Four Types of Data Scientists

The information here comes from the O’Reilly paper “Analyzing the Analyzers” by Harris, Murphy, and Vaisman, 2013.

There are 40 pages of good analysis here so this will be only the highest level summary. In short, they conclude there are four types of Data Scientists differentiated not so much by the breadth of knowledge, which is similar, but their depth in specific areas and how each type prefers to interact with data science problems.

  1. Data Businesspeople
  2. Data Creatives
  3. Data Developers
  4. Data Researchers

By evaluating 22 specific skills and multi-part self-identification statements they cluster and generalize according to these descriptions.

Data Businesspeople are those that are most focused on the organization and how data projects yield profit. They were most likely to rate themselves highly as leaders and entrepreneurs, and the most likely to have reported managing an employee. They were also quite likely to have done contract or consulting work, and a substantial proportion have started a business. Although they were the least likely to have an advanced degree among respondents, they were the most likely to have an MBA. But Data Businesspeople definitely have technical skills and were particularly likely to have undergraduate Engineering degrees. And they work with real data — about 90% report at least occasionally working on gigabyte-scale problems.

Data Creatives. Data scientists can often tackle the entire soup-to-nuts analytics process on their own: from extracting data, to integrating and layering it, to performing statistical or other advanced analyses, to creating compelling visualizations and interpretations, to building tools to make the analysis scalable and broadly applicable. We think of Data Creatives as the broadest of data scientists, those who excel at applying a wide range of tools and technologies to a problem, or creating innovative prototypes at hackathons — the quintessential Jack of All Trades. They have substantial academic experience with about three-quarters having taught classes and presented papers. Common undergraduate degrees were in areas like Economics and Statistics. Relatively few Data Creatives have a PhD. As the group most likely to identify as a Hacker they also had the deepest Open Source experience with about half contributing to OSS projects and about half working on Open Data projects.

Data Developer. We think of Data Developers as people focused on the technical problem of managing data — how to get it, store it, and learn from it. Our Data Developers tended to rate themselves fairly highly as Scientists, although not as highly as Data Researchers did. This makes sense particularly for those closely integrated with the Machine Learning and related academic communities. Data Developers are clearly writing code in their day-to-day work. About half have Computer Science or Computer Engineering degrees. More Data Developers land in the Machine Learning / Big Data skills group than other types of data scientist.

Data Researchers. One of the interesting career paths that leads to a title like “data scientist” starts with academic research in the physical or social sciences, or in statistics. Many organizations have realized the value of deep academic training in the use of data to understand complex processes, even if their business domains may be quite different from classic scientific fields. The majority of respondents whose top Skills Group was Statistics ended up in this category. Nearly 75% of Data Researchers have published in peer-reviewed journals and over half have a PhD.


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