Sexiest geek alive: the data scientist

Data scientists have become the sexy, high-paid rock stars of IT

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Source: graybyte/FLickr

Collecting and storing big data, while extremely challenging, is simple compared to deriving value from it. That's because, for the most part, the storing and collecting of big data primarily presents technical hurdles. And IT excels at applying technology to problems.

Extracting value is different. While technology is clearly a part of the solution, the human element is critical to finding something worthwhile within an enterprise's big data. That human element is the data scientist.

The term data scientist has only been around since 2007, when it was coined by Jeff Hammerbacher at Facebook. But the role of building the mathematical models that are capable of discovering value in data has been around for much longer. Until recently, however, it has seldom been considered a sexy position in a business.

Now data scientists are the rock stars of the enterprise. CNN just listed it as the number three “best new job” in the United States with a median pay of $98,600, the highest paid role in its list, and a job growth rate of more than 18%, trailing only video game developer. Even the buttoned-down the Harvard Business Review has dubbed it “the sexiest job of the 21st century.”

James Kobielus, a Forrester analyst, explored whether data scientists were truly an important new role in business or simply a trendy new job title that will soon fade from view. His conclusion? “Data scientists can prove to be one of your most strategic assets in the competitive wars,” he writes.

Why data scientists are suddenly sexy has everything to do with pervasiveness of big data, not the newness of the position in the company. As noted above, we've long had business and data analysts who create statistical models to query a data warehouse. They were finding value in data long before Facebook emerged on the scene. But they were working with, for lack of a better term, small data. That either limited the precision of the analysis or narrowed its applicability to very specific problems.

Big data changed everything. It has become vital for our understanding of the full universe of our business: Our markets; our customers; and the environment in which the enterprise thrives. Its impact is on companies large and small. Without knowing how big data affects the business environment, we are at a competitive disadvantage. And, as with our natural environment, we need scientists to study and analyze our total data environment to get optimal value from it.

I am delighted that data scientists have become the sexy, high-paid rock stars of IT. It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of geeks.

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