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Are you too sexy to be a data scientist?

Jun 03, 20163 mins
AnalyticsBig DataCareers

Picture it: you swimming in a sea of data unencumbered and free to explore

In case you missed it, the Harvard Business Review said that being a data scientist was the sexiest job of the 21st century (and here I thought freelance writers were making great strides toward this award). Granted this was in 2012, but this designation is slowly making waves suggesting that the claim might actually be true.

Calling any job “sexy” just seems silly to me, though I understand it’s a catchy word choice synonymous with attractive. That a data scientist job is sexy sounds almost like an oxymoron.

My initial reaction to learning about this emerging position was one of gratitude that I didn’t have to do it. What in the world is attractive about winnowing through 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day?

The more I come to understand the role of a data scientist, the more intrigued I grow. In fact yesterday I started thinking, “I wonder if I could do that?”

PK Agarwal, dean of Northeastern University Silicon Valley and former CTO for California under Gov. Schwarzenegger, said that the demand for data scientists has grown over the last couple of years because things are evolving and data analytics is growing. “Obviously there has been a little bit of evolution from enterprise data to big data and data analytics. Now we understand the need for technical people and non technical people to work together,” Agarwal said.

My ears always perk up when I hear talk of opportunities for non technical people to work in the cyber security industry.

Eric Haller, vice president at Experian DataLabs, said, “While still in its infancy, this young profession has exploded in popularity and need. Entire disciplines and areas of business have been born of the need to glean insights from vast amounts of, otherwise, indecipherable information.” 

The good news is there are practical ways to break into this field where the average salary is in the six figures without any sort of STEM degree. How is it possible that these non-STEM degree folks are in such high demand in the security industry?

Haller said, “Data scientists are analysts, explorers, individuals with a passion for doing good things with data. They aim to find connections between two variables that might be indecipherable and have no correlation to the naked eye.”

Yes, data scientists do follow a scientific method, but they also–are arguably more importantly–need non-technical skills. “Data scientists must be effective communicators and passionate advocates. They must be thinking and communicating like business people. Within any organization, data scientists need to help shift the pendulum and ensure that a company’s most senior executives understand and implement their findings,” Haller said.

If, like me, you find the world of cyber security amazingly interesting though you don’t really have the computer science background to become a security engineer or network architect, the path of data scientist might be one to consider.

A field still in its nascent stages of evolution poses tremendous room for innovation. Haller said, “Experian’s DataLabs works to assemble individuals from a host of backgrounds with a variety of experiences and encourages them to push the envelope of what’s possible. They look at problems and find solutions that are good for businesses, consumers and society.

Both Agarwal and Haller see data scientists as the pioneers who will expand limits and use data to create more intelligent businesses, offering more attractive efficiency and operability to their audiences. 


Kacy Zurkus is a freelance writer for CSO and has contributed to several other publications including The Parallax, and K12 Tech Decisions. She covers a variety of security and risk topics as well as technology in education, privacy and dating. She has also self-published a memoir, Finding My Way Home: A Memoir about Life, Love, and Family under the pseudonym "C.K. O'Neil."

Zurkus has nearly 20 years experience as a high school teacher on English and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University (2011). She earned a Master's in Education from University of Massachusetts (1999) and a BA in English from Regis College (1996). Recently, The University of Southern California invited Zurkus to give a guest lecture on social engineering.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Kacy Zurkus and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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