What exactly is a Data Scientist?

StartupInterviewWhen the Harvard Business Review calls being a data scientist ‘the sexiest job of the 21st Century’, you know that data science is going to be huge. But what exactly does a data scientist do and what qualifications do you need to bag a data science job?

Essentially, a job in data science involves processing raw information, finding patterns within it, and learning from those patterns. Data scientists take vast amounts of information and turn it into useful insights into human behaviour and physical systems. Their job is complicated by the disorganized state of the raw data. It can be anything from customer survey results to photographs, from smart phone logs to the data recorded by smart sensors embedded in medical devices.

To put the scale of the task in perspective, it took humankind until 2003 to generate five exabytes of data (five billion gigabytes). We now generate this much information every two days. The Irish Times reports that ‘90 per cent of all of the information in the world today was created in the last two years’. Data mining isn’t just about analyzing information; it’s about analyzing it fast enough to keep the results relevant.

The rewards for effective data mining are enormous. US management consultants McKinsey & Company estimate that ‘a retailer using big data to the full could increase its operating margin by more than 60 percent’.

Data mining jobs are not limited to corporations looking to mine their customer information and increase their margins and profits. For example, US company aWhere uses satellite photos to detect bodies of water where mosquitoes are likely to breed. This allows eradication programs to target specific areas without having to pay large numbers of people to explore them on foot. A data science job can be an opportunity to make a real difference to the world.

The ideal data scientist is a skilful software engineer with an in-depth knowledge of statistics. Data miners also need the communication skills required to explain their findings to managers and executives. This combination of skills is currently rare and consequently the huge demand for data scientists is not being met. In fact, the pool of people with the perfect skill set to work as a data scientist is so small that data mining company Treasure Data compares them to unicorns.

Because of this shortage of perfect candidates, data mining jobs are currently open to statisticians, mathematicians and software engineers with the flexibility to learn on the job. With university degrees in data science non-existent, the field has almost no boundaries. A data scientist job puts you on the frontiers of technology and learning.

As Monica Rogati, chief scientist at LinkedIn, puts it, data scientists are “half hacker, half analyst, they use data to build products and find insights. It’s Columbus meet Columbo – starry eyed explorers and skeptical detectives”.

Data scientists are the people who make sense of the modern world by analyzing information and making sense out of the results. They need to know enough about business to recognize what results are significant, and the ability to explain them to others. They are the interpreters of the digital age; taking bytes and turning them into insights.

If you have any of the skills mentioned in this article and think that a job in data mining sounds like an exciting career move, then please get in touch with us. We have a steady and increasing stream of data scientist jobs on our books and are always looking for new candidates.

Information Technology