How I Became Chief Data Scientist
By: DJ Patil, U.S. Chief Data Scientist
I’m the U.S. Chief Data Scientist — and I got my start in community college.
Yes, I’ve got a Ph.D. in applied mathematics, have been fortunate to help build amazing companies, and have been at the forefront of the data science movement. But the critical first step in that journey started at De Anza Jr. College in Cupertino, California.
I think more Americans should be able to have that opportunity.
Community college gave me three great gifts that I’ll be forever grateful for.
The first is my love for mathematics. All through high school, I was a mediocre math student (and that’s putting it kindly). But then I took a calculus class — and it rocked my world. The lecturer really took the time to explain deep concepts and helped me see the intrinsic beauty. Today, when I explain some of the concepts I learned back then, I still call upon the way it was explained to me all those years ago.
Second, community college taught me how to write. My fellow students in my writing/literature classes came from all different walks of life. These were people I’d never had the chance to interact with, and that made the material come alive in a whole new way.
Poetry had a new dimension. Narrative had a deeper meaning. And most of all, it was hard. Really hard. For those that think community college is easy, this was no easy ride. I spent days working on each essay. Writing, rewriting, getting feedback — until I learned what it was to be proud of something I’d created.
Which leads me to the third and most critical thing community college taught me: confidence. If I’m brutally honest about it, I wasn’t ready to go to college. I wasn’t mature enough and I certainly didn’t have the academic skills. When I look back at the quality of education I received for the price I paid, it’s stunning the value I received. I’m walking proof.
So when I heard the President announce his plan to give everyone access to community college, it only increased my excitement that I might be part of this team. Some of my closest friends all went to community college, as well — and I’ve seen firsthand the impact it’s had on their lives.
I’m fundamentally convinced that if everyone had this chance, we’d throw open the doors for a whole new world of economic improvement, which would benefit all Americans.
P.S. — If you want to learn more about what exactly it is a Chief Data Scientist does, read the memo I wrote to the American people when I took this position.