Data Scientists in Demand as Big Data Grows

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The data scientist role is giving rise to a new kind of IT position even more integrated with the business.

By Laura Kelley

We live in a world today in which nearly every one of our actions produces some type of data—whether it’s shopping and paying bills online, using credit cards at brick-and-mortar stores or participating in customer loyalty programs. Over the years, the accumulation and analysis of this information—big data, as many are calling it—has become a powerful tool for corporate decision makers, helping guide their day-to-day and long-term business strategy.

As companies are faced with the need to analyze these massive amounts of data, a new job title has emerged: data scientist. These individuals, sometimes referred to as business intelligence or high-level data analysts, are often found in very large enterprise organizations that perform a high number of regular transactions, such as in the financial services or retail industries. Companies rely on these individuals to develop high-level analyses of their big data, which can then be used for business projections and modeling.

Because many IT departments are positioning themselves to play a major role in this area, they are typically the ones hiring for these of positions. However, data scientist is not your typical IT role. In fact, the best data scientists are often career hybrids as their role requires two distinct skill sets. The first is data analysis—the ability to run queries and develop some form of application modeling. The second consists of tactical mathematical skills—the ability to think quantitatively.

The ideal data scientist candidate would offer a good mix of the two.

The role of data scientist demands some niche, technical skill sets. Those who work on the back end of IT systems, such as server techs, are typically not the right fit for this position as they are usually not involved in the development of data computation models. But an IT professional with proficiency in different types of programming languages who has experience developing statistical, analysis-driven applications could make the transition quite smoothly.

Perhaps the most valuable skill for those looking to move into this growing area is a strong business-growth mind set. In fact, many companies seek MBA-level talent in filling the data scientist role because big data plays such an important role in business decisions. Many IT professionals already serve as business analysts in many ways, acting as liaisons between the business unit and IT department.

However, the data scientist role is giving rise to a new kind of IT position even more integrated with the business. Companies are looking to data scientists to truly apply their technical expertise to analyze and understand not just customer buying behaviors, but every piece of the puzzle from manufacturing to distribution to pricing to sales. As a result, it is the combination of technical skill, data analysis and business acumen, as well as the interest in solving business problems that makes a candidate stand out.

Data scientist hopefuls still in the beginning of their careers should consider pursuing an MBA degree. Regardless of whether they choose to pursue the data scientist track, an advanced business degree can expand their career opportunities in IT.

For IT professionals who do possess all of the necessary skills, this growing profession of data scientists offers many opportunities—and leverage for competitive compensation packages. Some companies that have the greatest need for data scientists may not be located in major metropolitan areas, so they are often willing to provide relocation incentives. And, depending on the employer—particularly large corporations—some are willing to negotiate a virtual work arrangement.

The landscape of IT jobs is constantly evolving, and the emergence of the data scientist role is a significant opportunity for evolving technology talent. It is a chance for some IT professionals to make a move into an area of the company where major business decisions are being made. Most importantly, it has the potential to raise the overall profile of IT professionals in many organizations.

Laura Kelley is vice president at Modis, an IT staffing provider.

This article was originally published on 2012-08-22
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