How to find and convert a data scientist


Data scientist is one of the hottest jobs in the country right now, and probably the world. In an oft-cited report, McKinsey estimated that the U.S. will soon face a shortage of approximately 175,000 data scientists. Demand far exceeds supply, especially given the hype around big data. Universities like UC Berkeley are starting to offer formal programs in data science.

Still, recruiting — and hiring — new data scientists can be time-consuming and expensive. What about converting existing employees into data scientists? Is this a viable strategy?

5 things to remember

Potentially, yes. Before proceeding with employee "transformation," however, it's critical to understand five things. First, the term data science is a bit of a misnomer; it's actually a mix of art and science. At least to me, science implies exactitude and precision more than judgment and intuition. Yet, the latter two attributes are more important than ever.

Second, ask yourself if the person or group is particularly comfortable with data. Millennials as a group are a good starting point. They are constantly interacting with technology and information of one sort or another.

Next, understand that there's no shortage of myths surrounding data scientists. In reality, they possess a wide variety of skills. Researching Too Big to Ignore, I came to understand that data scientists come from diverse backgrounds: statistics, data modeling, computer science, technology and general business. Think hybrids.

Fourth, recognize that becoming a true data scientist doesn't necessarily mean following a linear path. Some people naturally move towards more technical and data-oriented roles over their careers. I should know. I was one of them.

Finally, I'd argue that curiosity is king. Data scientists are a curious lot. People like Andrew Pole of Target are never really satisfied. They enjoy looking at data and running experiments. They like asking questions, and looking at data to find answers.

Simon says

Rather than only looking outward for data scientists, see which employees inside your organization possess the skills and curiosity required to successfully navigate the data deluge. Much like the signal in the noise that is often big data, you might be surprised at what you find.


What say you?


About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. His ninth will be Slack For Dummies (April, 2020, Wiley) He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have appeared in The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. He teaches information systems and analytics at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business.

Leave A Reply

Back to Top