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Big Data Republic: Meet the Data Scientist: Neil Biehn

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July 18, 2013- 

By Saul Sherry

This week, we pick the brain of Neil Biehn, vice president of science and research at PROS, which provides big data applications to help companies compete in a variety of industries, including technology, consumer goods, and travel.

This year, Biehn had a great article published in Wired, in which he added a few more Vs to the big data equation.

Big Data Republic: What does your day-to-day work involve?

Neil Biehn: As vice president, I only have a few opportunities a month to do some serious heads-down research, which typically includes looking at new ways to use data for pricing and sales effectiveness. Most of my day is spent collaborating with our teams around PROS — whether it’s the science team, sales, product developers, our strategic consultants, and others — discussing challenges and new ideas with customers, prospects, and my coworkers. Data science is a team sport that includes future users, customers, and other scientists. That keeps my work meaningful and relevant.

Big Data Republic: What attributes are important for a data scientist at PROS?

Biehn: We have four important qualities we look for in a data scientist. They need to excel at some or all of the following traits: math/statistics expertise, coding skills, culture fit, and communication/presentation skills. We know we’ve found a great team member when they can communicate in the language of mathematics, develop a program to test and implement new concepts, lose the big ego, and share ideas effectively.

Big Data Republic: What’s your workspace like?

Biehn: Not a pretty sight. Lots of books about statistics, probability, coding, and mathematics, surrounded by stacks of papers, brochures, current patents, gum, and Blow Pops.

Big Data Republic: How did you get started in data science?

Biehn: I received my PhD in operations research from North Carolina State University in 2001. From there, I joined PROS. I was looking for a place that practiced science and prescriptive analytics in meaningful ways before it was cool. Academia was a big turnoff for me. I was more excited about making a big impact. I’ve stayed with PROS because of its culture of innovation and the immense satisfaction I get when our customers see amazing outcomes from data-driven decision making.

Big Data Republic: What do you listen to while you work?

Biehn: When I do heads-down work, I listen to bluegrass and jam bands.

Big Data Republic: What software tools couldn’t you live without?

Biehn: We use lots of tools, including Matlab, R, JMP, and CPLEX, but the most important ones tend to be our own. We are constantly improving our forecasting, model selection, and optimization algorithms, so it’s what we rely on when we’re managing complex challenges.

Big Data Republic: What advice would you give to companies looking to recruit people like you?

Biehn: Be sure your candidate has the right skills and that you keep the focus on the cool, interesting, and innovative work that needs to be done.

Big Data Republic: What’s the best thing about being a data scientist?

Biehn: Bringing new insights to my internal and external customers that produce amazing results.

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