Home / Politics / Policy /  Who is D.J. Patil, the first US chief data scientist?

On Wednesday, the White House named Dhanurjay ‘DJ’ Patil, 45, its first chief data scientist and deputy chief technology officer for data policy. Or simply, its chief data scientist.

Patil graduated from the University of California in San Diego with a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics. In 2001, he completed his PhD in applied mathematics from University of Maryland, College Park. He notably co-authored an article in 2012, with Thomas Davenport in the Harvard Business Review titled “Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century".

In his new role, Patil will “work on the administration’s Precision Medicine Initiative, which focuses on advances in data and healthcare to provide clinicians with new tools, knowledge, and therapies to select which treatments will work best for which patients, while protecting patient privacy," a statement from the White House said.

Interestingly, the term data scientist, coined in 2008, has often been credited to Patil and Jeff Hammerbacher, who back then were leads of data and analytics efforts at LinkedIn and Facebook respectively. At LinkedIn, where he nearly worked for three years, Patil was the head of data products, chief scientist and chief security officer. According to a TechCrunch article, “as LinkedIn’s chief securiity officer, he partnered with Facebook, Google, Twitter, Zynga and others to take on hackers, spammers and fraudsters, and worked at eBay as their director of strategy, analytics and product."

Prior to his appointment, Patil was vice-president of product at RelateIQ, a software enterprise company based in Palo Alto, California. Besides RelateIQ, Patil also was ‘data scientist in residence’ at Greylock Partners, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, known for its investment in successful tech ventures like Facebook and LinkedIn. He has also previously held positions in Skype, PayPal and eBay.

Before joining eBay in July 2006, his first role in the private sector, he briefly worked for the department of defence as a project leader in its threat anticipation project—where he worked to “anticipate emerging threats using computational social science and social networks analysis." He also co-chaired a programmes which included detection of biological weapons in Central Asia. Additionally, Patil, who was an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow, also led efforts to establish the Iraqi Virtual Science Library in 2006. Back then, Patil was a scientist in the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.

The White House statement added, “As a doctoral student and faculty member at the University of Maryland, DJ used open datasets published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to make major improvements in numerical weather forecasting."

His father Suhas Patil was born in Jamshedpur and completed his bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur. He completed his Masters’ degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he also pursued his PhD degree, and later had a five-year stint (1970-1975) as assistant professor. He started Patil Systems in 1981. In 1984, he co-founded Cirrus Logic, a fabless semiconductor company.

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