Being a data scientist for over 30 years has allowed me to experience firsthand the evolution of the career. In the ’80s I worked for a Chicago company called Northwest Industries, which was a leader in business intelligence. Here, I saw an opportunity. With two other colleagues, I started my own company and created a product that combined the brand new technology of computers and the new field of business intelligence.
The product that we created was purchased and used by the A.C. Nielsen Company. Nielsen was one of two corporations that captured large sets of data and published it to the consumer goods industry. This tool increased its data from hundreds of thousands of data points monthly to hundreds of millions, thus accelerating the early movement of what is known today as “big data.” Back then, there was no database system capable of handling this volume of data, so I designed a high-performance, highly compressed data management system for Nielsen that's still in production today. This event is what set my career in the direction of the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry. I was at the forefront of data science, and used this field to start and run my own business, providing solutions to companies that need someone to analyze their data.
Myself and my company, Ironbridge Software, continued to create more applications for Nielsen, as well as provide consulting services for many manufacturers within the CPG industry. Beyond Nielsen, Ironbridge Software and I have built many large databases (i.e., data warehouses). There are several keys to creating and implementing a data warehouse:
- knowing what underlying database system to use and how to use it;
- deeply understanding the content; and
- knowing how each element relates to the other to find connections and solutions.
Analyzing the data and finding solutions is an essential part of being a data scientist.
A data scientist is an amalgamation of many different skills and sets of knowledge. Being able to understand a client’s pain points is essential. Successful data scientists must be able to speak the languages of information technology and business intelligence. Knowing how to collect, analyze and understand data to be able to solve a client’s problem is an essential aspect of being a data scientist.
The role of a data scientist has changed a lot over the years, but the core of the career remains the same — learn the latest technology, comprehend the data and deeply understand the industries within which you work. Data scientists are an essential key to the operation of a business.
Michael Dickenson is the CEO of Ironbridge Software, a provider of business intelligence solutions for CPG and retail companies.