What Data Scientists Really Do, According to 35 Data Scientists

Modern data science emerged in tech, from optimizing Google search rankings and LinkedIn recommendations to influencing the headlines Buzzfeed editors run. But it’s poised to transform all sectors, from retail, telecommunications, and agriculture to health, trucking, and the penal system. Yet the terms “data science” and “data scientist” aren’t always easily understood, and are used to describe a wide range of data-related work.

What, exactly, is it that data scientists do? As the host of the DataCamp podcast DataFramed, I have had the pleasure of speaking with over 30 data scientists across a wide array of industries and academic disciplines. Among other things, I’ve asked them about what their jobs entail.

It’s true that data science is a varied field. The data scientists I’ve interviewed approach our conversations from many angles. They describe a wide range of work, including the massive online experimental frameworks for product development at booking.com and Etsy, the methods Buzzfeed uses to implement a multi-armed bandit solution for headline optimization, and the impact machine learning has on business decisions at Airbnb. That last example came during my conversation with Airbnb data scientist Robert Chang. When Chang was at Twitter, that company was focused on growth. Now that he’s at Airbnb, Chang works on productionized machine-learning models. Data science can be used in a number of different ways, depending not just on the industry but on the business and its goals.

But despite all the variety, a number of themes have emerged from these conversations.

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