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Career boost: Break into data science

Bruce Harpham | Feb. 26, 2016
The high demand for data scientists has many IT pros contemplating a lucrative career shift

Data science is rapidly becoming one of the hottest careers in IT. The field’s rise to prominence has been driven in part by the fact that its raw material — structured and unstructured data — is being produced at record levels. But it’s the ready availability of robust, low-cost data science tools, ranging from Microsoft Excel to Python to Hadoop, that has organizations of all sizes pursuing the kind of data analysis once reserved for Web giants like Google and Amazon.

As a result, data science has become a rapidly expanding career opportunity for professionals to make an impact and earn an excellent income. Unlike long-established technology functions such as database administration, data science is a young field. That means a greater openness to new professionals and those willing to learn new skills.

Here’s a look at how you can get started on your path to becoming a data scientist.

Who’s hiring — and for how much

A cursory look at LinkedIn job postings referring to data science can give you a sense of the demand, with 3,500 postings as of January 2016. Titles range from Senior Data Scientist to Analytical Data Scientist to Big Data Engineer. Employers run the gamut from Web stalwarts to financial firms, including Amazon (70-plus open jobs), Booz Allen Hamilton (70-plus), Bloomberg, Oracle, Commerce Bank, and Capital One.

For those who land a job in data science, the pay is lucrative, with a median annual base salary of $104,000 for U.S. data science roles, according to O’Reilly Media’s 2015 Data Science Salary Survey. (PayScale also shows a $100,000-plus median salary for data scientists with one year of experience in California.) That’s only the start, with the Robert Half Technology 2016 Salary Guide reporting a range of $109,000 to $153,750 for data scientist salaries in 2016. The San Francisco Bay Area is home to the greatest concentration of data science openings in the United States, but jobs are to be found across the country, with numerous opportunities in New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C., as well.

Six-figure salaries and a significant number of open job postings for data science have prompted several companies to dedicate recruiters to the field. In addition, there are a variety of education programs offered by universities and professional associations to equip professionals with analytics and data skills to enter the field.

What employers are looking for

Microsoft is known in the industry for its billion-dollar products and commitment to research and development. The organization’s R&D strength has led the company to actively recruit for data scientists and machine learning experts. According to LinkedIn, Microsoft employs more than 400 data scientists in a variety of roles, some of whom have doctorates. The company actively recruits data science professionals through direct campus recruitment and experienced professionals. Microsoft recruiter Robin McMahon shares her perspective on the company’s current opportunities in data science.


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