Entrepreneurship and bold moves in business used to be strictly gut-based: one person with an innovative idea and the drive to succeed was an in-the-bag rags-to-riches story. Technology and increasing competition, however, has served to muddle that path in today's business climate, leaving decision-makers scrambling to recruit great minds to their respective teams. The "MVP" of the movement? Data Scientists, a unique alchemy of numbers, trends, probabilities and possibilities, and a career niche that's grabbing attention from some very big names.
The role of the number-cruncher has evolved. No longer is data-gathering and analytics strictly a function of accounting, but one of the most in-demand roles in successful businesses.
The Data Scientist Plans and Implements
Data analysis was formerly a standalone position. An individual or team examined figures, hypothesized and came up with some suggestions for optimizing those numbers, but there was a handoff prior to implementation. The role of Data Scientist blurs those duties, with the scientist actually getting down in the trenches to put their own plans in motion.
As Matt Asay of SupplyChain 247 explains, the gap between discovering and doing was found to be more of a problematic telephone game than a functional approach in modern business, so the middleman was neatly clipped out. Data Scientists working for big businesses today enjoy far more freedom to act in the real world as opposed to the theoretical one, and thus experience more pressure and expectation to turn out tangible results.
Even the Government Is Using Them
It's no secret that this administration has been—whether by choice, inevitability or necessity—the most technologically-advanced in history. While regulation and oversight is usually the limit of business-government overlap, the fact that 2015 saw the government appointing their first official Chief Data Scientist is hard to ignore.
DJ Patil's duties are still being fleshed out, but they could conceivably cover anything from analyzing social changes to formulating logistics solutions for the military. As one of the largest "businesses" in the country, the fact that the government is embracing the idea of data science is telling, and smart businesses are following suit.
They're Very Rare and Very Much Needed
Dubbed "unicorns" and "high priests of algorithms" in Elizabeth Dwoskin's Wall Street Journal article for their highly sought-after combination of skills, technical colleges aren't simply churning out the next generation each semester.
As successfully-implemented algorithms become more indicative of success and durability for surviving changes, Data Scientists are scarce but in high demand for everything ranging from Facebook to Fortune 500 companies. As more businesses hop on the bandwagon, the already-meager pool of hirable talent stands to become even smaller, predictably driving up the salaries needed to obtain these niche-fillers. One might even say that Data Scientists have engineered their own popularity, making them something of a self-fulfilling prophesy in the career market. Marketing like that reads better than the most impressively-bulleted resume, even as degree-bearing rivals are struggling to find similar jobs in business.
Could businesses formulate logistics solutions and write their own algorithms without the assistance of Data Scientists? Of course they could. The idea behind supporting and growing this particular skill set is about focus, however—the more finely-tuned the solution, the better the results. Comparative advantage holds true when it comes to examining the much-touted skills of a Data Scientist. While others in a team may be able to do the job of a data scientist, it would likely take at least two people, if not more, to do so on the same level. Data Scientists are skilled in the combination of their efforts, and that combination bears a hefty—but worthy—price tag.