Tech Industry Insiders Want to Standardize Data Scientists

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A few companies are creating a Data Science Standards Board that Booz Allen Hamilton thinks could help government hire better.

A group of businesses is trying to standardize the definition of “data scientist” across various industries, including government.

General Assembly, a coding boot camp, is working with companies including Booz Allen Hamilton, Spotify and Nielsen to create assessments for data science skills that employers could use to benchmark their potential hires.

The new Data Science Standards Board aims to “help employers quantify and understand the skill sets that matter” and also clarify to job-seekers exactly what employers are looking for when they mention data science in their job descriptions, General Assembly’s CEO and Co-founder Jake Schwartz said in a statement.

In the federal government, widespread tech talent shortages have attracted the attention of lawmakers such as Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who has proposed a cybersecurity-focused National Guard, populated by private-sector professionals who devote 10 days a quarter to public tech projects.

Before she left the Office of Personnel Management last year, then-acting Director Beth Cobert pointed out that definitions for tech-themed jobs, especially cybersecurity-related positions, often aren't standardized. She proposed creating formal classifications for terms like “cyber warrior" or "cyber defender" corresponding to specific skill sets.

Mark Jacobsohn, a senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton and part of the Data Science Standards Board, said the system is designed to speed the hiring of data scientists in the public and private sectors alike.

The majority of Booz Allen Hamilton’s business is federal, and the consulting firm has helped some agencies, including the Defense Department, write up specific labor category descriptions for technology projects and outline specific coding capabilities for data scientist positions.

“The government has gotten much more robust in what they ask for, and how they ask,” he said, but the company is still meeting with federal chief data officers to understand what skill sets and capabilities are common across departments.

He said Booz Allen Hamilton has received several informal requests from federal agencies that want a better system for assessing data scientists’ specific skills.