I was quite surprised to learn that “data scientist is the sexiest job title in the 21th century”. In the 1990s I believe computer science was considered somewhat sexy, but that’s definitely not the case with mathematics, which is just too old, too dusty and too scary in the eyes of the majority.
I have been a mathematician and computer scientist for more than a decade, and when I tell people that I work with software for pension companies (which is a very big and highly regulated industry in Denmark), I can tell from their look that there is absolutely nothing sexy about that. The work I do is in the disciplines computer science and actuarial science (a branch of mathematics concerned with pension and insurance) and also requires understanding of pension administration business and government and tax regulations for the area. George Roumeliotis, the head of a data science team at Intuit in Silicon Valley who holds a doctorate in astrophysics, reveals what to look for when hiring a data scientist: “Roumeliotis seeks both a skill set—a solid foundation in math, statistics, probability, and computer science—and certain habits of mind. He wants people with a feel for business issues and empathy for customers.”
I see lots of similarities to my own job, but still – no sex appeal.
“I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians,” said Hal Varian, chief economist at Google. But “statistician” is either not precise enough or too old fashioned for Jeff Hammerbacher and D.J.Patil who claim to have coined the title in 2008 according to the article describing "data scientist as the sexiest job of the 21th century."
What makes a job title sexy? Is it a high salary, or the fact that it is hard to achieve (like doing an ironman is hard to achieve for most people and therefore admirable, but its not likely to make you rich), or is it just the novelty of the title or perhaps a combination of these.
What Will Be The Next Sexy Job Title?
Programming was considered much harder in the 1990s , but tools have been developed to make it more mainstream and accessible to a larger number of people. The same will happen to data science when it becomes more settled and mainstream. "We need to expose this data to a larger group of knowledge workers," said Scott Gnau, President, Teradata Data Lab. "There are hundreds of thousands ... who understand traditional tools. If we can demystify big data and make their existing tools work in this, we can increase the supply chain. ... We really don't have a choice."
Eventually a new bleeding edge in hard science (e.g. mathematics, physics, computer science, statistics) will emerge and a new most sexy title follow, and the skill-set needed to fulfill those new needs will again be some subset of skills within the hard sciences, perhaps combined with communication or social skills. So in essence, if you want to prepare for a sexy job you should be amongst the best in one of the traditional hard sciences, and probably not be too narrow, since the next bleeding edge most likely will be interdisciplinary. What do you think will be the next sexy job title?
Thomas H. Davenport and D.J. Patil suggest that “’sexy’ means having rare qualities that are much in demand”. People who can master a hard science like mathematics, statistics, computer science, or physics have always been rare and much in demand. So if you are one of these people then you already are sexy, but apparently a new title with all the buzz and fuzz that follows, helps the general public realize your great sex appeal. So in my opinion, if you are interested in the skill-set and jobs within the field of data science you should embrace the new, sexy title and use it to your advantage.