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Few jobs have been surrounded by as much hyperbole as has Data Scientist. Most famously, the Harvard Business Review referred to is as “The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century.” With hype like that, a backlash is inevitable, and there certainly was one, with some of the more apocalyptic voices even stating that the role would be replaced completely by automation within a decade.

That’s not going to happen.

The Best Job In America?

Regardless of where you stand on the matter of Data Science sexiness, it’s simply impossible to ignore the continuing importance of data, and our ability to analyze, organize, and contextualize it. Glassdoor, drawing on their vast stores of employment data and employee feedback, has just released their 25 Best Jobs in America list.

Number one? Data Scientist.

So the role is here to stay, but unquestionably, the specifics of what a Data Scientist does will evolve. With technologies like Machine Learning becoming ever-more commonplace, and emerging fields like Deep Learning gaining significant traction amongst researchers and engineers—and the companies that hire them—Data Scientists continue to ride the crest of an incredible wave of innovation and technological progress.

Drowning In Data, Starving For Insights

On top of all that, there is the simple matter of demand. A recent article in Forbes magazine entitled The 10 Toughest Jobs To Fill In 2016 noted that “qualified candidates are in short supply.”

With the explosion of big data and the need to track it, employers keep on hiring data scientists. But qualified candidates are in short supply. The field is so new, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t even track it as a profession. Yet thousands of companies, from startups that analyze credit card data in order to target marketing and advertising campaigns, to giant corporations like Ford Motor and Price WaterhouseCoopers, are bringing on scores of people who can take gigantic data sets and wrestle them into usable information. As an April report from technology market research firm Forrester put it, “Businesses are drowning in data but starving for insights.”

“Businesses are drowning in data but starving for insights.” That statement alone very nearly justifies Data Scientist being included in our Hottest Jobs in 2016 series!

Work-Life Balance

The truth is, if you’re looking at launching a career, or contemplating a career change, Data Scientist is an extremely alluring path to pursue. Not only is the demand there—and the salaries that accompany demand!—but the job itself offers great work-life balance. According to another recent Glassdoor study (their 25 Best Jobs For Work-Life Balance survey), Data Scientist is in fact #1 for work-life balance.

But that said, while you’re now probably getting quite excited about a career in this very hot field (who wouldn’t, after reading all the above???), be aware that despite the overwhelming demand, the rising salaries, and the great work-life balance, there are also real challenges to contend with if one is to succeed in the field. Perhaps the most critical one is the pace of technological change.

The Pace Of Change

The Forbes article quoted above pulls its information largely from a study released by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), in collaboration with a California company called CareerCast. Writing about the study on the SHRM website, author Tony Lee noted the following:

The fact that rapid technical innovation makes many skills obsolete quickly adds to the need to incorporate lots of on-the-job training, and reinforces the notion that a candidate’s once-perfectly matched skills may be outdated by his or her first anniversary on the job.

At Udacity, we often talk about the modern educational paradigm shifting towards a lifelong learning model. Our CEO and co-founder Sebastian Thrun recently spoke on NPR about this, and noted that modern universities by definition cannot keep up with technology’s pace, and are accordingly not equipped to adequately support either their students’ career goals or the needs of the companies who are desperate to hire new talent.

The Nanodegree program is really bleeding edge. Universities, by nature, lag behind. As a result, modern things like Data Science are rarely taught at universities today.

I think the world is shifting from a one-time education to a lifelong education. More and more people have to go from one job to a new job, and that means that you have to move away from a one-time degree—and then done for the rest of your life—into a world where education is intermingled with your normal life, and your work life.

I think we owe our students not just free education, but education that works.

The New Definition Of “Job”

Today’s employment landscape is indeed changing, with new types of job being created every day, and job tenure shortening measurably. The very definition of “job” is being redefined in real-time to incorporate technology, mobility, flexibility, and global connectivity. Our Nanodegree program model is expressly built to address the challenges of this changing employment landscape, and our career-track Nanodegree programs represent a clear opportunity for learners to master the most in-demand skills that are immediately relevant to the most up-to-the-minute hiring trends.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, author Elizabeth Dwoskin—citing a report by RJ Analytics—wrote the following:

The top five skills listed for data scientists were data analysis, data mining, machine learning and knowledge of the programming languages R and Python.

These skills are essentially the exact same skills our students are mastering everyday. And with the launch of Nanodegree Plus, our Machine Learning students are now even benefitting from a job guarantee!

What Do Data Scientists Do?

Let’s go back to that possibly canonical, possibly apocryphal Harvard Business Review article about Data Scientist being the sexiest job of the 21st century. In that article, the authors describe what Data Scientists do in admittedly rather fanciful terms:

What data scientists do is make discoveries while swimming in data. It’s their preferred method of navigating the world around them. At ease in the digital realm, they are able to bring structure to large quantities of formless data and make analysis possible. They identify rich data sources, join them with other, potentially incomplete data sources, and clean the resulting set. In a competitive landscape where challenges keep changing and data never stop flowing, data scientists help decision makers shift from ad hoc analysis to an ongoing conversation with data.

And as to who does this kind of thing?

Think of him or her as a hybrid of data hacker, analyst, communicator, and trusted adviser.

If that sounds romantic, exciting, and, yes, sexy, then Data Scientist is right up your alley. But if that prose is a bit too purple for you, consider the following:

Learn to:

  • Wrangle, extract, transform, and load data from various databases, formats, and data sources
  • Use exploratory data analysis techniques to identify meaningful relationships, patterns, or trends from complex data sets
  • Classify unlabeled data or predict into the future with applied statistics and machine learning algorithms
  • Communicate data analysis and findings through effective data visualizations

Sound a little more practical, a little more applicable, a little more realistic? That’s because it comes from our Data Analyst Nanodegree program summary!

To give this post its own summary, I think we can safely say that just as data is here to stay, so too are those who make a science of understanding it. If you’re seeking a career path that comes with opportunity, demand, a great salary, and unrivaled work-life balance, then it’s a great time to look at becoming a Data Scientist!

Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins is Senior Writer and Chief Words Officer at Udacity. He types on a MacBook or iPad by day, and either an Underwood, Remington, or Royal by night. He carries a Moleskine everywhere.