Dogs, Cats + Data Scientists

Technology   |   Alan Jacobson   |   Apr 28, 2020

Our world may be in the middle of a global pandemic, but they say laughter is the best medicine. If you could use a little levity while sheltering in place and working from home, read on to find out why I think dogs would make better data scientists than cats.

Well, the cat’s out of the bag.

The data is in, and it’s now clearer than ever: If animals could be data scientists, dogs would be better data scientists than cats.

Okay, maybe my hypothesis is more subjective than objective, and the data is more observational than scientific, however, when you explore four essential skills data scientists need to excel, you’ll see that our canine companions exemplify these qualities in spades.

Curiosity Killed The Cat

Data scientists, much like our canine friends, are incredibly curious and sometimes insatiably so. We see this in data scientists who are constantly tinkering and exploring to find better solutions to problems, always asking “why,” “what if,” and “how,” and also in dogs who sniff everything in sight. With over 300 million scent receptors, compared to only 6 million in humans, dogs use smells to make sense of the world around them and take in information. Dogs, just like data scientists, are non-stop explorers, which is why a simple walk down the block can take upwards of 10 minutes. Dogs and data scientists are both highly inquisitive, which causes them to seek (or sniff out) information in their own respective ways.

While we can’t deny the fact that felines are curious creatures, especially with a phrase as catchy as “curiosity killed the cat,” here’s a fact to chew on — dogs have twice the number of neurons (500 million) in their cerebral cortex compared to cats (250 million), which indicates they could be nearly twice as smart. To add some perspective, data scientists (or humans in general) have about one billion neurons.

Can You Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?

Whether it’s the number of programming languages data scientists know or the broad domains they’ve built expertise in, the best can learn new things. Dogs, like the greatest data scientists, have the ability to acquire a wide skill set. Dogs can be trained to search and rescue, hunt, herd sheep, protect property, detect explosives, save people from drowning, and — believe it or not — even skydive. The ability and willingness to learn new things are what separates the great from the good, both in data scientists and dogs.

Cats can be trained, but it’s seemingly more difficult to do so. This may be due to their lineage. Cats descended from solitary hunters, whereas dogs descended from pack-hunting wolves. It’s in a dog’s nature to be part of the pack by doing a task, whereas cats are more independent.

Not a Dog-Eat-Dog World

Dogs like running with the pack more than cannibalism. Data science is a social sport, and the best data scientists can connect both ideas and people. It’s an incredibly collaborative field where multiple teams need to work together towards a solution. Dogs, just like data scientists, benefit from a network. Data scientists work alongside domain experts, marketing and sales teams, and other data scientists to drive the best outcomes. Similarly, dogs have always collaborated with their packs for safety, security, and survival.

Cats, on the other hand, don’t have strong ties to groups and are extremely self-reliant. In fact, their ancestors, the wildcats, viewed other cats as rivals. Cats seem to lack the collaborative skills to form large, friendly groups or alliances, a skill that can help data scientists succeed.

Like a Dog With a Bone

The problems that data scientists work on are challenging. They need tenacity and endurance to find solutions, a feat that can involve doing very mundane tasks, such as finding, cleansing, and transforming data. Dogs, like data scientists, have proven they can endure hardships. Just think of the lead sled dogs, Togo and Balto, who helped save Nome, a small Alaskan town, from diphtheria in the winter of 1925.

Togo and Balto are two of the dogs, among more than 100, who relayed parts of a long, dangerous, and arduous trek across more than 600 miles of the Iditarod Trail to deliver medicine that saved thousands of lives. Ships and planes couldn’t break through the icy winter conditions, but the dog sled teams could. Data scientists, just like dogs, need spirit and tenacity to keep going even in the face of the toughest challenges.

Barking up the Wrong Tree?

Now don’t get me wrong, I like cats, but my hypothesis is that dogs are more like data scientists than cats.

So, what’s your final verdict? Who resembles data scientists the most — dogs, cats, or even another animal?