The growing premium on data analytics professionals has led to an increase in graduates in the profession, but those with real world experience remain rare, according to an IAPA whitepaper.
The paper, Hit The Accelerator, is based on interviews with senior analytics professionals who said the shortage and subsequent popularity in the industry isn’t surprising.
“Data science is a bit of a buzzword — the joke is that a data scientist is a statistician with a Mac,” said Simon Rumble, co-founder at Snowflake analytics.
Universities are doing a good job preparing graduates for the profession, but there remains no substitute for guidance and experience, something many young professionals are lacking, Rumble said.
“If they go straight into a business as the sole data scientist or analyst with no mentoring or supervision, everyone’s going to have a bad time.”
Getting the right mix of soft and hard skills is also problematic. Many data science leaders say that getting the soft skills right is more important than ticking of a set of technical capabilities — which are more likely to be considered table stakes for employment.
Leading professionals also require a certain level of flexibility according to the whitepaper, “because when it comes to real-world data, nothing is ever optimal”.
“The technology environment changes so fast that you’re much better served to have someone with the right thought processes and the ability to learn new skills and techniques, than a specialist who isn’t flexible enough to move with changes in the environment,” says Polynomial Director, Anna Russell — who also cites common sense as an important skill.
“As data volumes get bigger and tools more sophisticated, it’s really easy to go down a rabbit hole of ‘what ifs’ that waste time and lead nowhere. So many people get hung up on the technique that they forget about the application.”
To that end, the executives cited the need for the right mix of soft and hard skills.
“Technical skills tend to be easier to train people in, provided they have an aptitude and interest. Softer skills are harder to teach and generally developed over their working life. Or they have certain personality traits that support them developing,” said Rumble.
The growing recognition and popularity of the profession is good news for organisations taking data driven approaches. However, it is still relatively early days and the required mix of theory and experience, soft and hard skills, remains scarce.