Christopher O’Flaherty, BDO Financial Services Technology Junior Analyst and Theunis Raubenheimer, BDO Data Scientist unpack what a data scientist is and what they do, as well as the road to becoming a data scientist.
Data scientists are becoming more and more sought after. The rise of emerging technologies and phenomenon such as big data has led to the belief that data is more valuable than other commodities, such as oil. For this reason, more and more companies are seeking to hire data scientists.
But what do they actually do? Data Scientists work closely with business stakeholders and assist in the creation of big data analytics. Big Data Analytics consists of taking large pools of data and cleaning it, sorting it, and thereafter analysing it in order for businesses to make far more accurate decisions. Their skillset ranges from having business acumen, being competent in statistics, data wrangling, data visualization, machine learning modelling and programming.
The data scientist can help business stakeholders determine how to use this data to best achieve the organisation’s goals. Data Scientists are not just technically skilled, but have to think a certain way wherein algorithms need to be created to serve both the data and the business. Data scientists go through the task of collecting data, sorting and cleaning data and furthermore, ensuring that the data, is the right data. Owing to the fact that large business decisions are based on this data, there is very little margin for error.
There are multiple careers available in the data sphere. The data scientist will predominantly be involved in creating the algorithms and predictive models. While data analysts will manipulate large sets of data and identify trends, and data engineers are tasked with building the infrastructure and architecture that enable data generation. This data can then go into a data scientist’s algorithm to produce the desired output.
A large array of companies use data scientists today. Banks will hire data scientists to aid in the mass of data banks collect. This can thereafter be analysed and lead to strategic decision making for the bank and how they wish to serve their clientele. Global top IT companies, such as Microsoft, Facebook and Google, hire hundreds of data scientists. If your company amasses large pools of data, these data scientists can aid the process of business decision making. Data scientists can assist in virtually any industry, such as Financial Services, Education and Marketing.
Keeping consistent with worldwide trends, the demand for data scientists in South Africa is high, thus securing high paying salaries. Something for businesses who wish to use data scientists to consider is the level of experience the organisation needs of the data scientist they want to hire. Does the organisation choose an industry recognized data scientist or someone fresh out of university? Regardless of this, data scientists are often sought after owing to the demand for the skill.
Should one aspire to be a data scientist, an important question often is “Where to begin?” Most universities offer courses of which can lead to someone becoming a data scientist. Data scientists usually complete degrees with a quantitative background, including Statistics, Computer Science and Engineering. Stellenbosch University has recently introduced the school of data science wherein candidates can do a Masters in data science. This is through their Industrial Engineering department. While UCT offers a data science program through their statistics department. These institutions, however, usually have large applicant pools, only admitting the top performers. Owing to the fact that this is fairly new in South Africa, the institutions are still growing. This year, Stellenbosch Universities Data Science program received a record number of applications.
If you are looking to hire a data scientist, many companies recruit data scientists while they’re still in university. Thus, the talent pool is fairly small, however, if acquired, are usually strong resources. Many South African data scientists are also head-hunted from companies overseas. This offers the candidates a chance to travel the world, and earn foreign currency. However, some offer opportunities wherein the data scientists can work remotely too.
Harvard Business Review has called data science “the sexiest job of the 21st century,” saying that “high-ranking professionals with the training and curiosity to make discoveries in the world of big data” are in major demand. It is important to remember that the role of a data scientist is complex, highly analytical and that a data scientist must be able to adapt to an array of environments possessing numerous skills.