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January 22, 2016

Data Scientists: The Myth and the Reality

Seamus Breslin


Given the fact that the term “data scientist” has only been around since 2008, it is a surprising fact to learn that there is a major global shortage of the wonderful wizards of big data.

In 2008, DJ Patil, who at the time was the head of analytics at LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD), created the “people you may know feature” through the interpretation of big data. This gives you an idea how the use of big data has shaped our everyday technological life. But just what is data science, and why is it the hottest, most in-demand career in tech right now?

A study into the current job market by my company predicts that the Irish market for data scientists is set to boom, with far more jobs in data analytics and science becoming available than there will be qualified people to fill them. At present, a data scientist in Ireland can take their pick of jobs with up to three jobs within their respected field as the number of job opportunities continues to grow at a rapid pace.

Data scientists interpret data to find solutions to business problems. They use the latest statistical techniques, not old business intelligence tools. The data scientist of 2016 has been described as “part analyst, part artist.” She combines an analytical mind with the ability to interpret data to spot trends in business that are otherwise unseen.

This skill requires an innate sense of creativity and thinking outside of the box. A solid foundation in math, analytics, computer science, and applications, as well as computer programming, are some of the skills needed to succeed in a career in data science.

The all-star hybrid data scientist jobs that are often advertised online are something to take with a pinch of salt. As with most careers in tech, it is not likely that you have had extensive experience in all areas that are required on the job spec. A recent article on the topic states that it is important to look beyond the definition of the “unicorn” data scientist. In reality, the number of candidates who would qualify for each and every requirement on the job spec are few and far between.


Here’s my advice for people pursuing roles in data science. First, don’t be put off if you see a job spec that requires a huge variety of qualifications. It never hurts to take a chance, even if you haven’t had first-hand experience in these disciplines. If you have a mathematical and statistical background, you are driven by data and interested in doing applied research, then go for it. Data scientists are often made up of teams of people with different skill sets who excel in their respected areas.

This team-based approach to data science was evident with British Airways creation of the “Know Me” team. The company combatted the shortage of “unicorn data scientists” by combining experts within their fields to combine with the exact types of skills that they needed. British Airways took the approach that the skill sets that were needed for their team already existed within their teams, and so they just pieced them together to create the perfect data science team.

The shortage of data scientists is not just affecting the Irish employment market. There has been a surge in the demand for data scientists across the globe. With multi-national companies utilizing data scientists worldwide, you can see why it is the most in demand career right now. Job market predictions on a global level resonate with the same message–that there is not enough highly skilled people to fill the roles that will become available. The universities and schools simply can’t keep up with the onset of demand for people with these skills.

A report by Fórfas and the Expert Group of Future Skills Needs has revealed that by the year 2020 there could be almost 21,000 job vacancies in the field of data science in Ireland. The study conducted by Solas Consulting shows that at present there are 600+ jobs available in Ireland and the availability of job opportunity is in a continued state of growth.

In the United States, it is reported that by 2018 there will be more than 490,000 data science positions available, but only 200,000 qualified people to fill the roles. The average size of a graduate class of data science students is 23 students. With approximately only 110 universities offering data science studies, the growing market will continue to pressure the supply in the US.

The employment market in the United Kingdom reflects the same issue, where education can’t keep up with demand. In the UK there are only 25 Master degree programs available, but the job market continues to boom with over 3,000 jobs currently available.

In a world where knowledge is truly power, data scientists hold the key to unlocking future business development. However, until the day that the myth of the perfectly qualified data scientist fabricates into the job market and matches the employers’ demands, employers should take an innovative approach to the hiring of potential candidates.seamus_breslin


About the author: Seamus Breslin is the founder and managing director of Solas Consulting, an Irish company that specializes in placing big data, BI, SQL, Oracle, Java and .Net professionals with a variety of clients ranging from multinationals to SMEs and start-ups.


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