Where do Data Scientists Come From? How Do I become One?

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I frequently get asked…. How do I become a data scientist? How do Data Scientists get their skills? There are several options but first… Let’s take a look at the profile of data scientists and see how your skills rank compared to them.  According to a 2018 study by Burtch Works, it is estimated that:

  • 91% of of data scientists have an advanced degree (43% hold a Master’s degree, and 48% hold a PhD).
  • 25% of data scientists hold a degree in statistics or mathematics, 20% have a computer science degree, 20% hold a degree in the natural sciences, 18% hold an engineering degree, 8% hold a business degree, 5% hold a social science degree, and 4% an economics degree
  • 44% of data scientists are employed by the technology industry, followed by Financial Services with 14%, marketing services with 9%, consulting 8%, Healthcare/Pharma 6% and retail with 5%
  • 62% of data scientists are US citizens, 19% have permanent residency and the rest are on temporary visas
  • 85% of data scientists are male

These statistics should give you a general idea about the skillset shared by the community of data scientists.

How do I become a Data Scientist? Where do I get the skills?

There are several options depending on how much time you want to spend acquiring the skills, how much money you want to spend, and how deep you want your skills to be. Here is a summary of the most popular options:

1-PhD: If you are interested in a PhD, or already pursuing a PhD, most likely than not, you will acquire skills that will help you become a Data Scientist. As we saw in the statistics above, today almost half of data scientists have a PhD.  On average, a PhD will take several years to complete.

2- Master of Science in Analytics/Data Science: The first master program focused on Analytics/Data Science was started by the Institute of Advanced Analytics (IAA) at NC State in 2007 (I graduated from this program in 2012). It was for many years the only program in the nation, and due to high demand, many new programs have been launched in the past few years. There are now over 200 programs in the United States, with some of them full time, some part time, and some online.  If you are curious about what programs are available that could match your needs, you can use the Interactive Map kept by the IAA to find options that might fit your needs in the United States. It will usually take you 1 or 2 years to complete a master degree.

3- Data Science Bootcamps: There are several alternatives.  Switchup has a good summary of the best Data Science Bootcamps.  Figure 1 summarizes a comparison of these programs using Switchup’s ratings and details from each of the programs (Disclaimer: this information varies frequently so this may be out of date by the time you read it). Refer to their web sites for up to date details. You will be able to complete a bootcamp in a matter of months.

Figure 1 Summary of Information on the Best Data Science Bootcamps (Switchup)

4- Data Science Online Certifications. MOOCs provide a a wealth of training options: Coursera, Edx, Cognitiveclass.AI, and Udacity are all great choices. Udacity has an advantage over the others in that they offer mentorship together with their education programs. (See what one student of both Udacity and other programs has to say about his experience). Prices and length of programs vary greatly among these choices, and they offer a lot of flexibility.  However, you will still need practical experience.  These classes can give you a foundation, that will need to be supplemented with practical experience to become a Junior Data Scientist.

For more information on the type of skills needed to be a Data Scientist, refer to What are the skills that define the role of Data Scientists?

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