If you have “analytical instincts” beyond just programming skills, RTI International just may have a spot for you as the international research firm gears up for expanded efforts to capitalize on “big data.”

RTI International’s driving mission as an organization is “improving the human condition,” and the RTP-based institution has created a new group focused on making better sense of all that information floating around in data centers and clouds.

Center for Statistical and Data Sciences is the name, and crunching numbers in the game.

Dr. Craig Hill, senior vice president of survey, computing and statistical services at RTI, talked with WRALTechWire to offer an inside look in greater detail at the initiative that was disclosed Thursday. Right now, he is heading the effort, but the search is on for a full-time leader. Plus, Dr. Hill says, RTI will be hiring to bolster the group once an analysis is made of skills and capabilities.

Our Q&A:

  • Why did RTI choose to do this now – project demand and opportunity? Or shortcomings noted in project work where RTI saw a need to bring more resources to bear?

Actually, the Center has been in “virtual” form for well over a year; but, now, yes, we are both reacting to, and anticipating, increased needs from our clients for the kind of expertise we offer.

  • Given RTI’s existing experience in big data projects (some 100 alone in the past year), how does this make RTI better?

As you noted (and as we noted), RTI does indeed have a large catalogue of extant experience with Big Data and Data Science.

The formation of the Center, though, allows us to concentrate those resources (hardware, software, and people) in a way that allows more efficient sharing of/collaborating about new tools and techniques, in turn allowing us to apply those more quickly to real-world problems.

  • Will RTI seek to develop its own analytical tools to deal with the growing amounts of big data or will it license software from vendors such as SAS?

RTI makes use of both commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software and tools and in-house developed software and tools; the latter tend to be quite project-specific and are developed when we are unable to find what we need from our partners (which include, of course, the Triangle universities).

  • Will this staff be pulled from other positions or remain part of current work groups?

To staff the Center, we are utilizing existing staff from various parts of the Institute—with augmented training—but also plan to make several hires in specific niches where we identify gaps in what we can/need to provide.

  • Where will the group be housed – in designated space or will this be virtual or a mix of both?

The great majority of the staff is housed in the Gertrude Cox building on RTI’s campus in RTP—but, as is the case with all of our organizational entities, the Center also has staff in our regional offices (Washington, DC, for example) and we anticipate the need to have staff housed internationally as well (eventually).

  • I noted your title for the team is “acting.” When do you expect to hire a permanent director and what will that title be?

I am indeed the Acting Director. Administratively, the Center is part of our Survey, Computing, and Statistical Sciences Unit (which I lead). The job of Center Director has been posted internally and externally, and we expect to make a hire by the end of February.

  • You note that some scientists would be hired. If so, what skillsets are you seeking?

We are currently conducting a gap analysis to determine what skills our clients (current and prospective) are telling us they need.

But, we expect to be looking for people with “analytic instincts” who are familiar with natural language processing, machine learning, and other computational science skills; statisticians who can do modeling/predictive analytics; and statistical computing skills, using languages such as R and Python.

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