The Top 10 Reasons to Become a Data Scientist

The 6-figure salary is only one reason to consider this fast-growing career

Photo credit: A J Watt/Getty Images.

“Data scientist” seems to be the IT job of the moment. But how much of what you’ve heard is hype and conjecture, and how much of it is based on facts? Usually, when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. However, the demand for data science is taking the world by storm, and companies – large and small – are clamoring to find employees who can understand and synthesize data, and then communicate these findings in a way that proves beneficial to the company. Below are the top 10 reasons to consider pursuing a career in Data Science.

#1 The Job Outlook

Don’t expect this bubble to burst anytime soon. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, by 2018, the U.S. will have anywhere from 140,000 to 180,000 fewer data scientists than it needs. And the shortage of data science managers is even greater. Roughly 1.5 million data decision-making managers will be needed by 2018. At some point, the frenetic pace at which employers pursue data scientists will slow down, but it won’t happen anytime soon.

#2 The Salaries

According to an O’Reilly data science salary survey, the annual base salary of U.S.-based survey respondents was $104,000. Robert Half’s tech guide places the range between $109,000 and $153,750. And in the Burtch Works data science salary survey, the median base salary ranges from $97,000 for Level 1 contributors to $152,000 for Level 3 contributors. In addition, median bonuses start at $10,000 for Level 1 contributors. As a point of comparison, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that lawyers earn a median annual wage of $115,820.  

#3 The Management Salaries 

Data science managers can earn almost as much – and sometimes more – than doctors. Burtch Works reveals that Level 1 managers earn a median annual base salary of $140,000. Level 2 managers make $190,000, and Level 3 Managers earn $250,000. And that puts them in pretty good company. According to the BLS, pediatricians, psychiatrists, and internal medicine doctors earn a median annual wage between $226,408 and $245,673. So without years of med school, residencies, and medical debt, you might earn more than the person who holds your life in his/her hands on the operating table. Cool. Scary, but cool.  

And when you factor in median annual bonuses, data science managers out-earn many surgeons. Median annual bonuses for Level 1, 2 and 3 managers are $15,000; $39,900; and $80,000, respectively.

#4 The Work Options 

When you become a data scientist, you can work practically anywhere your heart desires. While 43% of these professionals work on the West Coast, and 28% are in the Northeast, they’re being employed in every region in the country – and abroad. However, you might be interested in knowing that the highest salaries in the U.S. are on the West Coast.

And you’re probably not surprised that the technology industry employs the most data scientists, but they also work in other industries ranging from healthcare/pharma to marketing and financial services to consulting firms to retail and CPG industries. In fact, data scientists even work for gaming industries, and 1% work for the government.

#5 The Sex Appeal 

The prestigious Harvard Business Review hailed data scientist as the sexiest job of the 21st Century. How on earth is that possible? Are data scientists suggestively dangling the data in front of their employers? Are they whispering sweet algorithms in their employer’s ear? No (at least I don’t think so), but some of them work with cool startups, and also mammoth companies like Google, LinkedIn, FaceBook, Amazon, and Twitter. In essence, their sex appeal lies in the fact that everyone wants them, but they’re hard to acquire.

#6 The Experience Factor

“Experience” is probably one of the most common words found in a job description, and frankly, companies usually want employees with a ton of it. However, data science is such a relatively new field that Burtch Works reports 40% of data scientists have less than 5 years of experience, and 69% have less than 10 years of experience. So scroll back up to Reason #2: Salaries to match up the wages with the experience levels. Level 1 individual contributors typically have 0-3 years of experience. Level 2 individual contributors usually have 4 to 8 years of experience, and level 3 individual contributors have 9+ years of experience. 

#7 The Variety of Undergraduate Majors

Since data science is such a new major, many colleges are scrambling to create undergraduate degree programs. In the meantime, data scientists hail from an assortment of academic backgrounds, including mathematics/statistics, computer science, engineering, and natural science. Also, some data scientists have degrees in economics, social science, business, and even medical science.

#8 The Variety of Education Options

If you pursue an online Master’s Degree in Data Science, you don’t have to sit in a classroom all day. You can take courses online from anywhere in the world, with the luxury of studying at your own pace. 

#9 The Lack of Competition

Not only is there a shortage of data scientists, but professionals in other fields don’t necessarily want to step up to the plate. According to a recent joint report by Robert Half and the Institute of Management Accountants, employers are looking for accounting and finance candidates who can mine and extract data, identify key data trends, and are adept at statistical modeling and data analysis. But the report reveals that most accounting and finance candidates don’t have any of these skills – in fact, many colleges don’t even teach this level of analytics to students majoring in a financial discipline.

#10 The Ease of Job Hunting

Because data scientists are in such high demand and the supply is so limited, organizations have recruiters solely dedicated to finding these professionals. While candidates in other fields are harassing recruiters and pestering hiring managers, as a data scientist, you merely need to let it be known that you’re looking for a job . . . or maybe, you’re just thinking about looking for a job. In fact, the need is so dire that even if you already have a job, recruiters will try to lure you away with a better compensation/benefits package. Let the bidding begin.