Data scientists needed, apply within
A data scientist is the ultimate 'Swiss army knife' of the analytical world, drawing on whatever skills are required to create business value, says David Logan, principal consultant at the PBT Group.
"Not a 'jack of all trades', but a master of the many required to tease value from raw data," Logan adds.
Data scientists are becoming increasingly valuable with the advent of big data. "The bigger the data, the more opportunity there is to go down a technically pleasing but ultimately value-less direction," says Logan, adding the most commonly cited terms in the "rather hyped big data space" now are velocity, variety and volume.
"These are primarily technical descriptions of big data. The only 'v' that matters to a data scientist is also the only one that matters to the customer - namely, value. This serves to emphasise the dual business/technical role which a data scientist plays in extracting value from big data."
A lack of skills, however, looks likely to constrain the market. "Acquiring the varied skills and experience required here is not a traditional career path in an IT industry, which traditionally has prized specialisation in software and/or tasks, hence the worldwide (and particularly South African) shortage."
Logan is not the first to point out that the need for data scientists is growing, nor voice his concern at the lack of skills available. Research released last year by the McKinsey Global Institute stated there "will be a shortage of talent necessary for organisations to take advantage of big data. By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140 000 to 190 000 people with deep analytical skills, as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions."
Among the latest steps taken to address this in the US is the establishment this month of a Masters programme in data science, with a concentration in business analytics, at Saint Peters University, in New York. The programme will integrate computer science, statistics and data-based management principles to inform data-driven decision-making.
Logan will deliver a presentation on the role of the data scientist at the upcoming ITWeb Business Intelligence 2014 Summit, in Johannesburg, in March. For more information about this conference, click here.