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23 Aug

What Is a Data Science Professional?

Understanding Data Science

As a relatively new term, “data science” encapsulates an abundance of job functions. For this reason, data science careers are often misunderstood or simply unknown. However, as more businesses begin to recognize the vast landscape of data and statistics available to them and consider how harnessing that information and understanding it can lead to a better product for them and their consumers, the need for data scientists in a variety of industries has grown.1

So What Is Data Science?

Before understanding what a data scientist does, it’s useful to first define “data,” as it’s the critical element of a data scientist’s job. In simplest terms, data is information. More specifically in its commercial applications, we can think of data as information gathered from consumers, whether gathered actively through solicitation of information (such as surveys) or passively as users navigate websites and leave a digital trace. Data also includes the operational data that is produced by a company: sales data, costs and so on.2

The fact of the matter is, in the 21st century, the sheer amount of information being collected—through apps, websites and improved operational tracking—is staggering. The ability for companies and their marketing teams to understand their customers and how they interact with their products and the world is at an all-time high. However, to make informed business decisions with this data, it first must be strategically gathered and then analyzed.

This is what data science is all about: the strategic collection and analysis of data in ways that optimize business goals, improving efficiency and thus the bottom line.3

How Do You Become a Data Scientist?

Since data science is a relatively new field, with the term “data science” only used widely since 2008, the path to a career in it is still being defined as well.2 The truth is that to be a successful data scientist, it’s helpful to have a wide variety of skills. Since it’s a career that requires a strong grasp of data and knowledge of the coding required to design programs that collect it, computer science is a logical background. However, data scientists may also need strengths in marketing as well as savvy business instincts, as the decisions they make are often informed by strategic marketing initiatives.2 With that in mind, professionals with business, finance or marketing backgrounds could also be a good fit in data science once they learn the technical skills needed for the job.

It Pays to Know

In a business climate increasingly shaped by data, data scientists are on the leading edge of this transformation. It’s an exciting and significant role within any organization. But the feeling of making a difference within a company is not the only benefit of working in data science. As a career, data science is one of the highest paying around, with an average salary of $117,000.4

So what is a data scientist? After looking into this question further, perhaps the best definition is: a well-paid professional at the vanguard of business and technology, with the unique ability to collect, analyze and act on targeted information.


Interested in learning more? Discover the Online Master of Science in Business Analytics (OMSBA) from William & Mary.


1. Retrieved on March 26, 2018, from forbes.com/sites/louiscolumbus/2017/12/24/53-of-companies-are-adopting-big-data-analytics/#4f6b456739a1
2. Retrieved on March 26, 2018, from forbes.com/sites/lisaarthur/2013/08/15/what-is-big-data/#f52e9445c85b
3. Retrieved on March 26, 2018, from hbr.org/2012/10/data-scientist-the-sexiest-job-of-the-21st-century
4. Retrieved on March 26, 2018, from forbes.com/sites/louiscolumbus/2016/10/22/15-data-scientist-jobs-that-pay-100k-or-more/#78943f6d626c