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From Junior College to Sexiest Job of the 21st Century

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In the October 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review, DJ Patil (2004-05 Executive Branch Fellow at Department of Defense, DoD) argued that data scientists, a term he helped coin to describe technicians who look for patterns and usable discoveries in large sets of data, have the “sexiest job of the 21st century.”

Now that organizations are swimming in information of types and sizes never before imagined, data scientists are in extremely high demand – so high that the White House named Patil its first-ever chief data scientist in February. In this role, he will establish national data-wide policies to bring data sets together, work with agencies to create best practices for data management, and recruit talent in data science for public service. In particular, he will focus on advancing precision medicine; delivering data products that integrate and usefully present information from multiple sources; and, ensuring that privacy and ethical concerns are taken into account in data science policy.

“I started out in junior college and realized I was pretty good at math,” Patil states on his LinkedIn profile. From there, he went on to earn a PhD in applied mathematics at the University of Maryland where he improved numerical weather forecasting by studying open datasets from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

I was educated entirely on public funds, so public service has always been an important thing to me… When the President brought up the idea of having a role like this, it reaffirmed how committed this administration is to having a data driven culture. I couldn’t think of working for anybody that is that uniquely positioned to make that type of transformation. For me, that’s a chance of a lifetime.

DJ Patil, “Meet U.S. Chief Data Scientist Dr. DJ Patil,” The White House

Similar to others he hopes to recruit, Patil most recently comes from Silicon Valley with stints at tech titans including LinkedIn, Skype and eBay. Before that, he was an STPF fellow serving at DoD where he led efforts to bridge computational and social sciences in such areas as social network analysis to help foresee emerging threats. As Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, put it on the White House Blog (February 18, 2015), “DJ joins the White House following an incredible career as a data scientist.”