Career Corner: Careers in Data

UC Davis students sitting in a classroom in front of computers

Robin Reshwan, as seen on US News

Data. Many of us may think “data” is just a line item on our cell phone bill where we are penalized if we used too much that month. In the business world, data is on the mind of every CEO. How to acquire customer data? How to use data to determine buying patterns? How to keep confidential data safe?

These questions have resulted in a wave of new(er) career paths – and our workforce does not have enough qualified employees to match the hiring. Here are two paths to consider if you want to participate in these fast growing professions.

Marketing Analytics

Marketing departments are huge consumers of data and technology. A prediction by Garter (a leading research firm) estimated that the heads of marketing will actually spend more on information technology than the Chief Information Officers. Businesses of every kind want to know more about their customers and want to create practices that make it easier to target the right customers at the best time in an effort to increase sales efficiently.

Most entry level marketing careers begin by learning the technology tools available to capture customer preferences, identify buying patterns and market goods/services. Proficiency with the software tools leads you to where data and ideas converge. Initiatives measured by analytics drive most marketing efforts in mid to large firms. Things like “click through rates” and determining the “return on investment” for specific marketing campaigns or strategies give executives information about what is actually working (and what is not a good use of time). If you are pursuing a career in marketing, be prepared to demonstrate more than just good ideas - as a matter of fact, your ideas may not even be needed for many years to come. Instead, show how you have increased followers, expanded online communities, grew user engagement and ultimately had an impact on revenue because of your analysis of data. Let the numbers show your marketing potential.

Data Science

Ever wanted to be a treasure hunter? Maybe you have a knack for solving puzzles, finding “glitches” or seeing the piece that is out of place? Good news – you might be a natural data scientist.

“Since it's not a one-dimensional discipline, data scientists can emerge from just about any field. A good data scientist is someone who has the right tools (math, programming, critical thinking), is self-sufficient (doesn't need someone else to implement his or her ideas) and has an interest in understanding the context in which the skills can be applied. This is what the marketplace seeks.” (http://www.informationweek.com/big-data/big-data-analytics/data-scientist-the-sexiest-job-no-one- has/d/d-id/1112832)

But why pursue a data driven role versus a more traditional math or programming role? Eric Haller, executive vice president and global head of Experian Data Labs, gives this explanation: “Data Science offers continuous exploration. It is a multidisciplinary career path. You look for things that others may not have seen – patterns to tell a story. Furthermore, the stronger your skills, you can tackle more complex and intriguing problems – marketing, fraud, credit risk.”

A safe way to explore the career path while a student or a new Computer Science or Mathematics graduate, advises Haller, is to try out some online courses in data hygiene, data management, data infrastructure, analytics, statistics and machine learning. If the online learning piques your interest, then

you can pursue an advanced degree in data science. A career may start as a data engineer, tasked with cleaning up data sets. Over time, and possibly with an even more advanced degree, you can move to a data scientist role where you tackle business and security problems more comprehensively using your technical and analytical skills.

If you are pursuing career growth in the field, Haller suggests that you be prepared to demonstrate your math, programming and data management skills in interviewing situations and actively network to learn more about the companies and industries best suited for your interests. Also, there are considerably more opportunities in certain regions of the United States - Seattle, San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, New York, Austin, Charlotte/Raleigh and San Diego. The highest concentration of roles is near the technology and financial centers. Relocation may be necessary for career progression.

“I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will to be statisticians, and I’m not kidding,” said Hal Varian, the chief economist at Google in 2009. Move over programmers and software engineers. Analysts, engineers and scientists who can manipulate huge amounts of data and emerge with powerful insights that impact strategic decisions are now the ideal professions for career minded high achievers. With its rapid rate of growth and unparalleled employment potential, the future is bright for those who pursue big data.”

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