Cathy and Cosma both feel that knowing specific programming languages is not essential. To quote Cathy, "you shouldn’t obsess over something small like whether they already know SQL." To put it politely, I reject this statement. To apply to a data science job without learning the five key SQL statements is a fool's errand. Simply put, I'd never hire such a person. To come to an interview and draw a blank trying to explain "left join" is a sign of (a) not smart enough or (b) not wanting the job enough or (c) not having recently done any data processing, or some combination of the above. If the job candidate is a fresh college grad, I'd be sympathetic. If he/she has been in the industry, you won't be called back. (One not-disclosed detail in the Cosma-Cathy dialogue is what level of hire they are talking about.)
Why do I insist that all (experienced) hires demonstrate a minimum competence in programming skills? It's not because I think smart people can't pick up SQL. The data science job is so much more than coding -- you need to learn the data structure, what the data mean, the business, the people, the processes, the systems, etc. You really don't want to spend your first few months sitting at your desk learning new programming languages.
Both Cathy and Cosma also agree that basic statistical concepts are easily taught or acquired. Many studies have disproven this point, starting with the Kahneman-Tversky work. ..
Terrific post by Kaiser Fung (of Junk Charts and Numbers Rule Your World) - not least for thrill of discovery that Cosma Shalizi is, er, aggressively discussing...