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Cummings issues recruitment call for data scientists to reshape Whitehall

Government’s most senior adviser appeals to data scientists to step forward to refashion how the UK state works

Dominic Cummings, chief special adviser to prime minister Boris Johnson, has called for data scientists and software developers to join an effort to fundamentally reshape how the UK state works.

One applicant will be selected to be his apprentice, Cummings said in a long post on his own blog. “We want to hire an unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds to work in Downing Street with the best officials, some as spads [special advisers] and perhaps some as officials,” he wrote.

Cummings argued that the “confluence” of Brexit, an increased appetite for risk in Whitehall itself, and “a new government with a significant majority and little need to worry about short-term unpopularity” represents an opportunity to “make rapid progress with long-term problems” in how the state functions.

He expressed a strong preference for STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] graduates over the humanities graduates who are often seen to dominate the upper echelons of the civil service, Yes, Minister-style. And he put a strong accent on the need to recruit people with knowledge of AI (artificial intelligence) and data science.

And not just standard data scientists, said Cummings, but “unusual mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists, data scientists”.

He added: “You must have exceptional academic qualifications from one of the world’s best universities or have done something that demonstrates equivalent (or greater) talents and skills.”

Successful candidates – who should apply directly to Cummings – will have, he said, PhDs or MScs in maths or physics; outstanding mathematical skills; experience of using analytical language, for example Python, SQL, R; and familiarity with data tools and technologies such as Postgres, Scikit Learn and Neo4j.

Cummings said he is also looking for “unusual software developers”, as well as data scientists, and added: “One of you will be a sort of personal assistant to me for a year – this will involve a mix of very interesting work and lots of uninteresting trivia that makes my life easier, which you won’t enjoy. You will not have weekday date nights, you will sacrifice many weekends – frankly, it will be hard having a boy/girlfriend at all. It will be exhausting but interesting, and if you cut it, you will be involved in things at the age of 21 that most people never see.

“I don’t want confident public school bluffers. I want people who are much brighter than me who can work in an extreme environment. If you play office politics, you will be discovered and immediately binned.”

Cummings graduated from Exeter College, Oxford with a degree in ancient and modern history in 1994, but has developed a keen interest in mathematics in recent years, as his blog makes evident.

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