How to become a data scientist

What’s involved in being a data scientist and how to become one

A female data scientist working with graphics overlaid all around her

Data scientists are in high demand as they are involved in many growing fields, like automatic image captioning and self-driving vehicle development. Getting into the data sciences is sure to provide career opportunities today and into the future. 

Data scientists must have a high level of mathematical expertise, statistical knowledge and computer skills. They must also have the passion and commitment to learn new software packages and a meta-level understanding of which models best fit the data being analyzed. 

There are many online resources for people who desire to become data scientists, although the abundance of information can make it difficult to absorb. It can also be challenging to decide which career path to follow, as the data sciences offer various routes. 

With this guide, we’ll answer some of the most critical questions about becoming a data scientist, including:

  • What does a data scientist do?
  • What career opportunities are available to data scientists?
  • Do I need a degree to become a data scientist?
  • What skills do I need to become a data scientist?
  • How do I become a data scientist?

What does a data scientist do?

Data scientists extract meaning from different types of structured and unstructured data an organization collects. They might collect data from a database, prepare the data for analysis, build and test statistical models, or create reports that involve data visualizations. 

Data scientists’ duties include collection and preparation of data, conducting an exploratory data analysis (EDA), evaluating and interpreting those results, and building, testing, deploying and optimizing models based on the data. 

After looking for trends, opportunities, and weaknesses within the data, data scientists communicate their findings to management and recommend changes to company strategies and procedures.

Quick facts about working as a data scientist

  • The average pay for data scientists in 2019 was $100,560 per year.
  • The US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects 11.5 million new jobs for data scientists by 2026.
  • Data scientists typically require a master’s degree in data science or a related field for the best career prospects.
  • According to IBM, 59% of data scientist jobs will be in finance, information technology (IT), insurance and professional services.  

What career opportunities are available to data scientists?

There are many career opportunities within the broad data science field. Data scientists must work across a wide range of sectors, even outside technology and IT. 

With the increase in data collection and analysis across multiple industries, the demand for data scientists will also increase. As you develop your skill set and gain experience and learn new technologies, you will discover new career opportunities as a data scientist.

Types of data science jobs:

  • Business intelligence specialist: Look for trends in data sets
  • Data analyst: Work with large data sets to find trends and reach conclusions that will inform key business decisions
  • Data architect: Design, create and manage an organization’s data architecture
  • Data engineer: Clean, collect, and organize data from various sources and store the results in data warehouses
  • Data scientist: Design data modeling processes for creating algorithms and predictive models, and will also perform custom analysis

Do I need a degree to be a data scientist?

Most employers seek data scientists with master’s degrees or higher in data science, data analytics or related fields. 

Going through a master’s degree program will provide a more complete understanding of data science, which will include predictive analytics, statistical modeling, data mining, data visualization and enterprise analytics. Professional certification from an accredited association will also help your competitiveness in the field.

What skills do I need to become a data scientist?

To become a data scientist, you’ll need to develop skills through a combination of education and on-the-job experience. 

Your duties will require a combination of core and soft skills to fulfill your responsibilities and help your organization make informed decisions.

Data scientist’s core skills

  • Computer science: Apply principles related to software engineering, database systems, numerical analysis, artificial intelligence and human/computer interaction.
  • Programming: Develop computer programs and analyze large data sets to find solutions to complex problems. Write code using various programming languages (e.g., Python, Java, R, SQL). 
  • Statistical analysis: Examine data to identify patterns and perform pattern and anomaly detection.
  • Machine learning: Use algorithms and statistical models to “teach” computers to learn from data.
  • Data storytelling: Use data to develop and explain actionable insights for nontechnical audiences.

Data scientist’s soft skills

  • Analytical thinking: Identify analytical solutions for theoretical business issues.
  • Business intuition: Work with stakeholders to better understand their problems.
  • Critical thinking: Objectively analyze facts to find a conclusion.
  • Inquisitiveness: Look for hidden patterns and solutions within the data.
  • Interpersonal skills: Collaborate with all types of people throughout the organization.

How do I become a data scientist?

It’s best to develop a strategy before applying for a data scientist position. Determine what type of data scientist you want to be, the industry you want to work in and your salary expectations.

Connecting with other data scientists on LinkedIn is a good way to build your network and collect information on job openings and expectations within the industry. Ask your contacts about how they got hired and what advice they have for launching a data scientist career.

Tips for applying for data scientist jobs

  • Update your resume to highlight your knowledge and skills as they apply to your desired job. List the skills indicated in job postings and reference your past accomplishments.
  • Write a cover letter that expands upon your resume and explains how your experience qualifies you for the position. State why you’re interested in working for the organization and why they should hire you.
  • Provide references that would be relevant to the position you want. Ask your references for permission before including them and ensure their contact information is correct.
  • Regularly search job boards that list opportunities directly related to the data sciences. There are many online job resources that specialize in the tech industry, so you can search for openings in specific companies and markets that meet your skills and experience. 

Starting your journey toward becoming a data scientist

The data sciences is a rapidly growing field, and careers in this area offer high wages and a solid future. It’s a great time to launch your data scientist career. 

Do your homework to determine what types of jobs are available in your area, who’s hiring and what the role requires. You can consider freelancing as a data scientist or look for jobs in other parts of the country. Research, analyze the data, and develop a plan to launch your career as a data scientist.

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