Missing unicorns - 10 tips on finding data scientists (part 1)


missing unicornAs this article on the mythical data scientist describes, many people call this special kind of analytical talent "unicorns," because the breed can be so hard to find. In order to close the analytical talent gap that McKinsey Global Institute and others have predicted, and many of you experience today, SAS launched SAS Analytics U in March of this year to feed the pipeline for analytical talent. This higher education initiative aims to help address the skills gap by offering free versions of SAS software, university partnerships, and more. Yes, I did say free, and the free SAS® University Edition even runs on Mac, in addition to PC and Linux! Meanwhile, since data scientists can be hard to find, I’ll share with you ten tips to use in your hunt, illustrated with examples from some of our own legendary unicorns at SAS.

Five of the tips relate to academic recruiting:

1.  Hire from an MS in Analytics program
2.  Hire from a great program you’ve never heard of
3.  Recruit from untraditional disciplines
4.  Look beyond STEM - recruit from social sciences
5.  Try before you buy – create an intern program


Five more relate to other best practices:

6.  Invest in sponsorship for foreign nationals
7.  Use social networks to hire friends of unicorns
8.  Hire the curious who want to solve problems
9.  Think about what kind of data scientist you need
10.  Don’t expect unicorns to grow horns overnight


Each tip is worth expansion, so I'll share two in this post and more in subsequent posts.

Patrick in grad school cropped
Patrick Hall, MS in Analytics, NC State University

1. Hire from an MS in Analytics program

SAS proudly helped launch and continues to support the Institute for Advanced Analytics at NC State University, led by Dr. Michael Rappa, which is the granddaddy of them all, for good reason. Over 90% of their graduates get offers by graduation, because in their intensive 10-month program they receive not only an outstanding academic foundation but targeted attention to those “softer” skills like public speaking, team work, business problem identification and formulation, etc. that are so essential to the practice of analytics. Patrick Hall, pictured here while getting his MS in Analytics from this program, is one of our machine learning experts on the SAS® Enterprise Miner™ R&D team and even a certified data scientist, being one of the few to pass the rigorous Cloudera Certified Professional: Data Scientist (CCP:DS) exam. SAS works with scores of the exploding number of these programs and they can be great places to recruit graduates with training in analytics and experience using SAS software.


2011_12_OSU_students_placed_second_in_A2011_shootout1 cropped
Dr. C (far left), Murali Pagolu (fifth from left) and Satish Garla (sixth from left), both MS in Management of Information Systems/Analytics, Oklahoma State University

2. Hire from a great program you’ve never heard of

In addition to the many well-known programs, there are some great ones that you might not have heard of, like one at Oklahoma State University (OSU) run by Dr. Goutam Chakraborty (just call him Dr. C.), who has graduated 700+ unicorns in the last decade. Designed to recognize students with advanced knowledge of SAS, these joint certificate programs supported by the SAS Global Academic Program require students to complete a minimum of credit hours in relevant courses. Murali Pagolu and Satish Garla both received an MS in Management Information Systems/Analytics from this program and are pictured here when they were winners in the 2011 SAS Analytics Shootout, held annually at our Analytics Conference. Murali and Satish work in our Professional Services Division, helping customers implement their software by working with them to get their analytical models in place. They are just two of the many OSU graduates who have won countless awards. A large Midwestern manufacturing executive recently told me that he had to persuade his Human Resources Department to send a recruiting team to Stillwater, Oklahoma, but it paid off – they found two of their own unicorns there. Or convince HR to pay a visit to Kennesaw, Georgia, to visit Dr. Jennifer Priestley’s program run out of the statistics department at Kennesaw State University, which was recently cited by Computerworld as having the most innovative academic program in Big Data Analytics. There are many more programs like these around the country where you can recruit, so don't limit yourself to universities with which you are familiar.

I'll explain more tips and show more unicorns in future posts, but if you're attending the Analytics 2014 conference in Las Vegas October 20-21 there will be a virtual herd of SAS unicorns galloping around! I'll be giving a demo theater presentation on analytical talent where I'll give all ten of my tips for finding them. Stop me and say hi if you’re there – I always like meeting unicorns and could introduce you to many others we have there. Many others mentioned in this post are on the great conference agenda will be presenting:

  • Dr. Michael Rappa, who leads the Institute of Advanced Analytics at NC State University, will give a keynote session on "Solving the Analytics Talent Gap."
  • Patrick Hall, SAS unicorn and one of Rappa's former students, who will give a presentation on "An Overview of Machine Learning with SAS® Enterprise Miner™" and a super demo on "R integration in SAS® Enterprise Miner™."
  • Murali Pagolu, SAS unicorn and OSU graduate will present with his former professor, Dr. C, on "Unstructured Data Analysis: Real World Applications and Business Case Studies." Dr. C will bring 35 of his current and former students to the conference and has two teams who are finalists and another Honorable Mention in the 2014 Analytics Shootout.
  • Dr. Jennifer Priestley of Kennesaw State University will talk about "What You Don't Know About Education and Data Science."
  • Stop by the Networking Hall to visit booths on SAS Analytics U, the Global Academic Program, and programs from NCSU, OSU, and Kennesaw State University, as well as many other academic sponsors who run great programs you should add to your recruiting list.


(Unicorn poster image credit: photo by Arvind Grover// attribution by creative commons. Other photos courtesy of the unicorn pictured)


About Author

Polly Mitchell-Guthrie

R&D Project and Program Management

Polly Mitchell-Guthrie leads the Advanced Analytics Customer Liaison Group in R&D, connecting with customers to improve SAS products. At SAS for 14 years, Polly has held a variety of roles in finance and alliances, and the Global Academic Program. She has a BA and MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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