A Chance to Mold Your Own Data Job?

Susan Hall

In a recent report, the McKinsey Global Institute concluded that Big Data is, as my colleague Loraine Lawson wrote, a big deal with huge potential impact on every sector studied.


It also projected the need in the United States for 140,000 to 190,000 more people with "deep analytical" skills and 1.5 million managers and analysts to understand the benefits of data analysis and to ask the right questions. (Actually, as Jack Phillips, CEO of the research firm International Institute for Analytics, told me, you need to ask the right questions in order to crunch the right data. And though software increasingly will help you do the latter, it still takes skilled professionals to come up with the questions.)


On a post about that, at a cool site I just found, FlowingData, commenters raise questions about how to get into data analysis jobs. They write that it's hard to get past HR. Someone named Arti K writes:

I am in finance and I'm looking to make the jump, but most of the ads out there seem to be looking for an employee with a jumble of "marketing, statistics, journalism, graphic design" experience. Maybe the problem is, there isn't a standardized credential or test you can take to prove that you have the skills? And I say this with complete understanding that a test doesn't *actually* prove that you know something, but it's an easy metric for employers/clients to understand and use.

Phillips told me that the lack of a certification is a big barrier to mid-career job-seekers, one his company hopes to rectify, but it doesn't have the answer yet.


Other commenters lament that companies don't really seem to know what they want or what to call such a position if they create one. Writing at Analytics magazine, E. Andrew Boyd writes that universities have a similar problem, with various disciplines - mathematics, computers, data and modeling - mashed together under various names.


Meanwhile, Nathan Yau, a Ph.D. student in statistics who runs FlowingData, sees that as an opportunity. He writes:

This can also be a huge plus. Data is getting a lot of press and businesses are seeing it as something important, but because not everyone knows what they are looking for, those who get the jobs can define their own positions in these early times and influence their employers in a big way.

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