The attitude among data scientists in the 1960s was one of scrappiness. Before the advent of technologies like the Internet, the theory was that technology would accelerate normal people’s lives. That was enough to save businesses from failing. But that was the beginning of what everyone thought was the Golden Age of tech innovation. When ideas like Google launched, such as the “Internet,” managers and engineers scoffed and chastised the vision of technology that was changing their lives.

“If you think about all the good stuff that’s been done already, when you see all these innovations going on at the micro level, it makes you wonder about what’s ahead,” said Brian Fulp, a former senior manager at Google who runs Fulp Analytics, a predictive modeling startup. “We are at the beginning of this really disruptive disruption. I think if we don’t take advantage of it we will lose control of our environment.”

After the 1962 Amazon.com announcement, the data scientists started to make their presence felt. Instead of judging whether an idea worked, they scoured data to make sure that program behaved correctly. “They started running our works, and these engineers were pleasantly surprised,” said Larry Eisenberg, a research scientist at GitHub who now runs a data lab at the University of California at Berkeley. “That’s what Steve Jobs was doing, finding out what was working and not working.”

Enter the trends kids-from-school were coding to understand: mobile, computers, libraries. Data scientists could learn how to run software on mobile devices. They could understand how computers worked on the masses of paper. They could learn how to write complex algorithms on their shoulders. “These were young, start-up folks,” Eisenberg said. “They’d run the math. They were not at IBM or Quark, people who do things like say, ‘We’re the blue chip company.’ ”

The development of smartphones paved the way. In the 1980s, the answer was, of course, software. It was as simple as a phone could deliver Internet to people in rural areas, a feature that would prove useful in short supply. As a result, most people weren’t investing in, or even using, the Web. The success of companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter challenged data scientists to come up with better apps and sites, and to respond in more direct ways to customers. “When you’re creating a world for consumers, how do you let them do whatever they want? You just let them do whatever they want,” Eisenberg said.

Google’s founders were among those who dismissed that idea, either out of fear of getting left behind or out of solidarity with their customers. “Social status and connections are not enough, and making your product better than others is not enough,” Larry Page wrote in Google’s introduction to Chrome in 1998. “It is up to you to make it better by improving and innovating on your product.”