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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

“It is exciting to recruit data scientists to Microsoft right now because candidates often have the opportunity to interview with several departments,” explains McMahon, who focuses on recruiting data science and machine learning experts. Microsoft’s data scientists work on a variety of products, including Azure, Xbox, and Bing.

“A variety of skills and backgrounds in data science are interesting to us,” McMahon explains. “Publishing a paper on data science is an excellent way to stand out as a candidate,” she adds. Microsoft regularly sends recruiters to the Strata conference to meet professionals in the field. While a computer science degree is helpful, it is not required. McMahon has seen professionals from bio-informatics or other informatics fields make the transition to Microsoft.

Even those without formal training in data science or informatics can launch a new career with a little passion and persistence.

“Self-study and passion for data science are key qualities in data science professionals,” says Jeremy Stanley, vice president of data science at Instacart, an e-commerce company that arranges personalized grocery shopping and delivery services. “I prefer to give challenges for candidates to solve rather than simply reading a resume,” Stanley adds. “I am interested in understanding the quality of a candidate’s problem-solving skills and the quality of their code.”

Instacart’s hiring process includes a take-home test and working through a problem with the team, according to Stanley.

In addition to math and computer science knowledge, Stanley considers it important for data science professionals to think through the implications of data for customers and products. “The ability to ask the right questions and a commitment to ongoing learning are vital for data scientists seeking success in their current role and those seeking jobs,” Stanley explains.

From hospitality to data science: One person’s journey

Jade Bailey-Assam set a goal to break into data science a few years ago and has made excellent progress. Through significant hard work and study, she has developed valuable data science skills. With a bachelor’s degree in hospitality from Cornell University, Bailey-Assam started her career at Wynn Las Vegas, a major hotel and entertainment organization. Bailey-Assam’s Cornell studies focused on information studies, which gave her an understanding of technology and how it applies to business.

“In 2009, I had an assignment at Wynn to explore and research social media for the company. During that project, I became interested in natural language processing and sentiment analysis. At that time, it was quite challenging to do sentiment analysis,” Bailey-Assam says, referring to a practice often used in marketing to evaluate and summarize public comments about a company.

One popular approach to sentiment analysis is to analyze a large volume of social media comments (such as Twitter messages) and organize the messages into categories such as positive and negative. Several companies have produced software to support this activity, and they rely on natural language processing capabilities to support this need.


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