DJ Patil, At The Forefront Of America’s Data

We discuss America's first Chief Data Scientist


DJ Patil should be a name familiar to anybody working in Big Data.

At 46, he has achieved an almost unprecedented amount in the field and is arguably the biggest name currently working with Data.

He was recently appointed as the Chief Data Scientist at the United States Office of Science and Technology Policy, working directly with the White House. He is therefore, the first US Chief Data Scientist.

This essentially puts him at the top of the tree in terms of data science jobs, something that arguably would simply not exist if it wasn’t for him. Essentially he threw the touchdown pass and caught it too.

This is because aside from his thousands of other achievements, he is credited with the invention of the data scientist role, or at least with coining what is now the most popular job title in data.

All of this began from a humble beginning where he was thrown out of his high school math class because he was being disruptive and only took calculus at college because his girlfriend was doing the same course.

So, like in his high school math class, he has continued to disrupt ever since, in increasingly powerful organizations.

This has included being the chief data scientist at Linkedin and helping Facebook create their data science programmes. This is in keeping with his knowledge of chaos theory, which he aptly applied using a hinged iron bar during an interview with Fast Company. He studied under Jim Yorke at the University of Maryland, who was once the key protagonists in the Chaos Theory, which only helped DJ Patil in his later work.

He has worked across huge public companies, government departments and startups on everything from the weather to how to use data effectively when you have billions of users. This huge experience has meant that he is uniquely qualified for his current role.

Aside from his qualifications for this vitally important government role, he has also been one of the main reasons for the spread of Big Data.

In addition to his coining of the phrase ‘data scientist’ he is also responsible (alongside Tom Davenport) with writing the now infamous ‘Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century’ article in the October 2012 HBR. This is arguably, the most important article in terms of popularizing Big Data and analytics. With hundreds of citations, mentions and discussions surrounding the article, it has become a key watershed when discussing the popularization of the data movement.

All this has come from somebody who freely admits that when he was at high school he disliked math and didn’t begin his love of it until college, when he checked out every high school math book in the library. It is testament that somebody can do such a huge u-turn and arguably become the most important person in the future of data policy in the US.

His appointment comes at a decisive time for data as it enters an important period after the NSA revelations of the last few years. DJ Patil will be the face, voice and reason that drives these changes. From what we know about him, he is the best man for the job. 


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