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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?

In order to become a data scientist, you will have to start by gaining the right skills through a mix of on-the-job experience and education.

While working in your role as a data scientist, you'll be expected to combine a range of soft and core skills to carry out your responsibilities and support your organization in making informed decisions.

What are a data scientist’s core skills?

  • Computer science: You'll have to put a wide variety of principles into action related to database systems, software engineering, artificial intelligence, numerical analysis and human/computer interaction
  • Programming: This involves developing computer programs and analyzing big sets of data to search for solutions to complicated problems. Get ready to write code in a number of programming languages (e.g. Java, Python, SQL, R)
  • Statistical analysis: Fully analyze data to discover patterns and carry out pattern and anomaly detection
  • Machine learningusing statistical models and algorithms, "teach" computers to learn from data
  • Data storytelling: Utilise data to illustrate, explain and develop actionable insights for non-technical audiences

What are a data scientist’s soft skills?

  • Analytical thinking: Find analytical solutions for theoretical business issues
  • Interpersonal skills: Work and collaborate with all types of people throughout the organization
  • Critical thinking: Analyze facts in an objective manner to reach a conclusion
  • Inquisitiveness: Discover hidden patterns and solutions within the data
  • Business intuition: Work alongside stakeholders to fully understand their problems

How do I become a data scientist?

Before applying for a data scientist position, make sure you've developed a strategy first. This includes thinking about what kind of data scientist you want to be, in which industry you want to work and what your salary expectations are.

A good way to build your network is by connecting with other data scientists on LinkedIn as this allows you to gather information on job openings and expectations within the industry. You can even ask your contacts what advice they have for embarking on a data scientist career and find out how they got hired.

Tips for applying for data scientist jobs

  • Ensure your resume is up-to-date and underline your skills and knowledge in regards to your desired job. Basically, list the skills indicated in job postings and make sure your past accomplishments stand out
  • When writing your cover letter, ensure it expands on your resume and underlines how exactly your experience makes you suitable for the position. This is your chance to say why you're interested in working for the organization and why they should hire you
  • Choose references that are relevant to the position you're applying for. Make sure you ask your references for permission before including them and double-check that their contact information is correct
  • Check out job boards regularly that directly relate to data science. Since there are so many online job resources that focus on the tech sector, make sure you search for openings in certain markets and companies that meet your experience and skills

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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