Career Track for Sexy Immortal Billionaires

By | October 18, 2012

According to Harvard Business Review, the sexiest career these days is data scientist:

Goldman is a good example of a new key player in organizations: the “data scientist.” It’s a high-ranking professional with the training and curiosity to make discoveries in the world of big data. The title has been around for only a few years. (It was coined in 2008 by one of us, D.J. Patil, and Jeff Hammerbacher, then the respective leads of data and analytics efforts at LinkedIn and Facebook.) But thousands of data scientists are already working at both start-ups and well-established companies. Their sudden appearance on the business scene reflects the fact that companies are now wrestling with information that comes in varieties and volumes never encountered before. If your organization stores multiple petabytes of data, if the information most critical to your business resides in forms other than rows and columns of numbers, or if answering your biggest question would involve a “mashup” of several analytical efforts, you’ve got a big data opportunity.

Not as sexy, apparently

Much of the current enthusiasm for big data focuses on technologies that make taming it possible, including Hadoop (the most widely used framework for distributed file system processing) and related open-source tools, cloud computing, and data visualization. While those are important breakthroughs, at least as important are the people with the skill set (and the mind-set) to put them to good use. On this front, demand has raced ahead of supply. Indeed, the shortage of data scientists is becoming a serious constraint in some sectors. Greylock Partners, an early-stage venture firm that has backed companies such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Palo Alto Networks, and Workday, is worried enough about the tight labor pool that it has built its own specialized recruiting team to channel talent to businesses in its portfolio. “Once they have data,” says Dan Portillo, who leads that team, “they really need people who can manage it and find insights in it.”

We’ve heard for years that one of the biggest challenges organizations face is getting a handle on all their data, getting their data under control. Full disclosure: I used to do product marketing for a database company, so I have in fact been saying things like that for years. It was true years ago and is even more true today.

The stakes are higher today, however, not just because there’s more data — although there is — but because of the myriad possibilities that lie within that data. Huge, game-changing market opportunities are waiting to be tapped; potential business-killing trends are beginning to emerge. Knowing how to look for these possibilities, finding them and defining them, understanding them and making them understandable to others within the organization — these are skills whose value it would be difficult to overestimate.

Individuals who possess that skill set, who can look at data and create working scenarios from it, can pretty much write their own ticket. But is there really anything sexy about it?

Okay. Maybe.

UPDATE: Equal time. Apparently this guy isn’t as sexy, either, unless he happens to be a data scientist. For that matter, we don’t know that the angel shown above isn’t one.

(Angel image via Wikimedia Commons. Bodybuilder image also via Wikimedia Commons.)
Cross-posted from Transparency Revolution.
  • Phil

    But how do you get a job as a data scientist with a degree from a state university? That’s the question.