take away one thing from this blog, take away this: candidates must understand the data and its underlying data structures. It’s clear that data is changing and the need for data is only going to grow. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to hire someone with data analysis and scripting expertise. To find out if your candidate has the right level of data literacy, ask about the importance of ACID compliance, and in which cases it does – or does not – matter.
- Business Bend: when hiring a developer, technology skills are no longer enough. Top candidates should also possess the business skills that underlie any successful technology project: communication, change management, and collaboration. The lines between IT, data, and the business are blurring, and the best candidates will have the skills to navigate this change, communicate it clearly, and collaborate to ensure project success. I like to ask candidates about a great data insight they’ve uncovered, how they helped translate that into business change, and where it worked and did not work.
- Strategy-First Mindset: this one should go without saying. It’s no longer enough for your employees to execute a project well. They must also be able to think strategically when it comes to applying data to the project at hand. The best candidates will know how to uncover the hidden insights in data that drive innovation and give your business competitive edge. A good question to ask is how they go about data prioritization.
While there are job seekers that possess these traits, it’s also clear that there is a need for further training and education. In fact, some (myself included), predict that educational opportunities will explode in 2017. I certainly hope they do. Because what companies need today are employees with that unique blend of tech, business, and data know-how, with a strong emphasis on the data. Collibra University is a great place to sharpen your data skills, and our latest e-book, How to Become a Data Governance Expert, will give you tips on how to master your organizations for both development and beyond.
How are you aligning your hiring plans to the growing need for data-savvy people on your team?
Stan is the co-founder and CTO at Collibra and leads the global product organization. He’s responsible for product management and UX, Collibra’s Center of Excellence, and Collibra University, Collibra’s online learning platform. Prior to founding the company he was a senior researcher at the Vrije Universiteit of Brussels, a leading semantic research center in Europe, performing application-oriented research in semantics.