DJ Patil, 41
U.S. Chief Data Scientist, U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy
Hometown: Cupertino, CA
How did you get here?
My love for math stems largely from being a failure at it. I really was “bad” at math in high school, but I was lucky enough that I had access to a fantastic community college walking distance from my house. Instead of going to a traditional college right away, I went to DeAnza Jr. College where I took a basic calculus class (largely because my girlfriend was in it) and fell in love with the ideas. From then on I was hooked. I took every math and science class I could and eventually received my Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in Chaos Theory.
While doing research at the University of Maryland, I realized that the math and data ideas we were working on could be translated to national security problems and joined the Department of Defense. There I was able to think deeply about how to use data in novel ways and do my first stint in public service. From there, I moved to Silicon Valley and was able to put those ideas into practice at companies like eBay, LinkedIn, and many of the other companies I’ve been able to help grow. It’s also where we coined the term “data scientist” and saw the start of the data revolution. When I look back at it, data science really got its start in the Federal Government and we were able to take those ideas and put them into practice to help the consumer internet industry take off.
The opportunity to come back to public service has always been a dream of mine. And being able to come back and help on how we can unleash the power of data to improve every American’s life is the dream of a life time.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with some of the greatest people in their fields. Jim Yorke who named the field of Chaos Theory, Ed Ott, who is one of the greatest published physicists ever, and Eugenia Kalnay, who was the first female Ph.D. student in meteorology at MIT and then led the weather forecasting units for the National Weather Service, were all advisors for my doctorate. In industry, I’ve been able to work with Reid Hoffman the founder of LinkedIn, David Sze, one of the greatest investors in Silicon Valley, and Nigel Morris, the founder of Capital One. They’ve all had an incredible impact on me. But most of all, it’s been the phenomenal teammates I’ve had. They’re the ones who have taught me the most. Everything from how to think about a problem in a novel way to better ways to communicate. It’s why I like to say that data science is a team sport.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during the Obama administration?
As the President says, “…really important things happen in the fourth quarter.” Just wait, we’re far from done
Can you describe your time working for the Obama administration in 10 words?
Compassion for every human and unbridled optimism in our future.
Complete the sentence: “When I’m not working, I…”
When I’m not working, I’m working, but just as background process, but you'll find me on the ultimate field.