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DJ Patil and The Evolution of the Chief Data Scientist

DJ Patil is arguably the most well-known data scientist in the world. He’s the Chief Data Scientist for the White House, he built the first data science team at LinkedIn, and along with Jeff Hammerbacher, is credited by Forbes as coining the term data scientist.

So, How does Patil's journey compare to those of the current data scientists? RJMetrics set out to find these answers  by using the data we collected about data scientists in our latest benchmark study.

The educational backgrounds of data scientists

It may come as a surprise to learn that Patil’s journey started at De Anza Junior College. In his article, How I Became Chief Data Scientist, he writes about how one of the most valuable things he took away from community college is his love for mathematics.

All through high school, I was a mediocre math student (and that’s putting it kindly). But then I took a calculus class—and it rocked my world. The lecturer really took the time to explain deep concepts and helped me see the intrinsic beauty. Today, when I explain some of the concepts I learned back then, I still call upon the way it was explained to me all those years ago.

Patil’s background in mathematics is fairly common among data scientists with graduate degrees, ranking in the top five:


But beyond a pure Mathematics degree, it’s interesting to note that nine out of the top ten backgrounds require a foundation in mathematical intuition, and the list as a whole is very STEM-centric.

Data science degrees: Bachelors, Masters, PhD

While Patil’s education started in a community college, he went on to get a BA in Mathematics from University of California, San Diego., then a PhD in Applied Mathematics from the University of Maryland. His trajectory is common of many data scientists. In our research, we found over 79% of data scientists earn a graduate degree.


However, When we looked at the ratio of PhDs to Master’s degrees broken out by levels of experience, we found that the ratio of PhDs to Master’s degrees for Chief Data Scientists is actually less than that of Senior Data Scientists.


Our hypothesis is that while PhDs aren’t the most popular degree among Chief Data Scientists today, they will be very soon. Highly-educated Senior Data Scientists will advance into the role, and Patil's path will become much more common for Junior Data Scientists looking to advance their career.

You can read the full post here, which includes predictions about how the increasingly common PhD path will affect the data science landscape.

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