How to Become a Data Scientist

By April 26, 2016 Careers
How to become a data scientist

This continues our IT Career series. These are designed to introduce you to the variety of career options in information technology and how you can get started.

The key to understanding how to become a data scientist is to realize data science goes by many names, and a number of paths into this growing career are possible. While the title of data scientist is relatively new on employer job boards, related work including analytics, statistics, and data forensics has seen increasing trends the past couple of decades. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, job potential for operations research analysts is expected to grow 30 percent in the next decade, which is well over the average expected job growth for the country as a whole. These are not low-paying jobs, either. The BLS estimates an average wage of approximately $76,660 for operations research analysts, and data scientists can earn even more in some industries.

What is Data Science?

While many companies are still hiring data scientists under titles such as data or business analyst, the data science role is an evolving job with relations to the growing use of big data across all industries. As all functions in industries gain greater access to increasing amounts of data, it takes more skill to mine that data and draw realistic, appropriate, and real-world-relevant conclusions.

The job of the data scientist, much like that of the traditional analyst, is to combine technical and business skill sets to turn raw data into useable information. Unlike traditional analysts, data scientists can’t just understand the technical approach or deal only in numbers. They have to be able to communicate easily with both business and information technology sides of an organization and facilitate cooperation between disparate departments. Good data scientists are able not just to answer business questions using technical and data skills, but to understand the needs of the business so that work is performed on the right questions and problems.

Data Science Education Programs

The BLS notes that the majority of business and other type of analysts have either a Bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree or equivalent experience, but data scientists tend to be even more educated. Burtch Works Recruiting notes that 88 percent of the data scientists it deals with have Master’s degrees and close to half have PhDs. Individuals who end up in high-level data science jobs have backgrounds in fields such as computer science, engineering, and math and statistics.

It’s worth noting that as of 2016, data science degrees are not common, though some math and statistics degree programs might offer an analytic or data science specialization. This is positive news for individuals who want to grow into the data science position, because they can foster other work within numerous industries with degrees in any of the related areas as they develop skills and experience necessary for a data science role.

Required Skills for Data Science Job Applicants

Data scientists need a well-rounded toolbox of both business and technical skills. Since data scientists typically need a deep background in the industry in which they work, organizations often hire applicants who have worked in other areas of the industry or who can show education or experience that ensures adequate wells of industry knowledge. As a data scientists in any industry and on any level, you also have to be a self-starter and quick study – you may need to learn a new programming language or platform, master new software, and become familiar with changing industry concepts throughout your employment.

Some common technical and computer science skills data scientists might need include the ability to work with unstructured data and write and run SQL queries. While new data-management tools are slowly replacing SQL, including the increasingly popular Hadoop platform, SQL is not going away anytime soon and anyone with ties to the data world should be able to handle queries. Data scientists who want to keep up with growing trends in the industry should also know Hadoop and Python coding.

In addition to technical skills, data scientists must have impeccable communication skills. This means the ability to communication very complex ideas in ways that business leaders can understand. Coursework that helps you grow your oral and written communication skills is a must, and you’ll also want to master presentation tools such as PowerPoint.

Ongoing Education

While most data scientists begin with a degree, the field is new enough that ongoing education can help you differentiate yourself from the pack. Consider workshops, online certification courses, books, and online forums as resources for honing all of the skills you need to be a successful data scientist.

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