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Data Scientist Career Guide

What is a data scientist?

A data scientist is a specialist who uses math, statistics, and computer science to understand large amounts of data. These professionals are needed when complex data sets, also known as big data, must be looked at and understood. They help companies find useful information hidden in large piles of data and use it to make smart business decisions.

They are essentially the masterminds of complicated data analysis. These scientists decode and explain complex data trends, guiding decision-making within a company. Their insights help businesses predict trends in their industry, forecast outcomes, and tailor their services to individual clients.

Duties and responsibilities

Data scientists have many responsibilities. At the core of their duties, they must gather large raw data sets and clean them by identifying and correcting disparities. They are responsible for building customized models with algorithms to analyze diverse forms of data from various sources. They examine databases and data systems to extract the necessary data and interpret trends and patterns to solve complex business problems.

These professionals work with various departments, explaining their findings in ways their colleagues and managers can understand. They can also come up with solutions to business problems using data, which could involve developing new ways to model data. On top of that, they take care of large sets of data and make sure data protection rules are being followed.

Work environment

A data scientist’s work environment tends to be dynamic and technologically advanced. They typically work in an office as part of a team. Depending on the project’s nature, their teammates could include professionals from different departments like technology, marketing, and sales. The work revolves a lot around computer systems and databases, hence the need for a strong knowledge of computer science.

Professionals in this field could work for a wide array of organizations, including private businesses, government agencies, consultancies, or non-profit organizations, depending on their interests and the type of data they specialize in analyzing. Due to the nature of the job, they may sometimes have to work under tight deadlines, requiring them to possess excellent time management skills.

Typical work hours

Data scientists generally work full-time, often between 35 to 40 hours a week, typically from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, the exact hours can vary significantly depending on the workload and project deadlines. During intense project work, they may work extra hours to meet the project’s demands and deadlines, which could include evenings and weekends.

How to become a data scientist

Becoming a data scientist involves securing the appropriate education, accumulating real-world experience, and earning additional credentials when needed. In this career guide section, we cover the steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goal:

Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree

Earning a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field is the first step. Preferred disciplines include mathematics, statistics, computer science, or data science. This foundation provides the necessary knowledge in core areas like advanced calculus, operations research, and computer programming.

Step 2: Gain experience with programming languages

Hands-on expertise in programming languages such as Python, R, SAS, and SQL is important since they are primary tools to manipulate data and perform analysis. This proficiency can be developed during the academic years or through additional real-world projects and internships.

Step 3: Pursue an advanced degree

An advanced degree can significantly impact your career in such a competitive field. A master’s or Ph.D. in areas such as data science, applied statistics, machine learning, or artificial intelligence would further equip students with the deep analytical skills required to tackle complex data problems.

Step 4: Acquire hands-on experience

Aspiring data scientists should seek internship opportunities, research projects, or entry-level jobs that allow them to apply what they have learned in a practical setting. This will help them understand real-world data science problems and learn how to develop effective solutions.

Step 5: Enhance your skill set with advanced data analysis techniques

Knowledge of advanced statistical techniques and machine learning algorithms is crucial. You should hone your skills in predictive modeling, data mining, data visualization, and optimization techniques to stand out in the data science job market.

Step 6: Obtain relevant certifications

Certifications in data science formally recognize your skills and knowledge and may be beneficial in job placement. Several organizations offer these certifications, including the Data Science Council of America, Microsoft, and IBM.

Step 7: Apply for jobs

Once you have the necessary education, skills, and hands-on experience, you can start applying for data scientist positions. Consider various sectors, like healthcare, finance, retail, technology, and government organizations. Regularly check job boards, industry forums, and networking events for opportunities.

Step 8: Continue learning and stay updated

Data science is a rapidly evolving field. Staying current with the latest tools, technologies, and techniques is very important to remain competitive. This can be done through continuous learning, attending workshops, reading industry publications, and participating in relevant online forums.

How much do data scientists make?

The compensation for a data scientist can be influenced by several key factors, including the level of education, years of relevant experience, specific industry of employment, and geographical location. As they represent a high-demand profession, individuals with advanced degrees, such as a Master’s or Ph.D., and extensive experience can command higher salaries.

Certain industries place a premium on data science abilities, and this can reflect in increased compensation packages. For example, tech giants, finance firms, and healthcare industries typically offer competitive salaries. Company size also plays a role; larger companies often have bigger budgets to attract and retain top talents. Finally, as with many occupations, certain regions pay more for the same job due to cost of living differences, demand for the job, or a region-specific industry concentration.

Highest paying industries

  • Technology – $128,300
  • Finance & Insurance – $125,400
  • Pharmaceuticals & Healthcare – $123,800
  • Manufacturing – $120,800

Highest paying states

  • California – $130,800
  • Washington – $128,100
  • New York – $127,750
  • New Jersey – $126,720
  • Massachusetts – $126,600

Browse data scientist salary data by market

Types of data scientists

From business analytics to deep learning, the field is full of opportunities for professionals with diverse interests and skills. Here are some common roles and specializations in the data scientist profession.

Business data scientist

When data science is applied to the business realm, the role of a business data scientist emerges. These professionals use data science methods to provide practical insights that can directly influence business results. Their combination of data analysis skills and business knowledge enhances decision-making processes throughout various business departments.

Machine learning engineer

Machine learning engineers are a special kind of data science professional. They design, implement, and take care of machine learning systems. Their skills typically include advanced programming, using statistical methods, and a deep understanding of learning algorithms.

Deep learning engineer

Deep learning engineers stand at the intersection of data science and artificial intelligence. This specialization involves creating and implementing deep-learning models, a subset of machine-learning models. They often work with sizable neural networks and algorithms and use them to solve complex problems with large datasets.

Data engineer

Data engineers do a lot of the hard work in the data field. They’re responsible for designing, building, installing, testing, and looking after data management systems that can handle a lot of data. While they’re part of the wider field of data science, they mostly concentrate on the structural side of things rather than analyzing the data.

Quantitative analyst

Commonly referred to as ‘quants,’ quantitative analysts often find work in finance, designing and implementing complex models that allow financial firms to price and trade securities. They use their understanding of both computational and mathematical principles to understand and work with complex mathematical models.

Top skills for data scientists

This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as a data scientist. The following descriptions provide insights into the abilities anyone aspiring to this role should focus on developing.

In-depth knowledge of science, mathematics and statistics

This profession requires a firm foundation in science, mathematics, and statistics. These disciplines form the basis upon which other data science skills are built. They help understand the nature of the data, interpret complex patterns, handle unstructured data, and use various statistical models for data analysis. They’re also fundamental in learning and implementing machine learning algorithms, which often rely heavily on statistical principles and mathematical computations.

Robust programming skills

A data scientist should acquire strong programming skills as these are instrumental in the entire data science pipeline. Every step involves programming, from extracting and cleaning data to applying algorithms and creating predictive models. Knowledge of one or more programming languages like R, Python, or Java and an understanding of databases and SQL are necessary. These enable them to wrangle with big data and perform complex data analysis.

Proficiency in machine learning

Being skilled in machine learning is a major advantage. Machine learning allows them to discover patterns and insights from large datasets, which could be missed using standard methods. Knowing a range of machine learning techniques, such as regression, clustering, decision trees, random forests, and artificial neural networks, equips these professionals to handle various data challenges and produce more accurate results and predictions.

Sophisticated communication and presentation abilities

As a mediator between data and business decision-makers, they must possess the ability to communicate complex data stories in an accessible manner. Being able to transform complex data analyses into clear, understandable, and actionable insights is essential. Strong presentation skills, both in oral and written form, facilitate setting the right context and showcasing their work’s value to stakeholders—including non-technical individuals. This skill is as important as any other technical one.

Strong business acumen

Data science is not performed in a vacuum—it is deeply interwoven with business processes and objectives. Therefore, a successful data scientist should possess strong business acumen. This includes an understanding of the industry, deep knowledge of the business’s internal operations, awareness of market trends, and the ability to comprehend the practical implications of the data analysis results. This knowledge allows them to identify which problems need solving and drive value-creating solutions for the business.

Data scientist career path

The career path for data scientists is typically filled with numerous opportunities for advancement and specialization. A popular route is progressing to a senior scientist role from an entry-level or intermediate position. As they gain experience and build a portfolio of successful projects, these professionals can step up to lead a data science team, taking on roles such as a data science manager or director. These roles involve more strategic planning and oversight, and they play a significant part in shaping the course the company takes in its data projects.

Those experts who enjoy technical challenges more than managerial responsibilities might choose to become machine learning engineers or artificial intelligence (AI) specialists, spearheading advancements in state-of-the-art technology. Alternatively, some may apply their data science insights to strategic decision-making, evolving into roles like data strategist or chief data officer. These positions utilize a deep understanding of data analysis and modeling to influence data governance and overall business strategy.

The cross-disciplinary aspect of data science lets professionals branch out their skills into other related fields or industries. For example, they can move into data-centric roles in sectors like finance, healthcare, marketing, or cyber security. As data science also involves data visualization and communication skills, a shift into roles like data journalism or business intelligence analysis could also be an attractive career transition.

Lastly, there are opportunities to branch out and start their own consultancy or tech start-up. With a profound understanding of how businesses can leverage data to drive performance, experienced data scientists can offer valuable consulting services or create new data-driven software solutions. This entrepreneurial route requires additional skills, including effective client communication and business management knowledge, but it could offer great professional and personal gratification.

One key element propelling changes in data science is the ongoing development and improvement of AI and machine learning (ML) technologies. These advancements enable data scientists to create more intricate models and predict trends with higher precision.

The use of automated machine learning, or AutoML, is predicted to grow significantly in the upcoming years. This technology lets these professionals automate the repetitive parts of machine learning model development, freeing up more of their time to tackle important business issues. Another notable trend in data science is the growing use of cloud-based solutions for big data analytics. As businesses continue to produce massive amounts of data, the demand for scalable, cost-effective solutions to store and process this data is rising, pushing cloud technology to the forefront in the field.

Employment projections for data scientists

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for data scientists is expected to grow much faster than average. Specifically, the BLS projects a significant growth for data scientists of 36% through 2031. The rapid growth can be attributed to the increasing use of data and market research across all industries—designed to understand customers and meet business goals. The demand for skilled scientists is projected to remain strong across all industries, particularly in the tech and healthcare sectors.

Data scientist career tips

Understand the business

You are expected to convert complex data into insights that influence business decisions. Hence, to succeed, it’s essential to have robust knowledge about your firm’s industry, understand its business model, and familiarize yourself with its objectives and goals. Having this context will guide your data analysis and improve the value of your insights.

Stay updated with latest technologies

Data science is a field that is constantly evolving, with new technologies and tools being introduced regularly. You should keep updated with the latest trends, software, and technologies, ensuring your skill set remains relevant and impactful. This includes learning new programming languages and using data visualization tools.

Build a strong portfolio

Developing a strong portfolio showcasing your data science projects is beneficial for demonstrating your abilities and developing your career. This should include examples of your research, techniques used, data analysis, and how the results influenced business decisions. A well-rounded portfolio can make you stand out in the job market and help you secure desirable positions.

Communicate effectively

Strong communication skills are key to presenting complex analyses and insights to non-technical stakeholders. You should be able to explain your findings clearly and concisely, ensuring the data is understandable and actionable. Effective communication can increase the impact of your work and make it easier for others to use your insights to drive decision-making.

Build a professional network

Networking is an asset in your professional growth. Connecting with industry professionals can provide opportunities, insights, and advice that can help advance your career. Join associations and online groups focused on data science to widen your network.

  • American Statistical Association
  • Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (SIGKDD)
  • International Machine Learning Society (IMLS)

Continuously learn and adapt

The field of data science is always changing, with new techniques and technologies emerging regularly. You must embrace continuous learning to stay relevant and make a significant impact. Consider exploring platforms that offer courses on the latest trends in data science. Engage in online competitions and hackathons, which provide real-world challenges to sharpen your skills.

Pursue relevant certifications

Certifications can greatly enhance your credibility. They serve as a testament to your expertise and dedication to your field. Consider certifications that focus on key areas of data science, including machine learning, data mining, and data analysis.

  • Certified Analytics Professional (CAP)
  • Microsoft Certified: Azure AI Engineer Associate
  • IBM Data Science Professional Certificate
  • Google Professional Data Engineer

Where the data scientist jobs are

Top employers

  • Google
  • IBM
  • Microsoft
  • Amazon
  • Facebook

Top states

  • California
  • Washington
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Illinois

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster
  • CareerBuilder


What type of education does a data scientist typically need?

Typically, entry-level jobs require a bachelor’s degree in computer science, data science, mathematics, or a related field. However, it’s becoming increasingly common for employers to require a master’s or Ph.D. in these fields. This higher level of education enables professionals to gain a more comprehensive understanding of relevant topics such as machine learning, data analysis, and statistics.

How important is programming for a data scientist?

Programming is a core component of a data scientist’s role. It’s vital to gain proficiency in languages like Python, R, SQL, and Java, as these are used extensively for data manipulation, analysis, and presentation. Additionally, programming facilitates data-driven problem solving and allows for the implementation of machine learning algorithms, both of which are often key requirements in data science positions.

What tools do data scientists commonly use?

They routinely use a variety of tools, including software for statistical analysis like R or SAS, programming environments like Python and Julia, databases like SQL or Hadoop, and data visualization tools like Tableau, PowerBI, or ggplot2. Additionally, they often use machine learning libraries such as TensorFlow or PyTorch and other applications for big data processing and analysis.

How crucial is communication for a data scientist?

Although technical skills are paramount, communication skills are also crucial. Data scientists often collaborate with different areas of a business, stakeholders, and other data professionals, which necessitates clear and effective communication. Additionally, they must be able to convey complex analysis results to people with varying degrees of data literacy, making simplifying and effectively presenting information essential.

What role does mathematics play in data science?

Mathematics forms the foundation of data science. It underpins our understanding of statistical analysis, machine learning algorithms, and data processing techniques. A sound grasp of fields like linear algebra, calculus, and probability theory is essential when it comes to building efficient and precise data models..

Is experience with machine learning necessary for data scientists?

Although it’s not always a hard-and-fast requirement, having experience or a solid understanding of machine learning can greatly enrich their toolkit. Machine learning techniques are leveraged to build predictive models and algorithms, enabling the extraction of meaningful insights and accurate forecasts from extensive datasets. Therefore, a good understanding of machine learning approaches can offer a significant edge in the realm of data science.

What are some common tasks in a data scientist’s workday?

A typical day for a data scientist is filled with various tasks. Their duties might include collecting and cleaning data, manipulating data using programming languages, applying statistical methods and machine learning algorithms, creating data visualizations, and presenting their findings to non-technical team members or stakeholders. They often participate in discussions to solve problems and develop strategic plans based on data trends and forecasts.

What kind of projects do data scientists typically work on?

They work on a diverse array of projects, depending on the industry they are in. They might be tasked with predicting customer behaviors to inform marketing strategies, improving supply chain efficiency, detecting fraudulent transactions, developing recommendation systems for e-commerce platforms, or contributing to developing autonomous vehicles in the technology sector.

How does data science differ from data analytics?

Both work with data but differ in scope and focus. Data analytics refers to the process of analyzing raw data to find trends and answer questions. It is often retrospective and focuses on providing insights about what has happened. On the other hand, data science is more comprehensive and uses advanced techniques to extract insights, make predictions, or build data-driven solutions. It encompasses areas like artificial intelligence and machine learning and often focuses on predictions about future occurrences.

Is there a demand for data scientists in the current job market?

Data analysis is a rapidly growing field, and the demand for skilled professionals, especially data scientists, continues to increase. As companies across all industries recognize the value of data-driven decision-making and prediction models, the need for data scientists who can interpret complex data and provide insights is ever-growing—and shows no signs of slowing down.