What Is Data Science and Why Does It Matter?

What Is Data Science and Why Does It Matter?Demand is growing for professionals who are not just data-savvy, but have mastered the tools and techniques needed to glean knowledge and insights from large and diverse datasets. It’s called data science, and in the last couple of years it’s become one of the top-ranking jobs in the United States.

What is data science?

We live in a data-rich world. According to IBM, 90 percent of the world’s data was created in the last two years alone – in the form of social media posts, digital photos and videos, sensor output, sales transactions, cell phone records, and more. The vital question is, what can we learn from these huge troves of information?

This is where data scientists shine. They apply a multidisciplinary blend of statistics, algorithm development, cutting-edge technology and creative thinking to derive business value from this information. Their job may involve formatting the data in a way that allows business leaders to make smarter, fact-based decisions.

The most important skill set of a data scientist is to discover new patterns and insights that enable better predictions and answer important questions. Their results can deepen our understanding of a range of phenomena, from physical and biological systems to social and economic behavior.

In a way, data scientists are detectives. As well as knowing the hard technical skills needed to understand, correlate and clean up data, they must have an aptitude for analytical creativity.

Skills and qualities needed by data scientists

If you enjoy mathematics and coding, that’s an excellent start. An advanced degree such as a Master’s in Data Science will typically address three key areas:

1. Mathematics and statistics

A data scientist must be able to view and interpret data through a quantitative, statistical lens. They must be able to build analytical models that make use of patterns and correlations in the data that can be expressed mathematically. Data scientists can also use linear algebra and other types of mathematics in their work.

2. Technology and programming

Data scientists play an important role in developing apps and tools that can process massive datasets and deliver complex solutions. They must be able to code, deploy and integrate solutions into larger systems, using various programming languages. This requires an ability to think algorithmically and reduce large problems into solvable components.

3. Business skills

Data scientists are often the first to discover data-driven insights than can drive real business solutions. They must be able to turn these insights into reports, recommendations or data products that help the organization achieve its goals. An understanding of privacy, security and ethical issues raised by working with user-generated datasets is also required.

Importantly, data science requires intellectual curiosity. This means being willing to ask questions, test assumptions and learn new skills. A data scientist thrives on challenge – and the thrill of solving complex problems.

Career opportunities

The influence of data science can be found everywhere in society. It’s often used in medical research, social sciences, economics, e-commerce, library cataloguing, and more.

Examples include:

  • Machine learning: An example is self-driving cars, which process data from their surroundings to avoid collisions.
  • E-commerce: Apps and sites like Amazon, Netflix and Spotify all deploy algorithms that can predict user preferences based on past use.
  • Health care: Data science can help doctors predict illness in people and populations, and prevent it before it occurs. It is also helping to speed up drug development and advance personalized treatments.

Data science is one of the fastest-growing fields of employment, with critical skill shortages in many areas. Recruiting organizations include government agencies, technology companies, banks, insurance firms and healthcare organizations.

Education needed

An advanced degree is highly desirable if you want to become a data scientist, and an increasing number of universities now offer Data Science Master’sdegree programs. Designed for people with a solid mathematical or quantitative background, these programs explore latest developments in areas such as data mining, machine learning and data visualization.

If you’re looking to start a career in data science, the future is bright. There is a shortage of talent as organizations face major challenges in sorting through their data. According to PayScale, data scientists currently enjoy a median salary of $91,000. If you seek challenging and rewarding work, data science can be a great option.

Learn more about data science careers and the advanced degrees that can get you started.