What Your Data Scientist Wishes You Knew

By Daniel Wesley

Big data: It’s the topic on everyone’s lips. Even high schoolers are clamoring to get into the data science field -- they realize jobs in the data sector are expected to grow more than sevenfold, totaling nearly 3 million positions by 2020.

The demand for data experts is high, but will entrepreneurs be able to leverage relationships with their data scientists to create successful businesses? It’s a true concern: Leaders aren’t always great at communicating, and without a strong bond with their data scientists, entrepreneurs and small business leaders could find themselves unable to foster the trust necessary to reach their goals.

In other words, you could find yourself with lots of data and no way to effectively relate to the person on your team who can manage it. It’s like finding an antique treasure chest without the key. Sure, you could forcefully pry it open, but that risks irreparable damage. It’s better to seek smooth access than court destruction and dismay.

Why Math, Science and Tech Pros Perplex

If you’ve spent half an hour with data scientists, you know they’re smarter than smart. These are folks who look at a set of random data points and see connections. They’re multifaceted and insightful. Still, they can be a frustrating lot from the viewpoint of a gregarious, sales-minded founder.

The disconnect happens on numerous levels, starting with personality types. Data scientists tend to be introverts; rather than gab incessantly, they listen and respond selectively. They need to recharge in environments where they can process life alone. This flies in the face of extroverted creative types whose missions include copious amounts of chitchat. It also makes it tough to develop relational speaking points because data scientists don’t seek out the watercooler.

Ironically, I’m an introvert myself, but I recognize the need to balance my tendencies with a cadre of extroverted friends and colleagues. However, many data scientists are more reticent to seek out outgoing co-workers. And while most busy entrepreneurs might be able to give up a Friday happy hour once a month, data scientists aren’t likely to join them for cocktails.

On the flip side of the communication conundrum, data scientists don’t necessarily find the leaders of their companies any easier to comprehend. Those in the data field want to see passion flowing downward, creating a positive and energetic cultural environment that resonates with personnel. This energy motivates data workers and illustrates that they’re working for a higher purpose.

Data scientists also want to feel the businesses they work for are led by confident, charismatic individuals who value people, not sheeple. An owner who is narrow-minded or closed to outside ideas will destroy the golden goose. Good leaders realize innovation -- fostered by new ways of thinking about ideas and products -- enables data teams to communicate new perspectives, so they push when warranted and step back when necessary.

Both leaders and data scientists want to have trust. They just have to build that trust through specific relationship-building strategies.

The Intersection Between Data Folks and Founders

Want to strengthen your bond with your data scientist? The following suggestions work to create great and lasting relationships between data scientists and leaders. I should know: They’re based on my relationship with a data guru-turned-president, Rob Hunter. He and I might be night and day in terms of personalities, but that’s only ripened the connection we have.

1. Get personal.

Immediately after hiring a data scientist, set up a time to share lunch or drinks. Focus on your one-on-one conversation and actively listen to your new employee. This opens the lines of communication organically. Don’t be aggressive; let the conversation flow from one topic to another and try to discover commonalities.

Rob and I did this and just clicked. He saw that I thought like a fast-moving, triage-trained doctor because of my medical background, and I recognized that he was more of a stabilizer. Best of all, we bonded while talking about our families, despite our kids’ age differences -- mine were young, while his were ready for college. To this day, we still exchange small talk comfortably as friends.

2. Understand their motivators.

What drives your data scientist? As a leader, it’s up to you to find out. The more you know, the more you can encourage their growth. Inquire about past projects and ask questions about how they like to operate. Determine what tools they need for efficiency and effectiveness, but don’t expect an introvert to give up this information without gentle prompting.

I learned early that Rob’s motivations dovetailed with mine: overcoming the challenges of achieving business success. Being competitive types, we both like to win. We also both care deeply about providing for our families. We might have been in different places in our lives and had dissimilar career paths, but we could motivate each other because we understood our personal drivers.

3. Strive for relatable communication.

Data scientists prefer hearing about tangible objectives, not pie-in-the-sky dreams. When you speak with data workers, be sure to explain what you want to see. As your relationship develops, figure out how to communicate your goals -- and your data scientist’s results -- in a way you can both understand.

For me, everything relates to sports. Luckily, Rob’s no stranger to the lingo, so when he wanted to get a point across to me, he used sports analogies. We stayed on the same page, often using references like being a quarterback or winning the Super Bowl.

Every business leader is destined to work with data scientists. Not sure you’re prepared to overcome the challenges inherent in developing relationships with talented data workers? Put a plan together and work at it. You’ll see results and sow the seeds of sincere camaraderie.


Daniel Wesley founded Quote.com to provide consumers with auto insurance quotes from leading carriers.