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How to Become a Data Scientist

military data scientist

Data science is one of the fastest growing careers of the 21st century. Every industry has pressing questions answered by Big Data, from businesses to non-profit organizations to government institutions. There is a seemingly-infinite amount of information that can be sorted, interpreted, and applied for a wide range of purposes.

How can a business sort through purchasing data to create a marketing plan? How can government departments use patterns of behavior to create engaging community activities? How can a non-profit best use their available marketing budget to further enhance their potential operations?

It all comes down to the work of data scientists.

Data scientists are trained to gather, organize, and analyze data, helping people from every corner of industry and every segment of the population.

Data scientists come from a wide range of educational backgrounds, and the majority will have technical schooling of some kind. Data science degrees include a wide range of computer-related majors, plus areas of math and statistics. Training in business or human behavior is also common, which bolsters more accurate conclusions in data science work.

There is a nearly infinite amount of information, so there is a nearly infinite amount of uses for data scientists. Take a closer look at the career as a whole. Explore what they do, who they serve, and what skills they need to get the job done.  Read on to learn how to become a data scientist and jump onto this booming career path!

What is a Data Scientist?

Essentially, a data scientist is someone who gathers and analyzes with the goal of reaching a conclusion. They do this through a variety of techniques. 

They may present the data in a visual context, or, data visualization, observing clear data patterns that wouldn’t be noticeable if the information was presented in hard numbers on a spreadsheet. 

Data scientists often create highly advanced algorithms that are used to determine patterns, take the data from a jumble of numbers and stats, and derive what can be useful for a business or organization. 

At its core, data science is the practice of looking for meaning in mass amounts of data.

Data Science in the Real World

Let’s look at a fairly typical example of a data scientist in action. Perhaps a cell phone company wants to find out which current customers are most likely to switch services to their competitor. The company could hire a data analyst, who would look at millions of different data points (or more specifically, create an algorithm to look at millions of data points) related to former customers. That data analyst (or, scientist) may discover that customers who use a certain amount of bandwidth are more likely to leave, or that customers who are married and between the ages of 35 and 45 are the most likely to switch carriers. The cell phone company can then change their business plan or marketing efforts to engage and retain these customers.

Netflix users see a real-world example of data management in action every time they access their account. The video streaming service has a program designed to give you suggestions that will best fit your preferences. Using information from your past viewing history, an algorithm gives you recommendations for shows you may enjoy. This is also seen in services like Pandora with their thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons, and from Amazon, with their shopping recommendations.

Data Science vs Statistics

Data science should not be mistaken for statistics. Although these two areas combine similar skills and share common goals (such as using a large amount of data to reach conclusions), they are unique in one clear aspect. 

Data science, which is a newer field, is heavily based on the use of computers and technology. It accesses information from large databases, uses code to manipulate data, and visualizes numbers in a digital format.

Statistics, on the other hand, generally uses established theories and focuses more on hypothesis testing. It is a more traditional discipline that has, from a broad perspective, changed little over the last 100 years or more, while data science has essentially evolved with the rising use of computers.

How to Become a Data Scientist

There are three general steps to becoming a data scientist:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in IT, computer science, math, business, or another related field;
  2. Earn a master’s degree in data or related field;
  3. Gain experience in the field you intend to work in (ex: healthcare, physics, business).

Who is a Good Data Science Candidate?

So what are the top traits of a data scientist? How can you determine if you have the raw material needed for a long career in the field of data science? 

Candidates must have a curious nature that pushes a constant pursuit of learning. There are so many areas and so many data points to analyze, that a data scientist must have an inherent curiosity that drives their need to find answers.

Aspiring data scientists need a strong ability for organization. As we said earlier, there are millions of potential data points, so making sure information is organized in a useful way is essential.

Data science can sometimes be full of frustration, so a hearty dose of stubbornness is a good quality. When things get tough and it seems like there couldn’t possibly be an answer to the problem, a good data scientist will keep reorganizing, reanalyzing, and working the data in the hopes that a new perspective will lead to a “Eureka!” moment.

Other traits, such as creativity, the strong ability to stay focused, and an acute attention to detail, will all help in becoming a data scientist.

Data Scientist Education Requirements

There are many paths to landing a career in data science, but for all intents and purposes, it is nearly impossible to launch a career in the field without a college education. Data scientists need a four-year bachelor degree. Keep in mind, however, that 79% of the professionals working in the industry have a graduate degree and 38% have a PhD. If your goal is an advanced leadership position, you will have to earn either a master’s degree or doctorate degree.

Some schools offer data science degrees, which is an obvious choice. Data science degrees will give you the necessary skills to process and analyze a complex set of data, and will involve technical information related to statistics, computers, analysis techniques, and more. Most data science programs will also have a creative and analytical element, allowing you to make judgment decisions based on your findings.

While a data science degree is the most obvious career path, there are also technical and computer-based degrees that will help launch your data science career. Common degrees that help you learn data science include:

  • Computer science
  • Statistics
  • Physics
  • Social science
  • Mathematics
  • Applied math
  • Economics

At the end of one or more of these degrees, you’ll have gained a wide range of skills that apply to data science. These skills include experimentation, coding, quantitative problem solving, handling large sets of data, and more.

The ability to understand people, businesses, and marketing is also a powerful tool in a data science career. The skills are often highlighted in business, psychology, political science, and various liberal arts degrees. These are often great degree minors, complementing a data science degree or a technical degree.

Data Science Specializations

Data science is needed by nearly every business, organization, and agency in the country and across the globe, so there is certainly the chance for specialization. Many data scientists will be heavily specialized in business, often specific segments of the economy (such as automotive or insurance) or business-related fields like marketing or finance. 

For example, a data scientist who works for a car dealership may specialize in customer or marketing analysis, building campaigns and bringing better sales projections for that company.  Another data scientist who works in large retail chains may specialize in forecasting, determining the perfect price range for their products to keep that chain competitive in that market’s climate.

Some data scientists work for the Defense Department, specializing in the analysis of threat levels, while others specialize in helping small startup businesses find and retain customers.  There is no end to how companies, organizations and agencies can utilize the skills and knowledge of a data scientist.

Data Scientist Career Path

It is not uncommon for graduates to need on the job training before they are off and running in their careers. This training is often centered around a company’s specific programs and internal systems. It may include advanced analytics techniques that are not taught in college.

The world of data science is constantly developing, so continuing education while working  in this field is imperative to the job. Data scientists train throughout their careers to stay at the leading edge of information and technology.

Data Scientist Jobs

Data scientists work in a variety of settings; the majority work in office environments that allow people to work together in teams, collaborate on projects, and communicate effectively. Much of the work may include uploading numbers and data into the system or writing code for a program that will analyze the information.

The pace, atmosphere, and all-around tempo of the work environment will largely depend on the company and the industry you work in. You could work in a fast-paced work environment that emphasizes quick results, or you could work for an organization that values slow, methodical, detailed progress. 

You may find a work environment designed to encourage creative thinking, or you could work in an office that is designed for efficiency and effectiveness; it depends on the type of data science you are pursuing and the nature of the businesses you work for.

Pros & Cons

There are many benefits to becoming a data scientist, and it doesn’t all center around pay. The job is a unique yet challenging career that offers a wide variety of daily tasks, and this variety is often cited as one of the main benefits. As a data scientist, you may work for companies coming up with solutions and information related to customer retainment, marketing, new products, or general business solutions. This means you get to engage in unique and interesting topics and subjects that give you a wide perspective on the economy and world at large.

Just like any career, there are some clear drawbacks. While the extreme variety of subjects gives you new challenges, it can also mean that you never get to fully dive into a specific topic. The technologies that you use will be constantly evolving, so you may find that the systems and software that you just mastered are suddenly moving on to different technologies. Before you know it, you need to learn a whole new system.  Hence, the fast-paced nature of the work.

Data Scientist Salary

No matter what source you look at, one thing is for sure: these professionals stand to earn a substantial income. 

The best source for career salaries is the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which lists data science careers along with mathematical science occupations.

According to the BLS, people working in these combined fields earned an average annual income of $103,930 in 2020.  Payscale rates the average median salary for data scientists at $96,455 per year.

These numbers seem to correlate with wage numbers from other sources as well. Glassdoor reports a salary average of over $113,450.  A data scientist with 9 or more years of experience can expect a salary around $150,000 and those managing teams of ten or more can expect to earn close to $232,000.

Any source you look at, you can see these advanced skills are in high demand. If you have the skills, training, and know-how that it takes to become a data scientist, you will likely earn a substantial income for the length of your career. There is more good news as well, as these professionals will be in high demand for the foreseeable future.

Job Outlook

Anyone working in the field of data science can expect the one-two punch of job security. Not only will they earn an income well above the national average, they can also expect their field to continue to grow over the coming decade. The demand for data scientists is well above national average and 50% higher than that of software engineers (22%) and data analysts (25%).

As more and more businesses rely on hard information for their decisions, the need for people who can not only compile the information, but can organize it, store it, interpret it, and discover trends, will be all the more important. Data collection by businesses will continue to grow, and data analysts should expect to be in high demand for years to come.

Related Careers

There are many careers that are either branches of data science or extensions of the career. One title data scientists may move into during their career is senior data scientist. These professionals use their training and advanced experience to create new and innovative approaches to data, lead data science teams, and build new prototypes and algorithms for analyzing information and reaching conclusions.

Similar careers also include software development, computer network architects, database administrators, data analysts, and information security analysts. Any career that uses computer technology, information analysis, or forecasting could be a potential home for anyone trained or experienced in big data.

Start Working Toward a New Data Science Career Today!

A data science career is both lucrative and exciting. Start your journey today in the GetEducated online degree database.