Noah Lorang argues that data scientists mostly just do arithmetic:

The dirty little secret of the ongoing “data science” boom is that most of what people talk about as being data science isn’t what businesses actually need. Businesses need accurate and actionable information to help them make decisions about how they spend their time and resources. There is a very small subset of business problems that are best solved by machine learning; most of them just need good data and an understanding of what it means that is best gained using simple methods.

This rings true for me in terms of the amount of time I spend doing various tasks during a typical day. I would estimate that 90-95% of my time is spent doing basic shell scripting, writing/modifying IDL code to do basic file and array manipulations, writing IDL GUI applications, etc. But the 5-10% of the other time is still important! The mundane tasks would be pointless without choosing the correct optimization technique and verifying it works. It might be that improving the performance of some section of code makes the difference between keeping up with incoming data or not and that might mean using some “hardcore” technique such as writing the section in C, using a GPU, or making use of some multicore technology.

via FlowingData