New skills and experiences
As the world of data quite literally balloons and the technology used to manage it follows in hot pursuit, there is a varied and growing number of job roles being created. On one end of the spectrum, we see roles that are very technical and quite niche to specific functions and technologies, whilst on the other end they are more business focused. In between, we see a new world of opportunities opening up for people who have some degree of technical appreciation but are more focused on data outputs than coding. One thing’s for sure, we are nowhere near being able to see the end, of a growing list of career options available to those with a passion for all things data.
Data enablement is a cultural shift that is now penetrating many organizations, as they try to find ways to flow data through all teams and facilitate analytics throughout all operations. Allowing all departments to access relevant data helps spread analytical capability across a company so that everyone can benefit from the available insights and become truly data-driven. All business operations are benefiting from this data enlightenment, but it does require a shift in culture, collaboration and ways of working but the operational and creative payoffs can be significant. Many of the future data related job roles will develop out of the new opportunities that are uncovered through data enablement.
A data shaped world
The sheer volume and complexity of data in the modern world – and its potential for driving innovation – is staggering. Even the smallest organisations generate a vast amount of information on a daily basis. And ‘data’ means far more than, say, a neat spreadsheet of a company’s customer details or financial affairs. Data can mean anything from social media posts referencing a particular product to patterns of footfall around a shopping centre, news reports of a major incident to the sentiments of thousands of people around a political party. Data can be made of words or numbers, documents or files, images or video and structured or unstructured. It can be a fixed set, or it can be constantly growing and shifting.
Harnessing all this information in an accurate, intelligent and innovative way is key to enabling organizations to operate effectively. And ‘harnessing’ covers a wide variety of different functions, from actually capturing the required data in the first place, to translating it into usable formats, to analysing and interpreting it, to deciding which actions should ultimately be taken. In turn, that means that a wide variety of jobs are associated with data, offering stimulating and rewarding career paths for ambitious young people. It is highly like that all of the products and services any of us use day-to-day are the direct result of data being used to shape the final output.
Business challenges create new careers
As data systems move away from the traditional position of being back-end IT systems that can only be addressed by specialist teams with deep technical skills, a new world of business and career opportunities are opening up. With the rise in service-oriented architectures (SOA), large-scale system integration, and heterogeneous data storage/exchange mechanisms (databases, XML, EDI etc.), it is necessary to have a high-level individual, who possesses a combination of business knowledge, technical skills, and people skills to guide data strategy.
For example, the Chief Data Officer (CDO) role, became popular after the 2008 global credit crisis. This is an all-encompassing role, responsible for enterprise wide governance, utilization of information as an asset, data mining, data processing, analysis, information trading and more. The CDO reports on the main to the Chief Executive Officer and is a member of the executive management team. The CDO is charged with explaining the strategic value of data and its important role as a business asset and revenue driver to executives, employees and customers.
Decisioning, decisioning, decisioning
First, there are jobs connected to organizations’ data architecture – that is, roles which are focused on designing and deploying an organised approach to data management. ‘Data architect’ and ‘data engineer’ are two common job titles. These roles set the foundation for the analysis and insights which enable organisations to really get the most out of their data. Skills in database architecture, data warehousing, modelling and mining are important here, as well as statistical modelling. Whilst data architects are focused more on the conceptualisation and visualisation of data frameworks, data engineers are focused more on their build and ongoing management.
Next, there are jobs related to the actual analysis and interpretation of that data. As you might expect ‘data analyst’ is a common job title here, requiring high-level skills in areas like statistical monitoring and regression analysis. ‘Data scientist’ is another common job title, though it is worth underlining that as the data science field itself has proliferated in recent years, so jobs in this area have become far more targeted. Open source technologies and new data sources such as social media have required a more precision-skilled approach to data science.
As data professionals move higher up the ladder – and organisations become switched on to even more sophisticated means of harnessing data, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence – so roles such as Chief Data Officer are becoming more important. Working with data truly is now a career path which can lead to seats on the board.
How young people can build careers in data
It’s an exciting time for data enthusiasts, but things are developing quickly, so it’s important to keep an eye on trends, ideas and new thinking. So how can young people best build a career in this most dynamic of areas? Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all career path, but traditionally we have seen the convergence of technical and mathematical ability as being key. Do remember, however, that whilst tools and engineering are critical for implementation, understanding the underlying concepts is fundamental. New tools and software languages can always be taught.
Peer groups and mentorships are particularly valuable in the data field because it is growing and developing so rapidly. The right mentor can be incredibly useful in advising you on the next major trends or the skills that are particularly sought after in a sector that appeals to you. And of course, there’s no substitute for work experience.