Back in 2011, McKinsey forecast a drought in big-data talent. "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," was the dire prediction.
Today, that forecast seems to be coming true. In the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Dwoskin recently reported that recruiting for data scientists is at a fever pitch. "Anyone with 'data science' in his or her job title on a LinkedIn page is going to get '100 recruiter emails a day,' is what Josh Sullivan, a data science executive at Booz Allen Hamilton, tells Dwoskin. To woo talent, Sullivan often sends recruits handwritten notes and care packages filled with chocolate, Dwoskin reports.
All of this could seem like lousy news for any entrepreneur with limited recruiting funds. The problem? You need data scientists. But to attract them, you have to compete with the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn and other well-heeled companies with comparatively bottomless recruiting budgets. You also have to compete with high-profile dating sites like OKCupid. (Though, as Dwoskin points out, OkCupid recently got into some hot water, for being disingenuous with couples about their potential compatibility.)
How, then, is the archetypal entrepreneur, building her company in relative obscurity, supposed to compete for data science talent? As it happens, there's plenty you can do. Here are three tips:
1. Recruit from untraditional sources. DJ Patil, Data Scientist in Residence at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners, has told Yuki Noguchi on NPR.com that "his successful recruits have included an oceanographer and a neurosurgeon, as well as people who barely graduated from high school but were brilliant at math."
Patil’s experience dovetails with findings in EMC's Data Scientist Study, in which 27 percent of participants claim that the best source of Big Data talent is "professionals in disciplines other than IT or computer science" and 24 percent say the best source is "students studying fields other than computer science." In other words, a majority (51 percent) of those surveyed assert that IT and computer science are not the best place to look for all-star analysts.
Buttressing these numerical results is a fascinating anecdotal tidbit from the EMC study: "We asked respondents for their job titles, and in the ranks of many business analysts, consultants, and analytics managers, we also found graphic designers, physicians, and research scientists, including one fisheries biologist."
2. Retrain your current staff. Rick Cowan, CIO at True Textiles, a Guilford, Maine-based contract manufacturer of interior fabrics for the commercial market, has done just that, reports Beth Stackpole on Computerworld.com. "To address the need, he has begun to retrain programmers and database analysts to get them up to speed on advanced analytics," she writes.
3. Sell recruits on your company's purpose. NPR.com's Noguchi notes that David Friedberg, CEO of The Climate Corporation, has a sales pitch that appeals to the agrarian ideals of would-be analysts. "The ability to better model changing climate patterns means his company can provide insurance to small farmers who otherwise might not take on the risk of farming more land," she writes. "We can actually encourage agricultural development and provide a sustainable living for them," Friedberg tells her. "And that's one of the long-term missions of our organization."
So, yes: You'll be competing with some prestigious companies for data science talent. But you can compete with them on purpose, and through resourcefulness.
And if that fails, there's always chocolate.