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Get Away from Your Screen: Creating a New Data Science Culture

Thomas Redman’s article title says it all: “The Best Data Scientists Get Out and Talk to People.”

Redman believes great data scientists “know they must understand the larger context, the real problems and opportunities, how decisions makers decide, and how their predictions will be used. Great data scientists know the only way to acquire this smorgasbord of information is to go get it.”

Let’s think of it as creating a data science culture.
There’s a big world out there, and when you want to do “detective” data science work, you need to understand the world firsthand. Here are some guidelines for instilling a new data science culture:

  • Take a hard look, in person.
  • Talk to people.
  • Put yourself in another environment.
  • Listen closely.
  • Understand the full context.
  • Do all this in your day-in, day-out work.

This is not something you do once. It’s just what you do every day or at least every week. How do you do this?

  • Visit an operations center.
  • Listen to phone calls.
  • Meet with consumer advocates.
  • Attend a focus group or a live online session.
  • Search social media.
  • Find “Help” chat recordings or transcripts.
  • Talk with clients on site.

The data scientist can take a cue from writers. As Susan Sontag says, “I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list.” Of course, you must know the data inside out. And you need to understand the business context around and for the data. And you need a wide active network of collaborators for input and feedback. Yet, beyond the workplace, if you’re not out there in the world, you’re missing something.

You have to talk to people. You must experience.

Get out there: Enjoy. Learn. Repeat.