How to Become a Data Scientist

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5 Steps to Becoming a Data Scientist

Step 1 Find out if it's really for you.

Both intellectually and in terms of education, data science is a heavy lift. Consider taking a free data science course through an online learning portal like EdX to make sure this field is really right for you before you take the plunge.

Step 2 Choose an academic path.

According to a study from Burtch Works Executive Recruiting, it's nearly impossible to attain the skills needed for a job in the field without earning a high-level degree, which 9 out of 10 data scientists have done. Although more and more data scientists are opting for master's degrees, about one in four professionals in the field with less than three years experience still hold PhD. degrees. In total, 44 percent of all working data scientists have earned a PhD. It's important to note, however, that you can mitigate the commitment and cost of your education by participating in a variety of Internet-based massive open online courses (MOOCs). Data science "bootcamps" can also speed things up with accelerated, concentrated courses of instruction.

Step 3 Choose an area of concentration.

Many different paths can lead you to a lucrative, rewarding career as a data scientist. Most start at the undergraduate level, with bachelor's degrees in data science that can lead to jobs like data visualization specialist, management analyst and market research analyst. From there, many students go on to achieve master's degrees in fields like machine learning algorithm developer, statistician or data engineer. Many students then pursue doctorate degrees in concentrations such as business solutions scientist, data scientist, and enterprise science analytics manager.

Step 4 Get certified.

Earning a certification can improve your skills and make you a more marketable candidate. Potential certifications include certified applications professional, Cloudera certified professional: data scientist, EMC: data science associate and SAS certified predictive modeler using SAS Enterprise Miner 7.

Step 5 Get hired!

Once you've emerged from your education pursuits, the only thing you need in order to call yourself a data scientist is a job. Data science is a specialty, and recruiting networks, job boards and career forums exist just for them and the companies who need their skill sets. Start with Kaggle, which hosts 1.5 million data scientists in the world's largest community dedicated to the profession. Businesses and other entities constantly search Kaggle for people who have the skills and background they need. iCrunchData is another good place to network and start your job search.

FAQ on Becoming a Data Scientist

  • That depends on your skills, goals and career path. Some data scientists engage in data mining and data cleaning. Others work with machine learning tools and techniques. In other cases, data scientists work with Hadoop, Hive & Pig, and other big data platforms. By choosing an initial educational path that exposes you to a broad range of instruction, you'll learn what you're good at, what you like and what kind of potential careers are right for you.

  • Virtually all industries harness the power of data in one way or another. Skilled data scientists are prized by health care companies, ecommerce businesses, financial firms, social networks and science-based organizations like drug companies.

  • Absolutely. Data science is one of the driving forces behind America's might and innovative prowess on the world stage. In fact, USAjobs.gov has an entire section dedicated to jobs for data scientists looking to apply their skills in the public sector.

  • Platforms like Meetup.com are teeming with groups and events just for data scientists and prospective data scientists. Log on, join a group and get to know like-minded people.

  • Not necessarily. Knowledge and expertise of tools and programs like RapidMiner, DataRobot, Google Cloud Prediction API, Paxata, Trifacta and BigML may or may not be required, depending on the industry and position.

Data Scientist Salary & Job Growth

In 2018, Business Insider referred to the data science profession as "the best job in America right now." A large part of that has to do with the remarkably high level of career satisfaction reported by people in the industry. Another part is the hefty salaries associated with the career, which can run deep into the six figures.

According to salary research site Glassdoor, the average annual base pay for data scientists is $120,931 — and that's not including the $11,772 in additional cash compensation the average data scientist receives. Salary site PayScale examined the median salary and determined that a data scientist in the 50th percentile can expect to earn $90,807 a year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which refers to the broader occupation as "computer and information scientists," lists the median annual salary as $114,520.

Alabama Mean wage annual: N/A
Currently Employed: N/A
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 13.70%
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Change in Employment (2016-2026): 3.90%
Arizona Mean wage annual: $109,530
Currently Employed: 260
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 19.90%
Arkansas Mean wage annual: $96,190
Currently Employed: 40
Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A
California Mean wage annual: $128,530
Currently Employed: 5,750
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 24.10%
Colorado Mean wage annual: $116,400
Currently Employed: 410
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 24.90%
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Currently Employed: 50
Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A
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Florida Mean wage annual: $105,560
Currently Employed: 530
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10.50%
Georgia Mean wage annual: $101,950
Currently Employed: 810
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 6.70%
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Data science is one of the most marketable skills in many of the world's most quickly expanding industries. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast 19 percent growth in the decade between 2016 and 2026 — that's well beyond even the rosiest predictions for the overall job market. According to BLS, those with backgrounds in biology, finance and computer science will have especially powerful leverage moving into the future. Forbes recently reported that IBM predicts a whopping 28 percent increase in demand for data scientists by 2020. Career networking site LinkedIn recently named the field as the No. 2 most marketable skill in the world.

The predicted surge in growth is part of a trend that has already been established. According to a report from the University of Wisconsin's data science department, job postings in the field increased by a multiple of five in less than two years, from 2,000 in March 2014 to 10,000 in February 2016. The report states that demand for jobs in the field are growing across nearly all sectors, including:

  • Warehousing
  • Manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Transportation
  • Communication
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Retail
  • Education
  • Insurance
  • Finance
  • Law enforcement
  • Security
  • Government

Finding a Data Scientist Program

There is no one right data scientist program. Like any educational endeavor, the pursuit of a data science degree depends on a range of variables, including where you are in your educational journey, your preferred method of delivery, the desired outcomes and career path, and, of course, your budget.

Are you just starting your higher education? It's possible to save money by earning an associate's degree at an affordable two-year school and then transferring to a four-year school to complete your undergraduate studies. Online programs can also be cheaper, and more flexible. Bootcamps and MOOCs can accelerate learning and save money.

As with all programs, be sure to consult with an academic advisor to make sure that the courses and programs you choose are applicable to your desired degree or transferrable to your school and program of choice.

This search tool can help you find the right school and the right programs to help you make the transition from student to graduate to data scientist.

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Data Scientist Associations & Groups

Like any other industry, data scientists are at their best when they're part of a broad network of peers and colleagues. The following groups and associations can be your connection to others in your field. Only when you're connected with people who share your interests, concerns, questions, experiences and goals, can you truly thrive.

  • Data Science Association

    The Data Science Association is a non-profit professional group that represents and serves its members. The group is tasked with strengthening ethics, promoting diversity, reducing bias, providing resources and offering information for data scientists around the world.

  • USA Jobs: Data Science

    Job board dedicated exclusively to data scientists seeking employment with the federal government. You can search job openings or, if you're a student, learn what educational background is required to attain such positions.

  • National Institutes of Health — Data Science

    The National Institutes of Health use data science in a variety of ways. Here's a look at how one of the world's foremost health organizations uses data science to further its mission.

  • National Science Foundation — Big Data

    Learn about how the National Science Foundation uses big data — and relies on the data scientists who process and manage it — for research, cyberinfrastructure, education and workforce and community building.

  • Research Data Alliance

    The Research Data Alliance builds "data bridges" and shares data with far-flung, but similarly focused data scientists around the world.

  • Association for Information Science and Technology

    ASIS&T has nearly eight decades of history, and today it works to bridge the gap between data practice and research.

  • Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS)

    INFORMS focuses on operations research and analytics.

  • SIGKDD

    SIGKDD is the global association for machine learning, data mining and knowledge discovery, which all factor heavily into the lives and careers of data scientists.

Resources for Data Scientists

There are many resources available to prospective data scientists beyond just industry and trade organizations. Some focus on the education needed to get there, others are designed to offer tools and assistance to students and some exist purely for the purposes of information and research.

  • MasterInDataScience.org

    Master's In Data Science is a one-stop shop for people considering a career in the field. Here you'll learn about the educational options and requirements, read about likely career scenarios and hear from real data scientists working in the field.

  • Data Science Weekly

    This newsletter arrives in your inbox every Thursday. Once you sign up, you'll get a weekly update on all of the latest trends and information relating to the field of data science.

  • Data Science Toolbox

    This site offers a variety of software, tutorials and virtual environments that data scientists work with everyday. It's a great place to get an inside look at the kinds of tools you'll likely encounter when you enter the workforce.

  • Data Science Challenge

    This site is the place to go for a variety of data science challenges and competitions designed to mimic real-world issues that data scientists work to solve and advance.

  • DataKind

    DataKind brings together top data scientists to collaborate on the common goal of better serving mankind. As a student, you can browse this site to learn how your skills might one day be applied to the betterment of humanity.

  • Discover Data Science

    Discover Data Science is an all-encompassing source of information about data science education, from finding degree programs to introductions to sample courses.