If you get your trending advice from The Harvard Business Review — and who doesn't?! — then you may have caught their claim that data scientist is the "sexiest job of the 21st century". Bold assertion, we know, though in this case the word "sexy" mainly means "highly in demand" because there's such a shortage of qualified professionals in this role. According to the HBR:
The title has been around for only a few years. . . . But thousands of data scientists are already working at both start-ups and well-established companies. Their sudden appearance on the business scene reflects the fact that companies are now wrestling with information that comes in varieties and volumes never encountered before. . . . On this front, demand has raced ahead of supply. Indeed, the shortage of data scientists is becoming a serious constraint in some sectors.
This is all fine and interesting except for one thing . . . what does a data scientist actually do? We took our curiosity to someone who knows a lot about data science: Vivian Zhang, founder and CTO of the NYC Data Science Academy. Keep reading to find out Zhang's answers to our burning questions, but fair warning — you might just plan a career hop to data science afterward.
What exactly is a data scientist?
"A data scientist is someone who has a combined background of math, computer science, statistics, and domain knowledge. His/Her role is to deliver businesses' value using the data! For example, he/she will do a forecast for the next quarter's sales revenue, understand the driving factors of marketing activities, and come up with innovative ideas to drive a successful business. It is the secret weapon that no enterprise or research entity can overlook. The more companies invest into it, the more insight and competitive advantage they get."
What might a typical day look like for a data scientist?
"He/she might start with a stand up meeting with different business units and come up with instructions or insights to get projects done. Also, a data scientist would get into touch with 'implementers' and strategize about how their job is going and what can be done to improve it, using data.
- for a sales team, he/she can analyze the sales funnel and determine how to allocate resources more effectively to reach their goals;
- for a marketing team, he/she could find out ways to increase results based upon streaming data, user persona, channel coverage;
- for an executive team, he/she could find out the best way to make different teams communicate using data and find new opportunities for efficiency;
- for an operations team, he find out where the costs or inefficiencies are and how to them to increase productivity."
Why do you think "data scientist" continues to be deemed a top (and even "sexy") career?
"There is a huge demand for data scientists that is only growing in the coming years. One of the main reasons is that amount of data being produced and recorded in the world, across all aspects of business and daily life, is constantly increasing and businesses and organizations have to tap into insights from that data. I would say it is just the beginning of the golden age for data scientists."
What's the best thing about being a data scientist?
"It's fun, challenging, and rewarding. One of the best things about being a data scientist is that if you build a good model for your data, you can actually see the results of your work right away."
What kind of career advice do you have for someone pursuing a career in data science?
"Start learning about computer programming to build a 'problem solving' mentality. This is truly a way of thinking that is best learned with hands-on experience. And, most importantly, start ASAP!"