What is a Data Scientist?

Each month this year I have been interviewing specialists in their field about what they do and why they do it!  As part of my ongoing series What is A…  I put a call out a couple of months ago looking for people to interview and Martin Bell was one of the many people who offered they time and experience.

I have come across lots of jobs I had never heard of before whilst doing this search and it has really opened my eyes to all the different things you can do in the field of science!  Please read on to learn more from Martin…

What does an Data Scientist do?

A data scientist collects data of all types – images, numbers, or even music – and then cleans the data (take out incorrect data, duplicates, irrelevant data), analyses it using statistics, and then summarises and presents it.

How long have you been a Data Scientist?

Officially, only since 2016!  But I have always been using statistics and analysing data.

Did you want to be one when you were younger or something else?

No – when I was young there wasn’t really any such thing as a data scientist! I left school / started university in 1980, and data science only really became a career around 2012.  In year 11 at school, I wanted to be a French teacher.  In year 12, I wanted to be a doctor.  In year 13, I wanted to study chemistry and I left school and went to study chemical engineering!

Why did you pick this job? Is it a stepping stone to a different role?

It is a very wide subject, and no two days are the same. There is great variation, and the chance to solve complex problems. It isn’t a stepping stone, but the role changes constantly, depending on which problem needs to be solved.

Why would you suggest becoming a Data Scientist as a job for me?

It is so very interesting and varied, and will be, I believe, the career that gives the most value to society in the future. For example, data scientist today are importing X-Ray and mammogram images to look for diseases, tumours, and other anomalies.  This analysis can be compared with other data – DNA analysis of genetics, structured data on lifestyle, and this will eventually lead to earlier diagnosis or health problems.

What qualifications did you need?  Where did you study?

Today, a degree in a science or numerate discipline is needed. In the future it may become a more specialised requirement like a data science degree (these don’t exist yet!) I studied chemical engineering at Surrey University, then did a Masters degree in electronics and computing at Ulster University, and I am now studying for another Masters degree in Computing with Big Data Analytics.

What has been the “best day” at your job?

There have been many great days, but my favorite so far was when I solved a quality problem that had been around for almost two years before I arrived.  I solved it in six weeks, using very rigorous data analysis.

Who would be your hero?  Who would you be excited to meet in your field?

My hero is Leonard Euler. He was probably the most brilliant mathematician ever, despite the fact that he was blind for the last 20 years of his life. I would like most to meet Maria Sklodowska (Marie Curie), one of the greatest scientists who ever lived.

How did you end up working at the Seagate Technology? What do they do?

Seagate make hard disc drives (HDDs). I started working there in 1993, left in January 2018, and rejoined in 2018 again! I applied because they did the type of process engineering that I learnt in my first degree.

What is coming up next for you?

I want to finish my MSc in Big Data, and do research on image analysis and anomaly detection. The advantage with working for a large company like Seagate is that there are opportunities to move between groups, or short term assignments, to work with other data analytics teams.

Please tell us anything else you wish to share that would encourage other kids to look at your field of study? 

I would advise any students to not limit their options: Choose subjects that give you options later on.  This is difficult with A levels I know!  Don’t say about yourself “I am …”, say “I could be …”.  No matter what your situation is now, you can make it better.  Choose a goal, and think about the process to get there.  Then have the belief to follow it through, and always be aware that there will be knocks and bumps along the way!  The only constant is change, and those who do well are those who can adapt quickly.

Some of the most important things I have learned:

  • Learn to listen carefully.
  • Listen to learn, don’t listen to reply!
  • The best innovations don’t come from great answers … they come from asking simple questions.

What a fascinating job to do!  I agree with Martin about Marie Curie as well as I would have loved to have met her too!

No one seems to have a straight path to science so far.  I look forward to bringing more interviews to you.  Come back each month to learn more.  Please subscribe to my newsletter!

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