In today’s Advanced Analytic landscape we often hear about the mythical Data Scientist that can cure all our problems and unearth value hidden deep in our data. He/she needs to know Math and Statistics, be able to Hack, and have deep Domain knowledge about a given problem. Drew Conway famously put together a Venn Diagram to show you what I mean. Yet, I always found this Venn Diagram a bit lacking for the softer skills. Sure you need to know all those hard skills, but what about having the ability to effectively communicate your results? You have yet another language to learn young (or old) Data Scientist! It’s public speaking!
It appears that recruiters are searching for those communcation skills as well:
However, the difference between a good Data Scientist and a GREAT Data Scientist is often not found in their technical ability or their amazing mathematical genius. Data Science exists to provide a service to business and business is run by people. If Data Scientists cannot comfortably communicate with their non-expert colleagues and bosses, then their effectiveness is greatly reduced. They need to communicate easily with people, to understand, to interpret, to translate.
One of the best things I ever did for my career was to take public speaking classes. Before those classes I used to only speak to other engineers. When I typically started off a conversation with them I would say, “I used a c value of 0.95 for that section of impervious cover.” They’d nod their heads and understand what I said perfectly. A non-technical person would be scratching their heads wondering if I was speaking in a strange language.
Over time I learned that it’s the non-technical person that was in charge of budgets and/or making business decisions. If they have no idea what you’re doing or you can’t persuade them that your project is critical, they’ll allocate time and resources elsewhere. It is imperative that you communicate effectively to non-technical people as to persuade them for that important win, budget, monies, or decision.
So what’s the solution here? Is it making pretty images or large displays? Is it writing at a level for non-technical readers, or is it being able to speak clearly? The answer is all three.
Achieving proficiency in all three is completely feasible but it does require some time on your part. My suggestion for being able to speak clearly is to join a public speaking group such as Toastmasters, they’re very lowcost and you get a high return on your time/investment.
Yet Another Language to Learn
If you want to learn how to write well I’d suggest getting a copy of The Elements of Style. My first copy was a gift from a dear friend and it’s made a difference in my writing.
Finally, if you want to learn how to make high impact visualizations, I’d suggest visiting an Art Museum or at least look on the Internet for Zen and Wabi Sabi types of Art. I’m a big fan of the minimalist, but powerful visualizations, where less is always more.
Tl;dr: Hey Data Scientist, take some Toastmasters courses!