So Much Data; So Few Data Scientists

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Data scientists: too few in the room
Data scientists: too few in the room

Where are all the big brains who will corral all the big data—oh, and merge and integrate it with the small data, communicate its usefulness to business units, and innovate solutions to open-ended business problems? 

A new report from Pitney Bowes says that CEOs looking for more than their fair share of “data scientists,” the hot occupation briefly described above, should hang out in college computer science departments.  That's where one third of current data scientists say new ones are most likely to spring from, according to the report. The next best place to search would be within non-technical departments of their own or other companies, homing in on all-around bright candidates who are apt to have the right-brained attributes the data scientist requires, but that computer scientists often lack.

That might be valid advice once the data scientist profession matures, counters a Gartner analyst who's studied its genesis, but for now it's still centered on candidates with advanced computer science degrees who also exhibit business acumen and communications skills.

“Rather than do a survey, we did text mining of hundreds of job postings for data scientists to see what companies were actually looking for,” says Doug Laney, VP of research, business analytics, and information innovation at Gartner. “A lot of attributes jumped out: ‘integrating and cleansing,' ‘strong data preparation skills,' ‘architecting specialized computer and database environments.'”

In other words, if you're a marketer looking to transition into the data scientist's role, you'd better know your way around Hadoop or be ready to go back to school. “Versus ads for statisticians, ads for data scientists are twice as likely to require Ph.D. s,” Laney says.

The bottom line: All the doomsaying about there not being enough big (and bifurcated) brains around to handle all the Big Data are true. Senior executives surveyed by Pitney Bowes for the report said that the key inhibitor to making use of Big Data in their organizations was a lack of analytics capabilities and skills. More than a third of them noted that when it came to capitalizing on advanced analytics, they had “too much data and too few resources.”

“For the time being, organizations won't have the ability to take on enterprise-wide advanced analytics initiatives,” Laney says.  But don't despair, marketers, you're at the head of the line to make use of the data scientist's services.

“Their skills will continue to be targeted toward highest-priority and most-targeted functions, primarily marketing,” he adds. “The greatest opportunity for innovation is in marketing.  The intersection of social, mobile, cloud, and information—what we call the nexus of forces--is more apparent in marketing than anywhere else.”

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