DATA SCIENCE ARTICLES > What the Hell is a “Fake Data Scientist”?

With data scientist jobs in high demand and featuring high salaries, it’s not surprising that a lot of quantitatively-minded people are suddenly rebranding themselves as data scientists. The fact that there’s so much confusion about what a data scientist actually only adds to the temptation. This actually doesn’t bother me, but something else does…

Not surprisingly, there’s been a backlash and the term fake data scientist seems to be gaining traction. A web search for the term produces numerous articles promising various tests on how to detect these secret statistical swindlers before you hire or otherwise place your trust in them. Can they explain to you what regularization is and why it’s useful? Do they know how a recommendation engine works? Are they familiar with Edward Tufte’s concept of chart junk? Ask a few questions like this and you’ll succeed at separating the wheat from the chaff…or so they claim.

As noted data scientist Erin Shellman points out in one of her blog posts, there is a very wide range of topics that is fair game for a data science interview. As though that doesn’t make interviewing for a data science position difficult enough, this concern about accidentally hiring a fake data scientist can result in some unpleasant experiences. Last night, I had the opportunity to listen to a recent graduate of the Data Science Bootcamp offered by Metis tell a story about how he was asked questions on matrix factorization. When he was unable to answer correctly, the interviewer told him he should consider a different career. No doubt the interviewer was proud of the fact that he was able to catch a fake data scientist in the act of trying to join their team. The young man was picked up by Facebook shortly afterward.

Someone on Quora.com asked for examples of questions to detect fake data scientists and in my reply I claim that the term is so ill-defined that it doesn’t really make sense. I also point out that there are no fake biologists or fake physicists so why do people talk about fake data scientists? Apparently, my post struck a nerve because it has hundreds of “upvotes”. To see what I wrote and the replies to my comments, check here to check out my post.

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