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A Day in the Life of a CIA Data Scientist

This is part of our series profiling CIA officers working in occupations not commonly associated with the Agency. We talk with them about their daily challenges and rewards, as well as some exceptional moments.

Four years ago, Cameron, a data scientist, left his job in the private sector to embark on a career at the CIA.

In his previous job, Cameron analyzed large sets of disparate data to help companies make smart, profitable decisions.  Once he arrived at the CIA, he quickly found that his skills clearly transferred to the intelligence profession, where his work for the Directorate of Science & Technology now informs actions and decisions that protect our nation.

On one level, Cameron sees similarities between his former and current jobs. He says, “In both positions, I use algorithms, systems, math, computers, and people to rapidly find actionable intelligence in large, complicated data sets.”

But some parts of the jobs diverge. He says, “There’s a tactical aspect to working at the CIA that didn’t exist in my previous jobs.  Now I’m looking at data around specific events or threats. I’m trying to glean insights that can prevent something harmful from happening, or I’m trying to find out why or how something did happen.”

Cameron points to his colleagues as one of the reasons he finds working at the CIA so rewarding. “The people here are dedicated, hard working, reliable, and industrious,” he says. “They’re even more results-oriented than people I worked with in the private industry because the stakes are much higher.”

Cameron has found that those high stakes also make working at the CIA challenging. He has learned to meet the demands of a job where the consequences of failure can be serious.

Cameron acknowledges that data scientists fetch higher salaries in the private sector, but he looks at the value of his work through a different prism now. He says, “On any given day, the rewards of working here are immeasurable. I’ve seen the intelligence I provided play out in world events. That’s mind-blowing. We’re working to save the lives of our family, friends and neighbors. You can’t put a value on that.”

Posted: May 09, 2013 09:21 AM
Last Updated: May 09, 2013 09:22 AM