Well, this is awkward...
Two days before this appeared in the SMH, Tom O had popped a link up on FB about job ads that require people to not only be good at C++, a team player as well as work independently, be confident with running SQL queries AND presenting to the C-Suite, be an advanced statistician, willing to "roll your sleeves up and get dirty", and have advanced PowerPoint (!!!) skills etc etc. I commented that I also hate that they want that person to be a ROCKSTAR!
Which they don't really want at all...really, do they? It reads like they don't know actually what they want. So on Saturday morning I get a text from a friend telling me I was a sexy data geek in the paper that day. Which was pretty exciting actually! Ironic that I was moaning about these unicorn rockstars, and then pictured sitting on a deckchair on Alumni Green under a headline "Data Scientists the 'rock stars' of business", but still pretty cool. It's a good feeling calling up your grandparents and telling them that you are in the paper, as well as showing the article to your son. I'm not bitching here about being in the paper.
But still...Sexy? Rockstars?
The language used to make a career desireable, or covetable is curious. Data Science has been declared as the sexy career of 2015 (but what happened to poor statisticians, and it being declared the sexy career back in 2011? Are they sexy anymore?)
These labels intend to fuse "cool", freedom and unpredictability onto a career and the person that has that career. They are meant to shift our perceptions about what that career entails, and what the job would be like if you had it. How you will be received in social situations. ("Wow, you're a data scientist...How sexy!"). It's very likely that these labels are supposed to make that career seem powerful via the salary that you can command.
I prefer the discussion instead about career momentum and why it's happening. And anyone can work in any career or role and make it sexy via passion, curiosity, and playfulness. As the head of the Connected Intelligence Centre, Simon Buckingham Shum said on twitter...
I get the sentiment behind saying a career is sexy, and people want "rock stars" (which they don't...they really don't) but the transient flavour-of-the-month-vibe worries me, and I also worry it means employers don't really know what data science is about.
Is it because these careers now offer a lot of money? That people see companies that are truly driven by data, like Facebook, Google, Amazon, or Netflix, making truck loads of cash by understanding buyer behaviour and really locking into the power that is afforded by real-time analytics...etc etc...
So sexiness becomes linked to the salary that you command, rather than your skills? I am not sure. All I know is that the terms "sexy career" or "data rock star" make me squirm a bit. I looked up the meaning of "sexy" to see if it could shed any light (as when you look at a word a million times, meaning can evaporate), and beside the truly sexy definitions, the third is about being "excitingly appealing; glamorous". But when Simon says "sensemaking is sexy", I get a different feeling about that statement than glamour - it feels deeper and more about attraction. If I think about it in context of my own life, I recall falling in love with my husband. It was because of his words, his thinking and his passion. His outlook is wide and varied. He thinks deeply about things. He is curious and well-read. If he doesn't know about something, he finds out. He's critical and enthusiastic. He doesn't accept the status quo, and loathes uncritical, declarative statements like "Privacy/Painting/the internet/ a nine-to-five career/ [insert stuff] is Dead". He isn't static, but constantly expanding.
Which brings me back to the idea of an attractive career. "Sexy" feels too shiny. Too faddish. But if you start to talk to me about a career that is engaging, that requires critical thought and creativity, has momentum...that's sexy.