8 Tips to Becoming the Next Great Data Scientist

Nancy Anderson
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In the October 2010 edition of the Harvard Business Review, Thomas Davenport and D.J. Patil named “data scientist” as the "sexiest job of the 21 century." As Big Data shifts from big news to big priority within even small businesses, data scientists will be hired to mine data, derive actionable insight from the information and help businesses as they look to become more competitive and optimize operations.

If you’re interested in becoming a data scientist, here are a few points to guide your career and make yourself stand out in a group of candidates.


Focus on Academics--Before and After School

Data scientists develop hypotheses, test scenarios and analyze their findings on a daily basis. Understanding a variety of mathematical theories, programming languages and advanced algorithms will aid individuals in their pursuit of becoming the next-great data scientist.

“The solution to a problem may be hidden in a particular machine learning algorithm or a traditional statistical model,” says Krishna Gopinathan, COO of Global Analytics Holdings. “Individuals experienced in various domains and working with different problems will be the ones who succeed.”


  • Obtain advanced degrees in mathematics, physics, machine learning, computer science, economics, applied mathematics, or relevant disciplines.
  • Augment weaknesses in your knowledge of computer programming and statistics with relevant coursework. A well-rounded individuals in terms of academics has the greatest potential as a data scientist.
  • After exiting academia, keep up-to-date on relevant research and findings by subscribing to academic journals, such as the IEEE PAMI and the Journal of Machine Learning Research.


Learn the Language of Business

Data scientists are tasked with more than completing advanced reports and wading through data. These individuals will be asked to analyze databases that were once thought too large and too incomplete to be managed. At the same time, data scientist have to ensure they don’t get swallowed-up by the data but, instead, keep the business’ objectives top-of-mind.

“Working in a commercial environment is just different than academia,” says Michael Griffin, founder and CTO of Adlucent. “You have to be able to produce something that makes a difference very quickly.”


  • Learn how to collaborate with others. Project management is one of the most important skills for a successful data scientist, as you’ll commonly collaborate with a team of developers and programmers to accomplish projects. Read about how to effectively delegate tasks and lead teams to accomplish group goals.
  • Read as much about personal development and general business principles as you do about research. Thomas Davenport and Jeanne Harris’ “Competing on Analytics” is an excellent start to learning how businesses are using data to beat-out the competition.


Flex Your Data Muscles

Data scientists use a wide array of tools to expertly manipulate Big Data. Jeff Hammerbacher, the former chief data scientist at Facebook, recounted that his team members would utilize Python, R and Hadoop to complete everyday tasks.

“Becoming an effective data scientist is all about playing with the data cards you’re dealt. The more tools you’ve mastered, the stronger your play,” says Gopinathan.


  • Utilize online resources to gain more experience using languages and applications that you're most unfamiliar with. The Big Data University website, for example, provides free resources to learn more about MapReduce, Hive, Pig and others.
  • Seek out open-source projects to collaborate with others on data projects and network with others within the community.
  • Participate in data competitions such as Kaggle to test your skills “in the wild.” Not only can this boost your resume, but winning these competitions often offer cash prizes.


These are just a few tips to use to become the next great data scientist.  Check this field out for yourself and see if it is a good fit for you.

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  • Asunto T
    Asunto T
    Hi there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading through your articles.Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same topics? Thanks a ton!

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