Magic skill set

Magic skill set

Rhe big data trend is ushering in a new class of business technology professional -- the data scientist.

EMC, which has conducted a major study on the new field of data science, says data scientists are typically people who can translate massive data into predictive insights that lead to results. In the United States, a data scientist can command a starting salary of $300,000, says Chuck Hollis, vice president and global marketing CTO at EMC.

The EMC report, however, warns of an emerging talent gap for this expertise. While the past 20 years saw business and political leaders warning about a shortage of trained computer scientists, programmers, and engineers that were necessary to continue to advance a high tech economy, the report states "less noticed has been the coming gap in analytics professionals needed to use all of the data created by these high tech systems".

For the study, EMC worked with research firm Toluna and interviewed nearly 500 data scientists and business intelligence professionals across the globe. Nearly two-thirds of respondents believe demand for this skill will outpace supply.

A key challenge the industry faces is that the field of data science requires greater education. The report finds 40 percent of data science professionals have an advanced degree, with nearly one in 10 holding a doctorate. In contrast, less than 1 percent of BI professionals today have a doctorate.

The respondents also believe the most likely source for future data scientists is not with current BI professionals, but students. Only 12 percent believe current BI professionals will be a source for data science talent.

The most popular undergraduate degree for BI professionals was in business at 37 percent. In contrast, the most popular degree for data science professionals was computer science (24 percent), followed closely by engineering (17 percent) and the hard sciences (11 percent). So how important is it to develop this skill set? "There won't be a big data revolution unless there are more data scientists," says Hollis. "There is no single industry or public endeavour where big data analytics can't change things," he says.

"Data scientists are the magicians of big data era," he says. "They go from degree to degree, math, science. They bring to the table an interesting set of skills.

"Data scientists are hyper curious people with strong maths skills and skills in one or more disciplines such as economic and social sciences. And because of their pursuits in one of their sciences take massive amounts of data do predictive work. They are always looking for different data sources and adding as many data sources as they can to get signal from the noise."

The EMC study says companies need to create organisation cultures conducive to data driven decision making. First, they need to expand their view on the possibilities when hiring data scientists, looking outside business and computer science degrees to find practitioners "with the intellectual curiosity and technical depth to solve big data problems, with academic concentrations in the hard sciences, statistics, and mathematics".

The next step is to create an environment conducive to data science, it states. This means building high-performing, cross-functional teams covering a range of roles like programmers, statisticians, and graphic designers, and aligning them to directly support interested business decision makers.

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