Are Data Scientist Salaries Sustainable

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by Jonathan Buckley

If there’s one hot job that’s worth paying attention to in the year 2015 and beyond, it’s that of data scientist. Big data has become an indispensable ingredient in company success, and the data scientist is a large part of making that happen. It’s been called the sexiest job of the 21st century, one that’s growing in importance seemingly month by month. Not only has it become such a crucial part of the business world, it’s become a very lucrative career. Information from jobs site shows that data scientist salaries are considerably higher than the average salaries of other professions. As of 2014, the average salary for a data scientist was listed at $123,000 per year. Data from just the past few years show that salaries have been growing and will likely continue to grow. In fact, a study from Burtch Works shows that a data scientist at the head of a team of ten people or more can make more than $225,000. From these numbers, it’s clear that data scientists are getting paid some good money, but can their wages continue trending this way? Are we seeing sustainable wage growth, or is it a sign of a bubble about to burst?

To come up with the best answer, an examination into the reasons behind data scientists’ high wages is needed. One of, if not the most important reason is the simple fact that data scientists are in high demand. Data is the name of the game, the fuel that drives businesses to greater heights. Data is valuable, which is why companies are using so many resources in collecting as much data as possible. Collecting all that data is one thing; it’s something else entirely to have people on staff who can work with it, understand it, and ultimately interpret it in a way that businesses can use. This trend of using data and needing people who can make the most of it is not likely to fade soon. In fact, it’s only expected to grow.

For years, certain industries like manufacturing and marketing have seen the value of big data and how it can help them. Only recently, however, have other industries become aware of the usefulness of big data and found ways to apply it to their businesses. Retail, healthcare, and even sports organizations are seeing a wealth of opportunity in big data use cases and are stocking up on the technology and talent necessary to get value out of vast sets of unstructured data. Let’s look specifically at the healthcare industry. Many health institutions have begun using electronic health records — records which provide data that could lead to new insights about patient treatments and insights into diseases and medicine. Taking all that data and turning it into actionable plans is just what a data scientist would be needed for. In short, more industries and businesses will need data scientists in the future, which means a growing demand for their services, and more demand usually leads to higher wages.

Demand can sometimes be counteracted by a steady supply, but the supply of data scientists may take a while to catch up. The skills and expertise needed to become a data scientist are considerable and wide-reaching. Not only do data scientists need to be experts in math and statistics, they also need programming skills. If that weren’t enough, most business leaders agree that data scientists must also have thorough knowledge of the industry they wish to pursue. In other words, data scientists in healthcare should have healthcare knowledge, financial data scientists should know all about the financial world, etc. This further limits the pool of prospective data scientists, which makes it difficult for companies to find the right people with the required skill sets. That leads to businesses offering higher salaries to attract their preferred candidates. Even with higher salaries, the chances of filling all big data jobs are low. A McKinsey Global Institute Report predicts that by 2018, there will be around 4 million big data-related jobs but a shortfall of a million-and-a-half people to fill those positions. As long as demand continues to outpace supply, data scientists can expect to see their salaries remain high.

Based off of these facets of an increasingly data-driven world, the salaries of data scientists appear to be sustainable, at least for the foreseeable future. Combine these aspects with the exploding trends of the Internet of Things, BYOD, wearable technology, and cloud computing, and the need for data scientists will only continue to grow. Many educational institutions have started offering programs designed to prepare students for future roles as data scientists, but it will still be a number of years before new job prospects will be able to fill all big data positions. For now, data scientists will continue to see impressive wages in a world that highly values their contributions.

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