What is a Data Scientist?

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

This article from the SAS Institute does a great job explaining what a data scientist is. Check it out if you’re curious. The story’s lede is a great tl;dr if you want a quick answer: “Data scientists are a new breed of analytical data expert who have the technical skills to solve complex problems – and the curiosity to explore what problems need to be solved.”

My ability to really analyze data began when I took statistics at West Valley College, one of our state’s 116 community colleges (Welcome Madera!). I had never been a math person before, but there was something about statistics that really excited me.

After I finished my undergraduate education at UCLA, my first job was as a merchandise planning analyst at Mervyn’s where I worked in the women's swimwear department. I forecasted sales and built models to align inventory with sales potential. That determined how many swimsuits to buy and ultimately how many to send to our stores in Burbank, Montebello, Sun Valley, Westchester and to stores in other communities across the Western United States.

My ability to analyze data developed further in graduate school at Penn where I was educated in quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. It was at Penn that I realized data could be used as tool both for good and for bad. I did research on data-driven discrimination and surveillance and published the results of my work in a peer reviewed journal article I co-authored with my thesis advisor – he himself a community college graduate. The master’s thesis I wrote under his guidance explored how news outlets used data to frame stories about public education and student success.

A career in television made sense for someone like myself, since television has always been a data-driven industry. The types of data used in the industry and our sophistication using it has expanded over time, but data has always been central to the business planning process. I would not have been able to achieve success in my career without my data skills. But I knew there was more to learn, so I decided to enroll in an online distance learning program at Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies. At Northwestern, I developed the skills required to become a true data scientist.

I love being able to apply what I’ve learned in the classroom and in my decades of work experience to solve complex problems. I think there is a great opportunity to apply industry knowledge and outside expertise to solve the problems facing the LACCD today.


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