Data Scientist Careers: How to Become a Data Scientist

Focused businesswoman working at computer in office

A Guide on Career Paths, Job Prospects & More

Chances are, there’s a data scientist behind every big successful company: Data scientists crunch data and numbers to find ingenious solutions to problems and help their employer rise to the top — or at least compete with their rivals. Sound like an interesting job? Here’s everything you need to know to become and work as a data scientist.

What Does a Data Scientist Do?

A data scientist is an analytical data expert with technical skills and the ability to solve complex problems. In a way, a data scientist is a mix between a mathematician, computer scientist and trend-spotter — someone who works within the technology and business worlds. And what does that all boil down to? Someone who collects, analyzes and interprets data in order to find ways to help a business improve their operations and get an edge over competitors.

What Does a Data Scientist Do?

How to Become a Data Scientist

There are many paths to becoming a data scientist — here are a few different options:

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree — and a master’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most computer and information research scientists — including data scientists —  “need a master’s degree in computer science or related field, [like] computer engineering.” A master’s program will take you two years, after earning a four-year bachelor’s degree.

2. Get an entry-level job. You may want to pursue an advanced job, but for now, it’s likely you’ll need to start in an entry-level position, such as a data analyst or junior data scientist. You may want to consider system-specific training or certifications — such as data visualization, business intelligence applications or relational database management — to help get your first job.

3. Earn a master’s degree or a Ph.D. Data science is a field where your opportunities will be greater with a master’s or doctoral degree, so you may want to consider getting one! You can choose to pursue a master’s in computer science, information technology, math and statistics.

4. Get a promotion. With a higher degree, more career opportunities have been opened to you, and it may be time to go after a promotion — and earn a higher salary, too.

How to Become a Data Scientist

Skills Needed to Be a Data Scientist

You need many skills to be a data scientist, but here are some that the Bureau of Labor Statistics thinks are especially important for the job:

Analytical Skills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, data scientists “must be organized in their thinking and analyze results of their research to formulate conclusions.”

Communication Skills. Data scientists don’t work alone — they work with programmers and managers, and must be able to clearly communicate with them, the Bureau explains.

Critical and Logical Thinking Skills. Because data scientists work on complex problems, critical thinking is a must for success, as is a talent for reasoning and relying on logic.

Math Skills. This probably comes as no surprise, but data scientists “must have knowledge of advanced math and technical topics that are critical in computing,” the Bureau explains.

Ingenuity. When solving complex problems, ingenuity is often needed. Data scientists need to be able to find “innovative ways to solve problems, particularly when their ideas do not initially work as intended,” the Bureau explains.

Hard Skills. Data Scientists must be fluent in a number of different programming languages and software programs. Though there are many different types, Glassdoor research found that Python, R and SQL are three of the most prevalent.

Skills Needed to Be a Data Scientist

How Much Does a Data Scientist Make?

According to Glassdoor data, data scientists can expect to make an average of $117,345 per year. But that number can vary based on where a data scientist works, or their years of experience. For example, a data scientist working at a company with up to 500 employees can expect to earn $112,365 per year, while a data scientist with 15-plus years of experience can earn an average of $141,921 a year, Glassdoor data shows.

How Much Does a Data Scientist Make?

Where Do Data Scientists Work?

Data scientists can work in a variety of settings. Those might include:

  • Federal government
  • Computer systems design
  • Research and development
  • Colleges and universities
  • Software companies
  • Car companies
  • Delivery companies
  • Tech companies
Where Do Data Scientists Work?

Related Careers in Data Science

You may not want to be a data scientist, but there are plenty of other jobs in related fields you may enjoy. Here are a few other options, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Computer and Information Systems Manager

Average Salary: $142,530

Degrees Required: Bachelor’s degree

Computer Hardware Engineer

Average Salary: $114,600

Degrees Required: Bachelor’s degree

Computer Programmer

Average Salary: $84,280

Degrees Required: Bachelor’s degree

Computer Systems Analyst

Average Salary: $88,740

Degrees Required: Bachelor’s degree

Database Administrator

Average Salary: $90,070

Degrees Required: Bachelor’s degree