The role of “data scientist” has evolved into one of the hottest jobs in information technology (IT). The Harvard Business Review even went so far as to recently declare the role to be the sexiest career of the 21st century. IT firms have also suggested that there will be many jobs created in “big data” analytics over the next decade, largely for data scientists.
A data scientist is someone with the training and curiosity to make discoveries in the world of big data. “What we had 10 years ago were people who specialised in business intelligence, quantitative analysis or software development. Data scientists are people who can integrate all of them,” says Gabriel Leung, general manager of EMC Hong Kong and Macau, a provider of IT storage solutions.
Data is the new hot commodity in the world of business. People who can accurately analyse the numbers and come up with creative uses for the information they contain are essential in ensuring that the data doesn’t go to waste.
EMC recently supported “The Human Face of Big Data”, a project that created a global snapshot of the world’s transformation through data.
Leung says a data scientist should possess five main qualities. As well as being quantitative and technically focused, they should also have versatile communication and collaboration skills, an innate curiosity for exploring data, and a creative flair in experimenting with it. Data scientists also tend to be sceptical and ask a lot of questions about the viability of a given solution and whether it will really work.
These traits separate those who can work with others to use data to drive change from those who sit in their rooms and write algorithms.
“The essential quality for a data scientist is a curious and sceptical mind. Data science is not for people who can only apply theories and follow formulae,” Leung says.
“Given training, people who have a background in STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths], business analytics or even arts can become successful data scientists.”
Leung says EMC only has 10 data scientists among its 5,000 staff in Asia-Pacific and that the company does not need everyone to follow this career path. “Existing roles and position won’t be replaced. Data science is not the sole destination of a career path in this industry. If you are an engineer, you can still strive to become a very good engineer without needing to make any move,” he says.
Recruiting and retaining talent have long been challenges in the IT industry. Leung says the problem is twofold. “There is a talent gap in the industry. When the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, many experienced staff moved out of Hong Kong, while fewer students have chosen to study related subjects since because the prospects for the industry have been gloomy.”
With more data centres being set up in Hong Kong and IT businesses continuing to expand, however, he is confident that the industry will start attracting increasing numbers of intelligent people.