Inside: Data Science

INSIDE-DATA SCIENCE

In a time where the world is producing more data every day than ever before it’s no wonder that Data Science and the recruitment demand for Data Scientists is at an all time high. My days at Searchability are spent recruiting these professionals for companies right across the UK, but as well as sourcing candidates I like to spend a bit of time catching up with my network to understand what the key trends are in the industry. Last week I was lucky enough to catch up with Mike Weston, Co-Owner of Profusion in London, on what lead him to this field:

Looking at your LinkedIn profile I can see you have pretty vast experience in a number of areas, so how did you get in to Data Science and what excites you about this field?

In a way, Data Science was an accident, in other ways it could almost have been pre-ordained, by my instinctive reflex of continually asking ‘why’. The serendipity piece started from a simple insight: I’d taken on the role of CEO at a company that was essentially a reseller of someone else’s tech, in a commoditising market where strategy was thin on the ground, and highly valued when found by clients. So how did we develop a strategy practice in the business?

Everyone else we competed with fell back on the old ‘best practice’ route – which is the best way to be average (or mediocre) I can think of. I wanted something better… and that meant understanding the underlying data better than anyone else.

The use of data services by businesses has often called to mind the old Andrew Lang quote:

“… (they) use statistics… as a drunken man uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination.”

I’m hugely excited by the idea that data science can find the answers we didn’t necessarily expect… who knows, there may be some truth to be found there!

What is your favourite data science tool?

There are a lot of ways to answer that. Data science wouldn’t be possible without the massive leaps in computing capability over the past few years that brings the ability to rapidly interrogate both structured and unstructured data. I also have deep love for the tools that bring the visualisation of such interrogation to the notice of people who don’t naturally ‘get’ data.

But surely the best tool of all is the human mind: our ability to recognise patterns (and sometimes mis-recognise them!) is the real wonder of these new disciplines.

What are the biggest problems you face when analysing Big Data?

That same ability to find patterns can lead us to see patterns where there are none – false positives, if you like. So we’ve got to always be aware of the risk of reaching conclusions that the data don’t really support. It’s tempting … and dangerous.

The other big issue is that data scientists often have a love of complexity, at the expense of their customers’ comprehension. As an old marketing saw has it, ‘keep it simple, stupid!’

SQL v NoSQL?

It pays to be agnostic: sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes something completely different. We spent a fair bit of time at Profusion comparing query speeds across different database structures and concluded that we needed to operate multiple approaches for the best results.

As with most of our technical clients and candidates we are constantly looking at the future and emerging trends within the industry – do you have any predictions of what’s in store for the future of Data Science?

As the Danish proverb says:

“prediction is a very dangerous business, especially when it involves the future”

What I do believe though is that we’ll start seeing an increase in technology being used to automate a lot of the areas that to date we’ve used DS brainpower to solve… there really does need to be a clear emphasis on reducing the reliance on human resource as much as possible to scale these types of businesses. That doesn’t mean data scientists become redundant though: I strongly feel that this effort will free up new types of work that our DS experts can spend their time on. I couch it as “what was brilliant yesterday just won’t be good enough for tomorrow.” We’ve got to keep innovating.

What’s your greatest achievement in business?

Creating a working environment where a truly diverse group of super-smart, super-curious people have got together to create a really new kind of business, where curiosity, integrity and ‘can-do’ all thrive.

Do you have any regrets?

No. We are where we are and the key question is not about the past, but how you make the future amazing. So, lessons? Yes, of course… but not regrets.

What is your greatest achievement outside of business?

My son who, at 11, is nicer, funnier, more clever and better looking than me.

What is best piece of advice you ever received?

If you can’t explain it in a way a child would understand you, then you don’t really understand it yourself.

As a successful business owner, what do you do to relax?

Holidays with my family are really important. Finding the right balance between somewhere comfortable where I can relax and something new to scratch my constant itch of curiosity is a tough call, but those couple of weeks each year make everything worthwhile.

For the rest of the year, I relax by listening to music and reading.

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring Data Scientist looking to enter the Data Science world, what would it be?

Always remember the context. Remember why you are examining the data and what practical difference your work is going to make in the world.

And finally, if you could take 3 people to a day at the cricket, who would you choose and why?

Funnily enough I’m going to the cricket tonight – the 20/20 at the Oval – with friends and family, so that’s the ‘true’ answer.

Other than that, I’d think of people who’ve got clear ideas and the articulacy to express them, whether I agree with them or not. I might include:

– Neal Stephenson, the author, whose work balances speculation and research wonderfully – his book Snow Crash has a lot to answer for in my decision twenty years ago to dive into the digital economy for my career.

– Sir Richard Hadlee – NZ’s greatest cricketer – to help me understand what’s really going on in the game itself… and to talk about his inspirational career

– Rory Sutherland, vice chairman of Ogilvy – though he may want to ‘punch me in the face’ for drinking rosé, he is nevertheless extremely witty and erudite and never short of an opinion.

 

Interested in exploring new opportunities in Data Science? Get in touch with me today on:

0161 694 7999 / 07880 358 147 / anthony.birley@searchability.co.uk

Anthony Birley (Digital Recruiter, Searchability)

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