Recently I read an article on Pulse (LinkedIn) that was talking about what to look for when hiring a statistician. This shocked me for two reasons. 1. The role of the statistician is becoming obsolete, giving way to that of the data scientist and the A.I. professional. 2. If you need help for hiring someone in a profession that has been around for over a century, then no article can help you, no matter how well-written the article is.
I have no opinion on the article itself. I’m sure its author meant well and that he did his research prior to writing it. I do have a view on the whole matter though and how oftentimes the market is lagging in its understanding of what data analytics entails. So, let me clarify some things on this, since I've worked in this field for the largest part of my career.
Data analytics involves various sub-fields, such as statistics, business intelligence, data science, and modern A.I.-based predictive analytics. Statistics is a great tool, something that every self-respecting data scientist needs to know (though its usefulness is not limited to data science). However, a statistician is an overly specialized professional who relies on Stats primarily for his analyses. This is like someone who is a professional traveler (say a blogger of sorts specializing in touristic destinations and such), who only uses his car to go to the various countries he visits. Of course driving can get you to many places, depending on where you start from, but this way you miss out on all the islands, as well as Australia. There is nothing wrong with using your car to go to places, but if you want to be a professional traveler, you need to use other modes of transport too (otherwise you’ll never get to Victoria, BC, which is awesome, especially at this time of the year).
So, if you want to get a good story on the various beautiful spots someone can go to in the Hawaii islands, the aforementioned overly specialized professional traveller may not be able to deliver. However, someone who is more versatile and doesn’t mind using a plane once in a while, can get you that story and do so fairly quickly (especially if he is based in the West Coast). That latter professional traveller is the equivallent of a data scientist.
Nowadays, the world needs people who are versatile and comfortable with technology. In the previous example, they need someone who not only drives a car, but also knows how it works and is able to fix it if it doesn’t drive well. The statistician may know how to drive various vehicles (statistical models), but is usually unable to do more than drive. A data scientist, on the other hand, is quite comfortable with all kinds of modes of transport and can even build one from scratch (given enough expertise, of course). So, if you were to hire someone to get that data to talk, who are you going to go with, the overly specialized statistician or the versatile data scientist?
Zacharias Voulgaris, PhD
Passionate data scientist with a foxy approach to technology, particularly related to A.I.