Data science has been sitting pretty for the past few years. The rapidly growing field has been referred to as “the sexiest job of the 21st century,” and demand is higher than ever for qualified data scientists and advanced analysts.
Recent findings from IBM predict that the need for data scientists will increase 28 percent by 2020, with nearly 3 million job openings for data professionals. The same report found that these jobs tend to remain open longer than average, taking an average of 45 days to fill. Considering the average annual salary of $105,000 for a data scientist, it’s somewhat puzzling why supply has not kept pace with demand.
That’s in part because the field is evolving as you read this. Universities, companies, and workers are only beginning to explore this uncharted territory, and a common framework or vernacular for data science jobs and skills does not exist. It’s a relatively new field, making it attractive to both young and established workers who want to develop skills and carve out a fresh career path.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you decide data science might be the right fit for you:
1. Find a niche you love.
Your first step is to determine which division of data science you want to be in. Thankfully, the field is as broad as it is deep. There’s something for everybody, and you have the ability to choose the subfield that makes you tick. Whether you’re interested in machine learning, data engineering, software engineering, spatial design, or even business analysis, there are plenty of options.
2. Learn as well as educate.
Only a few traditional universities and schools offer data science degrees, but there are hundreds of online courses that allow people to hone their skills. The field is still evolving, so ongoing education is important — keeping up with the latest developments will be key to standing out.
Learn, practice, and put your skills to use as much as possible. At the same time, try to share your knowledge with other people. In a relatively new field like data science, everything you do sets the industry up for the next generation. It’s important to lay a solid foundation that professionals can build on for years to come.
3. Build your brand and network.
Building your online brand is vital to your success in this growing field. If you don’t showcase your expertise, recruiters will not know how skilled you truly are. A professional website doesn’t need to be extensive — a quick bio, work history, and educational details are all you really need — but it will go a long way toward helping recruiters understand what you can bring to their companies.
Once you have a website, make sure to add the URL to your business card. Bring those cards along when you attend data science events, which can help you flesh out your network. There are millions of data scientists doing incredible things, and meeting them is a great way to improve yourself.
4. Step up and communicate.
If I’m being honest, data scientists aren’t always the best communicators. We sometimes struggle to convey our insights to company decision makers. If you can master some key communication skills, you’re already one step ahead of most. Be able to summarize what you’ve found in the data, and provide actionable steps to top dogs who can apply your findings throughout the business.
5. Focus on your strengths, and ignore your weaknesses.
Perfect the skills you already have instead of working to become moderately talented in every area. This will set you apart from candidates who are OK at everything but lack any clear-cut strengths. If you’re naturally gifted at analyzing large data sets, for example, you should work to bolster that strength and give yourself an edge.
Data science roles will only continue to grow in demand as the field becomes an integral part of the business world. It requires a thirst for knowledge, hard work, and constant self-improvement, but so does every other profession. The good news? Data science is just getting started, and the playing field is wide open. Individuals who are willing to invest time and energy can make it as data scientists, change their lives, and discover a rewarding profession that plays to their strengths.
Kirill Eremenko is the founder and CEO of SuperDataScience, which provides online coursework and educational resources for people in data science. Kirill is a data science entrepreneur who has worked in the field for more than seven years and in education for three years. With more than 20 online courses and hundreds of thousands of students, Kirill is passionate about delivering high-quality, accessible education to the world. Follow Kirill on LinkedIn.