MBAs understand business concepts such as product development and management, but aren't able to analyze and interpret data. Mathematicians and statisticians lack intimate knowledge of the business. "Data scientists must have an openness to solving business problems, not just be able to perform some nifty modeling. We educate students in a way that cuts across disciplines," Rappa says.
The approach has been proven out as 100% of the program's participants are placed before graduation. "They are highly sought after and highly paid," he says. In fact, the program recently expanded its annual enrollment from 40 to 80. "We doubled the size to meet the demand coming from the private and public sectors."
Rappa admits that the term "data scientist" is far more appealing than its piece parts such as statistician and computer scientist. "Data science captures the imagination," he says.
Eric Horn, education director at the Data Sciences Summer Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, agrees that there is a certain mystique to data science, even though it has a heavy computer science influence.
For instance, his students as well as those at the university's Illinois Informatics Institute are trained in various machine learning algorithms, natural language processing and intelligent search algorithms. They also learn how to apply those algorithms in myriad domains such as healthcare.
Like Rappa, Horn has witnessed heightened interest in his program, but can't expand enrollment at this time due to funding.
Modis' Kelley feels educational opportunities will open up as more companies focus in on data scientist skill sets. She encourages candidates with partial talents - such as an MBA, analytics or computer science - to fill out their resume with degrees or certificates from tailored programs like Rappa's and Horn's. (See also: 10 tech-centric MBA programs.)
The data scientist draft
At eBay's transaction arm PayPal, Chief Scientist Mok Oh is creating a fantasy data scientist team and he's hoping to unearth candidates like those being churned out by the programs at Horn's and Rappa's institutions.
PayPal plans to study the tens of petabytes of data its customers and partners generate to predict buying patterns. Oh wants to carefully blend spending and behavioral data to develop profiles and uncover trends that will help attract new customers to PayPal and its partner ecosystem.