Could a data scientist job be right for you?

By Joanna Hu, Principal Data Scientist, Exabeam

During my career as a data scientist I have contributed to discoveries which help solve real-world problems in industries like healthcare, energy, and now in my role as principle data scientist at Exabeam, the cybersecurity industry. Data science is a rewarding field to be a part of and I am not alone in thinking so. In fact data science continues to be one of the most loved jobs, with Glassdoor ranking it as the No. 1 job in America for four years in a row.

Like many people and their career choices however, I did not grow up dreaming of being a data scientist – I graduated with my technology degree in one hand and no real idea of where I was heading next. Thankfully, after lots of school, trial, error, and talking with peers and mentors, I eventually found my way and forged a rewarding tech career in data science.

Businesses are increasingly looking to utilise their data – learning new insights from it to make better decisions in the future. So, it makes sense that the demand for data scientists has also continued to rise, with job postings increasing by 256% since December 2013. Salaries have also increased in the field, with the median salary for a data scientist reaching £63,000 (according to Technojobs data).

Despite the high demand in this field, it turns out that only about 15% of data scientists are women. And, according to the recent Cyberstates report, “The composition of the tech sector workforce in 2018 consisted of 4.9 million men and 2.4 million women, translating to 68 percent and 32 percent, respectively.” Numbers like this mean there is a lot of room for more women in tech.

Labels in the tech industry like ‘data scientist’, or ‘cyber threat hunter’, may sound intimidating, but if you’re a curious person, passionate about innovation, and have an interest in technology, then a career in tech may be right for you. Here’s my advice for women who are looking, beginning, or advancing in tech careers:

Look beyond the technological criteria.
Don’t worry about whether you have the technical knowledge or not.  Having curiosity is the top quality that will allow one to succeed in a career like data science. Curiosity will inspire you to identify the problems and dig out the root causes. In fact, one of the biggest values data scientists have added to society is identifying how to use ‘old’ technologies to resolve ‘new’ problems. In addition, careers in technology are not just about acquiring technical knowledge, but about demonstrating leadership and mentorship. Women are also often good at handling interpersonal relationships and attributing to overall harmony and quality of work environments.

Reach out to mentors and peers.
It didn’t happen overnight – I took a good few years to figure out that data science was my niche. I talked to lots of friends, and even friends of friends, about their daily work and whether they liked or disliked their jobs. I also went to different workshops and meetups of varying industries on the weekends and tried out some small projects. Eventually, I discovered data science fit me best. I encourage you to do the same before entering one area.

Learn the basics.

Do some research and teach yourself the required skill sets before interviewing for tech jobs. You may not need to know all the details, but you need to know the advantages of these new tools. Even one hour today or half an hour tomorrow in your spare time helps, and you will become an expert soon. Remember, you will also continue to learn on the job once you have it, but this will give you a great head start. Here’s a good overview of the skills you need and how to acquire them.

Follow the right people.
Be sure to follow good companies and people rather than chasing high salaries alone when looking for new job opportunities. When deciding where to work, remember to look for and work for people you admire and respect – work for companies that have intelligent leaders and care about their employees.

You’ll need a good mentor.
Having a good mentor will go a long way in helping you be successful in the data science field. Finding one however, requires being proactive and committing to continuously learning from superiors and peers.

Be your best advocate.
Know and believe in your worth and don’t be afraid of advancing. Women are sometimes willing to sacrifice financial gains in their career for other rewards. But to advance, you have to push forward and ask for what you want.

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