By the end of the decade 50 billion devices will be emitting information nonstop. Data scientists will help manage it all.
FORTUNE — A decade from now the smart techies who decided to become app developers may wish they had taken an applied-mathematics class or two. The coming deluge of data (more on that in a moment) will create demand for a new kind of computer scientist — a gig that’s one part mathematician, one part product-development guru, and one part detective.
D.J. Patil is a pioneer in the field of data science, a new discipline that aims to organize and make sense of all the data generated by machines. It’s a challenge that will grow exponentially over the next decade.
Today there are some 400 million devices connected to the Internet, mostly phones and computers. By 2020 some 50 billion devices, from cars to appliances, will be talking to one another. And companies will need teams of data scientists like Patil to sort through everything from internal inventory metrics to customer tweets. The role is so important that Greylock Partners has hired Patil to serve as a “data scientist in residence” to help its portfolio companies mine their data for patterns or stats that will make them more efficient or smarter than their competitors.
Patil understands the business value of data science — he was LinkedIn’s (LNKD) chief scientist for three years — but he brings a mathematician’s logic to the job. His mantra? “If you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it.”
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This article is from the January 16, 2012 issue of Fortune.