No longer a field best suited for pure abstraction, data science is all around us today. From major industries to academia, the demand for this expertise continues to grow. An inherently multi-disciplinary field, data science can best be summed up as the process of extracting knowledge. It’s all about fine-tuning our tools to mine, store, process, and synthesize data more effectively.

American computer scientist and A.M. Turing Award winner Jim Gray spoke of data science as being the “fourth paradigm”–after empirical, theoretical, and computational modes of thought. For Gray, information technology has changed everything. Data science, together with machine learning and distributed computing, remain at the forefront of our current fourth industrial revolution. And, as time goes on, it will only become more ubiquitous. 

So, what is data science all about anyway? And who are the data scientists to follow online for expertise on this fast-growing field? This is our list of the leading thinkers and doers who are most responsible for popularizing the field today. Without them, the tech giants that dominate our digital world—Google, Amazon, and Facebook, to name a few—would be nowhere near the progress they’ve made thus far in AI and machine learning. 

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Yann LeCun

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Yann LeCun is a French computer scientist who heads the AI department at Facebook. In 2018, he was the co-recipient of the 2018 ACM A. M. Turing Award for his innovations in the field of deep learning. Considered to be one of the pioneers in the field, he is the founding director of the NYU Center for Data Science. He takes a multi-disciplinary approach, specializing in machine learning, computer vision, robots, and computational nanoscience. 

Sebastian Thrun

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Sebastian Thrun made a name for himself in the world of data science by founding Google X, a research project intended to investigate far-off technologies and possibilities. It was Google X that allowed for the company’s first foray into autonomous vehicles, Google Glass, and more. Currently, Thrun works as a researcher at Stanford University and is the founder of Udacity. 

Andrew Ng

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Andrew Ng is among the most prolific specialists in AI and machine learning. He co-founded and led the Google Brain project and was the vice president and chief scientist at Baidu, leading its AI group. He is also a pioneer in education, co-founding the popular Coursera platform. He is commonly cited as one of the major catalysts for the recent revolution in the field of deep learning. 

Dean Abbott

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Dean Abbot is the co-founder of SmarterHQ, a firm specializing in personalized AI, where he is the chief data scientist. He has authored many books on data science, including “Applied Predictive Analytics: Principles and Techniques for the Professional Data Analyst.” If you are interested in reading more, his blog has an archive of much of his work. 

Fei-Fei Li

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A professor of computer science at Stanford University, Fei-Fei Li is currently the co-director of the university’s Human-Centered AI Institute. She was previously the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (2013 – 2018). She is considered to be a pioneer in the fields of AI, machine learning, computer vision, and cognitive neuroscience. One of her greatest achievements is her deep involvement in ImageNet, a virtual database that sought to create visual object recognition software. Part of her effort in this project helped to spearhead the deep learning revolution. (Check out more influential women in tech to follow here.)

Hilary Mason

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Hilary Mason is one of the leading voices in the data industry and has worked with many organizations to better integrate data science into traditional sectors of the economy. She has formerly held the position of chief scientist at Bit.ly. However, she has recently has focused her efforts on her AI startup, Fast Forward Labs. She is also the co-founder of HackNY, which specializes in educating future computer scientists and engineers. 

Chris Surdak

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Chris Surdack is a self-proclaimed “big data guy.” A writer and literal rocket scientist, he is an expert in technology strategy and (not surprisingly) big data. He currently operates his own consulting business and writes books, but he previously worked at companies like HP, Dell, and Citibank. His focus has always been on how to best leverage the potential of the digital economy. 

Wes McKinney

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Wes McKinney is the founder of the data library Pandas, intended for the Python coding language. The author of books on his library and on Python more broadly, McKinney is a staple at many data conferences around the globe. His twitter may be hard to follow if you’re not a coding whiz, but his insight is significant. 

Bernard Marr

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Bernard Marr is an international bestselling author, popular keynote speaker, and futurist. He serves as an advisor to various governments and companies on how they can better incorporate AI and data science into their operations. His end goal is for the world to use data more intelligently. 

Hadley Wickham

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You may not know this, but Hadley Wickham’s work is everywhere. Many of the packages created by Wickham are commonly used in the statistical language R. Three of the most-downloaded R-related packages in the world are created by him. In short, he’s a specialist when it comes to R—he literally wrote the book on it, “R for Data Science. When he’s not fine-tuning his statistical models, he’s busy expanding on his ideas at various big data conferences. 

Kirk Borne

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Kirk Borne is a data scientist who is considered to be one of the most influential people in the space today. Recently called the “#1 digital influencer”  for data science by the IPFC web agency, he specializes in AI and big data. Speaking at conferences around the world, he is also well-versed in the field of astroinformatics. He has previously worked at NASA and with the Hubble Space Telescope data team. 

Marck Vaisman

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Marck Vaisman is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and George Washington University, where he teaches graduate-level courses on big data. He also serves as a technical solutions professional at Microsoft. As a data science practitioner, he assists customers with the Azure Cloud platform for data science, advanced analytics, and artificial intelligence workloads. He is an R programmer and advocate, having started Statistical Programming DC in 2010. He also co-founded Data Community DC, which promotes data science and analytics in the region.  

Doug Cutting

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Doug Cutting founded Adobe Lucene, a search indexer, and Nutch, a spider or crawler, both essential components of any open-source general search platform. Both projects boosted the capabilities of general open-source software such as Linux and MySQL into the vertical domain of search. A Stanford University graduate, Cutting has worked on Xerox PARC’s Scatter/Gather algorithm and computational stylistics. He was also one of the chief designers of the search engine Excite. Before founding Lucene, he was the primary author of Apple’s V-Twin text search framework. 

Peter Skomoroch

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Peter Skomoroch was a principal research scientist at LinkedIn, where he built the “skills” feature along with other data-driven products. He founded Data Wrangling, a data mining and predictive analytics consultancy service. Before LinkedIn, he was the director of advanced analytics at Juice Analytics, a senior research engineer at AOL Search, and a researcher at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. Skomoroch received bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics from Brandeis University.

Monica Rogati

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Monica Rogati is an equity partner at Data Collective (DCVC) and scientific adviser to CrowdFlower. Previously, she served as vice president of data of Jawbone from 2013 to 2015. She also was LinkedIn’s senior data scientist, where she spent five years building the initial version of LinkedIn’s job matching system and the first machine learning model for LinkedIn’s “People You May Know” feature. In 2014, Fortune listed her as a “Big Data All-Star” while Fast Company named her among the “100 Most Creative People in Business.” She has a  Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University.

DJ Patil

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Dhanurjay “DJ” Patil served as the chief data scientist of the United States from 2015 to 2017. He famously coined the modern version of the term “data scientist” with Jeff Hammerbacher (Facebook’s early data science lead) in 2008. Patil currently is the head of technology for Devoted Health. He previously served as the vice president of product at RelateIQ (which was acquired by Salesforce), as chief product officer of Color Labs, and as head of data products and chief scientist of LinkedIn. While serving as the country’s first chief data scientist, he established new healthcare programs, including the Precision Medicine Initiative and the Cancer Moonshot, as well as new criminal justice reforms, including the Data-Driven Justice and Police Data Initiatives. He was awarded the Deptartment of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service in 2016.

Lukas Biewald

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Lukas Biewald is the founder of Weights and Biases, a company that creates developer tools for machine learning. He also co-founded Figure Eight Inc. (formerly CrowdFlower), an Internet company that collects training data for machine learning, back in 2007. Before Figure Eight, Biewald was a senior scientist and manager at Powerset, a natural language search technology company that was acquired by Microsoft. From 2005 to 2006, Biewald led the search relevance team for Yahoo! Japan, focusing on statistical machine learning approaches to improve web search ranking functions for international markets. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics as well as a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford University. In 2010, he won the Netexplorateur Prize for creating the GiveWork iPhone app, which allows users to perform small tasks that assist refugees and people in developing countries. He has also been included in Inc. Magazine’s list of the Top 30 Entrepreneurs Under 30.

Alon Halevy

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Alon Yitzchack Halevy is an Israeli-American computer scientist who is prominent in the field of data integration. From 2005 to 2015, he was a research scientist at Google, where he worked on Google Fusion Tables. After this, he became the head of the Recruit Institute of Technology. He has also served as professor of computer science at the University of Washington. He was a Sloan Fellow and received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) in 2000. In 2006, he won the VLDB Endowment 10-Year Award. He is the founder of two technology companies, Nimble Technology (now Actuate Corporation) and Transformic Inc. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1993.

John Myles White

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John Myles White is currently a data scientist at Facebook and a developer working with the Julia programming language. He specializes in machine learning and statistics (especially R). Aside from being a full-time developer, he’s also written various books, including “Machine Learning for Hackers” and “Bandit Algorithms for Website Optimization.”

Kira Radinsky

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Kira Radinsky is the director of data science at eBay and chief scientist of eBay Israel. She was the CTO of SalesPredict, which has since been acquired by eBay. Her passion, above all else, is predictive data mining. She’s a rising star in the data science community and has been recognized in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. 

Kenneth Cukier

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Kenneth Cukier works as the data specialist for The Economist. He’s also a prolific author, writing the bestselling book “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. He’s commonly on speaking tours discussing the future of AI and data. “Big data is better data,” he announced at his much-publicized TED talk. 

Nando de Freitas

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Nando de Freitas is the principal scientist at DeepMind, a British AI company that creates neural networks and was acquired by Google in 2014. He is currently also a professor of computer science at the University of Oxford. He specializes in machine learning with a focus on neural networks, Bayesian inference, and deep learning. He has been the recipient of multiple awards for his work in machine learning. 

Ilya Sutskever

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Ilya Sutskever is currently the chief scientist at OpenAI, the AI startup founded by Elon Musk. He specializes in accounting for risks in AI and how to best tackle them. Throughout his career, Sutskever has made notable contributions to deep learning. He is also the co-inventor of AlexNet, a neural network. He obtained his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Toronto. In 2015, he was named in MIT Technology Reviews’ 35 Innovators Under 35. 

Ben Lorica

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Ben Lorica is the chief data scientist at O’Reilly Media. He is also the program director for the annual Artificial Intelligence Conference as well as the Strata Data Conference. His expertise is in business intelligence, data mining, and machine learning. He is quite active on Twitter and a prolific writer; his writings are posted regularly on his blog on O’Reilly Media. 

Jake Porway

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Jake Porway is the founder and executive director of DataKing, an interdisciplinary team of coders and statisticians with a common goal of bringing AI and data science to the masses. Porway recently worked as a data scientist for the research and development lab at The New York Times. He received his bachelor’s degree in computer science from Columbia University and his master’s and Ph.D. in statistics from UCLA. 

Now that you know which data scientists to follow on Twitter, want even more information about the field? Take a look at our guide, or check out our data science bootcamp, which guarantees that you’ll be hired within six months or you’ll get your tuition back!

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