Would you like to work in a field where average salaries are in the six figures, the potential for raises and promotions is high, demand for employees far outstrips supply, and you can easily start your own business?

If all that sounds appealing, consider data science. Glassdoor reports an average salary of $114,808 for data scientists. Not only that, an analysis of Glassdoor feedback rates it as the best profession for work-life balance.

Surprisingly, you don't need to go back to school for a degree in mathematics or computer programming to land a data science job. There may have been a time when that was necessary, but that time is in the past. The need for data scientists is so huge, and the supply of people with appropriate degrees is so inadequate, that few employers are insisting anymore on a directly relevant degree. McKinsey predicts that by 2018, the United States my face a shortage of up to 190,000 data scientists as well as 1.5 million managers with the skills to translate data science into business decisions. In such a tight job market, a lot of employers are getting creative about whom they hire, and they're eager to hire consultants who can help them with their data analysis needs.

The high demand will only get higher. Once most common at companies like Google and LinkedIn, big data and data analytics are rapidly becoming indispensable business tools at companies large and small, high-tech or not. Business leaders are using data analysis to answer questions on everything from how many items to order, to which colors they should select for their websites, to which marketing campaigns are most successful. Even the "Deflategate" controversy over the New England Patriots' inadequately inflated footballs and their effect on play was settled by data science.

OK--but can you really land a data science job without at least some sort of STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) degree? Yes, you can, according to Eric Haller, executive vice president of Experian DataLabs, a big data consulting arm of the information services and credit reporting giant. 

Here's his advice for getting started.

1. Take a free online class.

Free online courses from top universities or top subject-matter experts are available via sites such as Coursera, Udacity, and edX. Take advantage of these MOOCs (massive open online courses) to get the training that will let you know what you're doing around a data set. 

"I'd focus on data hygiene, data management, data infrastructure, analytics, statistics, and machine learning," Haller says. "See if you enjoy the content."

2. Practice.

You can download a public dataset from Kaggle, which hosts open data science competitions. (Competitors are given a data analysis problem to solve and there are cash prizes for winners.) "Test your skills against the open market," Haller says. Or ask the data scientists where you work to give you a data set and test your skills on that.

Be warned--you won't need a relevant degree, but you will be tested on the specific skills you need before landing a job, Haller says. "So be prepared."

3. Join a LinkedIn group.

"Join groups associated with data science on topics such as big data, analytics, machine learning, and data management," Haller says. "If you can specialize your interests to such topics as digital marketing, risk, compliance, etc., you may find it more interesting and your contributions more relevant."

You can use the group not only to increase your own knowledge of the field, but also to get to know and be known by those in the profession. The same approach works with other social media, such as following data science threads on Twitter or liking data science-related Facebook pages, he adds. 

4. Get to know working data scientists.

Use these groups and educational opportunities to look for opportunities to network with people working in data science, either in person or remotely if you aren't in the same location. "Listen to what their day-to-day work life is like and ask yourself if it sounds worth the effort of changing your career," Haller suggests.

If the answer to that question is yes, you may get the opportunity just by getting to know these folks, he adds. "Because demand is so high, even just networking with data scientists might open doors for employment opportunities. They are asked all the time who they know who can fill a role." 

5. Consider moving.

To truly take advantage of the out-of-control demand for data scientists, consider relocating to a geographical area where employers are especially desperate to hire data scientists. "Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, New York, Austin, Charlotte/Raleigh-Durham, and San Diego are all excellent places to live where the hiring is robust," Haller says. "And you may get some attention if you can demonstrate relevant skills and interests--even if you aren't a perfect fit."

 

Published on: Oct 21, 2015