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How to Become a Data Scientist

In a world that is increasingly reliant upon technology, data scientists are pioneers of technological change across a huge array of industries. They solve modern problems, analyze trends, and extract meaning from large and complex sets of data. As a growing number of companies commit to data-driven development, and as they collect and compile more information via the internet, there is ample opportunity for data scientists to flex their analytic skills and computer science abilities.

In this position, individuals integrate advanced IT knowledge with other proficiencies — from communication and data visualization to algebra and programming — to interpret various sets of data. They then apply the information they glean to the development of creative, evidence-based solutions with wide applications. You will find data scientists working in fields as diverse as biotechnology, energy development, transportation, and telecommunications.

What data scientists do varies depending on their specific training, interests, and where they focus their careers. Regardless of field, these professional data wranglers are vital in today’s technology-driven, solutions-oriented world.

What Does a Data Scientist Do?

The work of data scientists requires the ability to consider the nuances of structured and unstructured data, while also applying skills gained through the study of statistics and machine learning. As they clean, combine, and consider the numbers, data scientists strive to eliminate any biases in the data, with the ultimate goal of extracting meaningful information, which can then be put to use.

This field requires persistence, curiosity, and a desire to uncover the hidden meaning in a wealth of raw material. What data scientists do is complex and often varies by position. Some ways in which they apply their talents include:

  • Identify problems. Data scientists frequently work with others at a business or organization to identify a problem or formulate a question. After determining this vital jumping off point, they can then consider how to approach finding a solution through data science.
  • Model experiments and collect data. Once they understand the variables and what information they’re looking for, data scientists can consider how to approach collecting the data. They might formulate algorithms, model experiments, or otherwise conduct research to get to the heart of the problem and provide a solution.
  • Analyze data. One of a data scientist’s primary responsibilities is to analyze the data they have collected or the data provided. They determine the correct sets to work with, validate its accuracy, and identify patterns.
  • Interpret data to find solutions and opportunities. Finally, data scientists take their analysis and apply meaning. They communicate their findings to their audience, whether that is stakeholders in a business or the public. This interpretation is then used by companies and organizations to make vital decisions.

Steps to Become a Data Scientist

When considering how to become a data scientist, there are some actions you will likely take before finding work in this growing, information-driven field. Most who pursue a career as a data scientist start engaging with the concepts through both formal education and hands-on, independent practice. It is helpful for aspiring data scientists to possess an interest in programming and complex systems from the beginning. In addition, most students complete the following steps before landing a position as a data scientist:

Step One: Complete an Undergraduate Degree

Many people get their start on this career path by earning an undergraduate degree in data science. This foundational degree generally provides a background in information technology, mathematics, computer science, and statistics. Each of these disciplines speaks to some of the skills required in the job.

Step Two: Gain Experience with an Entry-Level Job

Getting experience in the field is important in most professions, and data science is no exception. Most people find that it is useful to spend a few years post-graduation flexing their programming and analytical skills on the job. As a junior data scientist, you’ll have the chance to get specific, hands-on training, and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to work at a high level in the field.

Step Three: Pursue a Master’s Degree

The data science field tends to afford more opportunities to those with advanced degrees. Continuing your education at a graduate level allows you to learn more about important topics that are valuable in an upper-level position, such as predictive analytics and model building. By gaining advanced knowledge in a program such as an online master’s in software development, you can prepare to advance your career in data science.

Step Four: Never Stop Learning

Technologies change fast, and so do the needs of organizations that employ data scientists. If you want to become a data scientist, you must cultivate a desire to continue your education in the field. In this ever-evolving sector, the drive to always learn and grow will help you stay competitive in the job market and engaged with the dynamic world of data.

Data Scientist Salaries

For their ability to design creative, data-driven approaches to real-world problems, data scientists are in high demand today. The value of this work is reflected in the average salary of a high-level data scientist. Most individuals with a master’s degree in the field earn a median annual salary of $114,520, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While data science is generally a lucrative profession, data scientist salaries can vary considerably. Pay often depends on the industry, level of experience, level of education, workplace environment, and region.

Employment Outlook for Data Scientists

In 2018, Glassdoor declared data scientists to hold the best job in the U.S., and there are plenty of reasons why. Not only is data science growing as an overall field, but those within it report a high level of job satisfaction. As more companies rely on data and evidence, this profession should continue on its current trajectory. In fact, according to Forbes, this is one of the fastest growing job areas in the U.S. today, and the BLS reports 19% job growth anticipated from 2016 to 2026. Since data science is such a vast field, most people find diverse opportunities to suit their unique interests, and plenty of room to grow within the profession.

Learn More About the Path to Data Science Careers

If you’re looking to advance or shift your career, you may want to consider an advanced degree in the field of data science. An online master’s degree in software development from Maryville University can equip you to help companies and organizations leverage data and technology to make critical decisions. Apply today and begin your journey to a rewarding career.


Forbes, “Data Scientist is the Best Job in America According to Glassdoor’s 2018 Rankings”

Forbes, “How Will Data Science Evolve Over the Next Decade”

Harvard Business Review, “What Data Scientists Really Do According to 35 Data Scientists”

Maryville University, Master’s in Software Development Online

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer and Information Research Scientists