data scientistData scientists are a rare breed. Part mathematician, part business professional and part computer programmer, these curious individuals play and discover in the world of big data, spotting trends and leading companies around the world toward lower costs, higher returns and better overall products.

What do they do?

Today’s businesses are overwhelmed with enormous amounts of data that modern technology has created. Data such as the online behavior of LinkedIn users, medical research tissue samples, purchasing habits of retail shoppers or crime statistics of major cities are the types of data sets that data scientists sink their teeth into, analyze and create narratives to explain. But they don’t stop there. Based on their findings they then make suggestions on how to use the data to make informed decisions.

The Origins of Data Scientists

Although this is a relatively new field, there are already thousands of data scientists currently working in the industry in companies of any size, from startups to established organizations all around the globe. This proliferation is indicative of a marketplace saturated with large volumes of data that has never been seen before.

EMC Corporation recently conducted their largest ever global survey of the data science community throughout the United States, France, Germany, The United Kingdom, China and India. Their findings indicate that the most common degree of data scientists, at 24%, was a computer science degree followed by engineering at 17% and the hard sciences at 11%.  Their survey also found that data scientists were 2.5 times more likely to have earned a master’s degree and over 9 times more likely to have a doctoral degree as other business intelligence professionals.

As for professional backgrounds, they were found to be diverse and include market research, information technology, financial analysis, marketing and media, management consulting, social research and demographic and census research.

The Skills of Data Scientists

Technical Skills – In order to really be able to dive into data and analyze it properly, data scientists have to have strong mathematical, statistical and computer science skills.

Interpersonal Skills – Data scientists don’t just work with data, they work with people and must be positive team players. Many companies hire based on this strength. If one area of knowledge isn’t present, that can be taught, but teamwork skills are essential when working within an organization.

Communication Skills – Communication is more than just about getting ideas across, it’s also about connecting the dots between hard analytics and a business leader’s point of view. Communication also means sometimes showing data visually instead of telling it verbally. Sharing insights in the most streamlined way is essential if the organization is to turn data into effective processes.

Tool Mastery – Data scientists use numerous software tools to mine and analyze massive amounts of data. Not only do they have to be fluent with current tools but they must be able to stay on top of the latest software trends.

Career Outlook for Data Scientists

The Harvard Business Review recently called data scientists the “sexiest job of the 21st century,” citing a whopping 15,000% increase in job postings from 2011-2012.  According to jobs.com, the University of California San Diego lists data mining and analytics as the second hottest career for graduates in 2011. And, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for operations research analysts, who offer very similar services, is expected to jump 30% through 2024.

It would seem these rising stars of the data world will keep on rising in the near future and beyond.

Because salary potential may vary depending on location, education, experience and other factors, prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research to determine actual earning potential.

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