Chapter 1Introduction: Becoming a Unicorn

“Data science” is a very popular term these days, and it gets applied to so many things that its meaning has become very vague. So I'd like to start this book by giving you the definition that I use. I've found that this one gets right to the heart of what sets it apart from other disciplines. Here goes:

Data science means doing analytics work that, for one reason or another, requires a substantial amount of software engineering skills.

Sometimes, the final deliverable is the kind of thing a statistician or business analyst might provide, but achieving that goal demands software skills that your typical analyst simply doesn't have. For example, a dataset might be so large that you need to use distributed computing to analyze it or so convoluted in its format that many lines of code are required to parse it. In many cases, data scientists also have to write big chunks of production software that implement their analytics ideas in real time. In practice, there are usually other differences as well. For example, data scientists usually have to extract features from raw data, which means that they tackle very open-ended problems such as how to quantify the “spamminess” of an e-mail.

It's very hard to find people who can construct good statistical models, hack quality software, and relate this all in a meaningful way to business problems. It's a lot of hats to wear! These individuals are so rare that recruiters often call them “unicorns.” ...

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