What is a Data Scientist?

what is a data scientist

The role of the data scientist directly stems from the field of data science, with the latter term having existed for over 30 years.

Initially, the term was used by Peter Naur in 1960 as a substitute for computer science. Naur, a Danish computer science pioneer and Turing award winner, took another step forward in taking ‘data science’ mainstream with the 1974 publication of Concise Survey of Computer Methods.

The term gathered traction in the IT and academic worlds, reaching a head in 2012 when the Harvard Business Review published Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century. In the article, DJ Patil claimed to have coined the term ‘data scientist’ in 2008 with Jeff Hammerbacher. Patil, the former Chief Data Scientist of the United States Office of Science and Technology Policy, claims that they came up with the term after having to define their jobs on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Although the term data scientist is a stalwart of conferences, studies and reports, debate still rages over the distinction between statisticians and data scientists.

Many still argue that there is no distention at all, arguing that ‘data scientist’ is lacking in any clear definition.

However, those backing data scientists as clearly separate from statisticians argue that the former has to have much more business acumen than the latter and is an evolution from business analytics.

Looking at the differences between the two roles, data scientists are often required to produce answers in days rather than months and present those answers in dashboards. Statisticians, on the other hand, present results in papers or reports.



Technology Term:

Data Scientist

Standard Definition Exists?

A person employed to analyse and interpret complex digital data, such as the usage statistics of a website, especially in order to assist a business in its decision-making.

Year first used/coined:


Attributed to:

Peter Naur

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