It is no secret to those who know me that I have become very interested in the coming together of IT (something that I know about) and Social Science (something that I don’t…. yet).
For those of you that are not familiar with the Social Sciences as a field of expertise, they comprise a number of disciplines (the well known ones being Psychology, Criminology, Politics and Sociology) and their goal is to try to make sense of how society is made, broken and repaired.
Why is this relevant to us in IT? Well, the Harvard Business School and many of the world’s leading technology movers and shakers are very concerned about a shortage of skills in the industry that span technology (“how do we create and manage data?”) with social science (“what does the data mean once we have it ?”).
The topic of Big Data, of course, is the driver of this concern about a skills gap. It’s all very well having access to a lot of data but who is going to tell us what insight that data provides? In my meetings with our customers and partners, I am frequently witnessing an “empty chair” in the room. The business would like to make some kind of strategic decision, it feels like IT should have the data somewhere but it’s the person not sitting in that empty chair that would bring the human (social) element of the equation to the mix.
Only yesterday, I met with a CTO from a prominent central government department who was hugely excited about what combining his huge data repository with social media could provide to his organization in terms of insight. In this particular case, the social sciences of Criminology and Sociology needed to contribute. This CTO was right on the edge of doing something truly remarkable for his organization but did not have the skills to follow through.
So, who are these mystical professionals that can start to solve this problem and fill the skills gap? Well, Harvard call them “Data Scientists” and, from where Harvard are sitting, these individuals will have the sexiest jobs in IT in the coming few years.
Symantec have already recognized the importance of the IT/Social Science blend (as have many other tech. companies). One small example of this might be me. I am a CTO working in a Marketing organization that has sponsored my further education in Social Science. I’ll be posting updates as I embarked with many others in the industry on this new adventure in my career!