One of the first questions you will get if you say you are interested in data science is this: “What is data science, how is it different from statistics”, or:  “What is data science, how is it different from computer science?” Some people will begin a discussion about what sort of stuff is or isn’t data; this is somehow similar to discussing whether chemicals are natural or not - usually not very interesting.

So, if you are going to get out there it’s nice to have an answer prepared.

Let me start with drawing a parallel to another, rather new academic discipline: Computer Science. At University of Copenhagen, the Department of Computer Science was created in 1970 as an offshoot of the Institute for Mathematical Sciences. The first professor at DIKU was Peter Naur., who was astronomer. Surely there were jobs in “computer science” in Denmark before 1970, and those pre-computer scientist might well have got the question: “What is computer science, how is it different from mathematics?”…

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.