5 (more) reasons to be a data scientist

It may be hyped as the 'hottest job,' but the benefits are real

"Data scientist" has already been declared this year's hottest job, and now a new report offers several more reasons to consider it as a career.

For the past three years executive recruiter Burtch Works has been surveying data-science professionals about salaries and other related topics. Burtch Works defines data scientists as professionals who can work with enormous sets of unstructured data and use analytics to get meaning out of them. Published on Thursday, this year's report is based on interviews with 374 working data scientists, and it paints a pretty compelling picture. Here are five particularly attractive highlights.

1. Starting salaries are on the rise

Though managerial and upper-level data scientists saw less of an increase this year, those starting out in the field saw a particularly big jump in their median base salary, which rose 7 percent to $97,000. Most are eligible for bonuses as well, ranging from $10,000 to $21,000. Top-level data scientists who are also managers are now earning a median base salary of $240,000, not including bonuses.

2. You'll out-earn other analytics pros

Data scientists may share many skills and responsibilities in common with other predictive analytics professionals, but they earn quite a bit more. Specifically, data scientists earn base salaries up to 39 percent higher than other predictive analytics professionals do, depending on job category. For example, compared with beginning data scientists' median base salary of $97,000, those starting out in other predictive analytics positions earn an average of $76,000, Burtch Works says.

3. PhDs are no longer required

There's no denying that data science requires some hard-core quantitative skills, but PhDs are not required as often as they used to be, Burtch Works found. To wit: A full 59 percent of those starting out hold nothing more than a master's degree in this year's study. Only 28 percent have a PhD, compared with 43 percent in last year's report. Burtch Works points to alternative educational options such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) and bootcamps as possible explanations.

4. Opportunities are everywhere

Data science is starting to be embraced in a wider variety of industries than ever before, including finance, healthcare and transportation. That means broader opportunities for data scientists, Burtch Works notes.

5. You can make a difference

Relatedly, it's no longer just the Googles and Amazons of the world that are hiring data scientists. Today numerous startups on relying on data science as well, giving professionals even more choices to work in areas they consider meaningful. "Whether it is curing cancer, conserving energy, tracking infectious diseases or personalizing education, more data scientists are becoming interested in trying to make the world a better place," Burtch Works said.

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Katherine Noyes

IDG News Service
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