White House taps Silicon Valley’s DJ Patil as data chief

The White House has hired DJ Patil, formerly of LinkedIn, RelateIQ, Skype, PayPal, eBay, Greylock and other Silicon Valley tech firms, as its first chief data scientist and deputy chief technology officer.

The announcement was made Wednesday by another Silicon Valley veteran, Megan Smith, the former Google executive tapped by President Barack Obama last year to be the U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

Patil has had an “incredible career as a data scientist — a term he helped coin — in the public and private sectors, and in academia,” Smith said.

And what will the White House’s chief data scientist do? A 2012 Harvard Business Review article co-written by Patil described the role of data scientist as a “hybrid of data hacker, analyst, communicator, and trusted adviser” and the “sexiest job of the 21th century.” Not everyone is a fan of the term, notably statistics wonk and FiveThirtyEight blogger Nate Silver, who has said “data scientist is a sexed-up term for a statistician.”

Among Patil’s White House tasks will be working on the Precision Medicine Initiative to accelerate biomedical discoveries that Obama revealed in his State of the Union speech last month, according to Smith.

Patil spent more than three years at LinkedIn, helping to shepherd the development of people-connecting products such as InMaps, which he described to the Mercury News in 2011. He spent his last three years at RelateIQ, bought by Salesforce for about $400 million last year.

Before entering the private sector, he worked for the U.S. Department of Defense, using social network analysis and other new tools to predict threats.

Patil described his humble South Bay beginnings during a commencement speech for UC Santa Cruz engineering graduates last year, noting that he “grew up just over the hill,” where he apparently struggled through Cupertino’s Monta Vista High School.

“I had been suspended, kicked out of my math class, and read my rights,” Patil told the graduates. “By the way, that was just in my first six months of high school. Then there were my poor grades and SAT scores that were so dismal they literally put me near the bottom of my high school class.”

Patil eventually enrolled at nearby De Anza College, where he realized he was “pretty good at math,” according to his LinkedIn profile. He later obtained a mathematics degree from UC San Diego and a doctorate in applied mathematics from the University of Maryland College Park.

Above: DJ Patil, at left, shown with his father, Suhas Patil, posted this photo on LinkedIn last year after giving a commencement speech at the UC Santa Cruz Basking School of Engineering.


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