DJ Patil is a Silicon Valley pioneer. Patil served critical roles in the success of companies liked LinkedIn and RelateIQ. Patil is even credited with coining the term "Data Scientist", which is now one of the most sought-after roles amongst tech companies.
But Patil turned heads in the Valley when he pursued a non-traditional route a year and a half ago - Patil joined other tech execs in DC and became the Chief Data Scientist at The White House. I recently caught up with Patil to talk a bit about government, data, technology and other subjects in-between.
What is Your Role at The White House?
DJ Patil: I am focused on rules, policies, and leveraging data to make everyone's life better. The US Chief Data Scientist role is a new role that was created by the President. My goal is to responsibly unleash the power of data to benefit all Americans.
By responsibly - and this is a critical word - I mean using data in a way that's safe, secure considers all repercussions.
What was the most surprising stat you learned about in this role?
Patil: There are 11.4 Million Americans who are going to 3,100 local jails. They are staying an average of 23 days - 95% of them will never go to prison. We are cycling an amazing number of people through our jail system.
A lot of these people have mental issues. Why aren't they going to mental health facilities? We created the President's data driven justice initiative to help solve this problem. How do you take criminal justice data and intervene to get people the help they need?
There is a tremendous amount of policy you can drive using data, and this is just one example.
So then how can young people get involved with government?
Patil: When we think of the government, we traditionally think about the Federal Government (NIH, DOJ, etc). We forget that there are states, county, and city that need help. If you want to help, walk into local office and literally ask how you can help.
There are so many amazing options to help these days. If you're looking for something formal - programs like Code for America, or the Presidential Innovation Fellows programs exist. How I started was with the local police department - I wanted to learn more about the 911 system
Any parting wisdom for our audience?
Patil: Government is such a great learning experience for anyone at any stage in their career in technology. It is a phenomenal place for new college graduates to start their careers. You really develop an appreciation for solving problems that can truly affect everyone and not just a small subset of people.
Spending time here really helped me understand what it takes to use data and build technology to benefit everyone.