What is a Data Visualization Specialist?

Data Visualization Specialists are individuals who are experts at translating statistical data in ways that are useful for both subject matter experts as well as business users.

They are in many ways statistical translators, as they are required to take often complex combinations of data that may be very difficult to conceptualize otherwise and present in ways that are truly transformative.

In companies that use them, they are key to making sure that the team works at optimal efficiency when making data-informed decisions.

What You Need To Know

Education Requirements

Educationally you have a pretty wide range of options available to you. Most positions require a Bachelor’s degree, though some companies, particularly in education, require you to have a Master’s degree.

Actual degrees are the usual ones considered useful for lower level data science jobs, including analytics-focused business degrees, computer science, and statistics.

Knowledge & Skills

The particular tools required vary based on the job and whether your visualizations are intended for internal or external audiences, but there are some commonalities. Pretty much all data visualization jobs are going to require you to be a master of Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMS), and the Structured Query Language (SQL) used to access and manipulate it.

Some positions will require you to simply be able to effectively access and use this data but others will want you to be actively involved and developing and building data warehouses.

Knowledge of JavaScript and particular libraries that are useful for visualization, particularly d3, is a core skill, with most positions either wanting it or requiring it.

For positions that are less focused on development, Tableau is an extremely popular tool due to its ability to produce a truly expansive variety of graphs and charts.

Tableau’s paid version has the widest range of features and opportunities, but there is also a free option available that should allow you to get familiar with it.

Knowledge of scripting languages is also in demand, with most positions preferring Python.

What You Will Be Doing

There are three main types of visualizations typically produced by data visualization specialists: internal abstract data visualizations, data mapping, and data storytelling.

  • Internal abstract data visualizations: involve producing graphical representations of data that has no spatial elements. Most analytics of this type are associated with reporting, dashboarding, and presenting real-time analytics to enable smart business decisions and to effectively represent the results of machine learning algorithms and A/B testing.This sort of work is likely to be performed at any business that has data visualization specialists.
  • Data mapping: is something that is done at companies that use lots of spatial data, showing how and where actions related to the company’s bottom line are taking place. These activities tend to require the deepest programming expertise, as they will frequently require creating or customizing organization-specific applications to meet the tactical and strategic needs of the company. For example Uber has a number of internal visualization applications that it uses to track the GPS movements of its drivers compares to requests for rides, allowing them to effectively how they are meeting the needs of their customers.
  • Data storytelling: is the process of turning data into customer-facing products that allow the company to get across its message or to effectively deliver its products to its customers. Many data-focused media sites are finding data storytelling to be increasingly useful with major news sites.For example the New York Times making it part of what they offer to consumers and specific data-focused outfits like FiveThirtyEight weaving it tightly to their overall product.

Professional Development

Data Visualization Specialist is a new career field, which makes looking at the professional development options both exciting and challenging at the same time. The excitement comes from the flexibility this affords people who are particularly ambitious or motivated. It gives you the ability to potentially carve out your own position as you grow within the company.

This can also be a challenge, particularly in older, less flexible companies as it will require more bureaucratic buy-in as you advance. Alternatively, you can transition from data visualization specialist into a related field, using your knowledge of data visualization and skills you pick up from a more advanced degree to become a data scientist or move into a management position in a visualization-focused business unit.