Data Science: A 21st Century Job Skill for Every Discipline

In 2020 and the coming decade, you no longer need a PhD to work in data science.

There’s not only a job market for a wider range of data science skills — and affordable onramps to gain those skills at any level — but also a fast-growing shift to the perspective that these skills are essential for any discipline, in any industry.

“Data science is a 21st century job skill that everybody should have. Everybody should have some knowledge of these tools. Every field,” said Eric Van Dusen, curriculum coordinator for data science education at the University of California (UC), Berkeley. “I tell students, you all need to learn this language. You all need to come out with this set of skills. You’re going to be a lot more powerful in whatever career you go into.”

Across industries, across functions, building data science skills is a win. In this article, pulling from experts working in, teaching, and building the future of data science, we cover:

  • Why build a career in data science or add data science skills to your professional toolkit
  • Applications and opportunities for data science for any job level across industries, along with predictions for which industries will see the most impact
  • How to choose the right data science course or program for you

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Why Build a Career in Data Science — or Including it?

Data scientist is one of the fastest-growing job titles in the country, with salaries to match. We have more computer power and data available than ever before that organizations across industries are keen to leverage.

“Companies are racing to hire people who can manage large databases and extract insights important for business, government, and academia,” said an article from UC Berkeley’s data science staff. “The ability to work with large, unstructured data sets and extract vital insights is a desired attribute for a worker. The need for data scientists is so strong that the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that future job growth in the field will be three times faster than for all jobs.”

“As more and more organizations attempt using data for the first time, there will be plenty of new opportunities that only a person trained in data science will be able to leverage.” – Rafael Irizarry, Professor of Applied Statistics at Harvard University

Beyond the growth of data science job titles, the skill set is fast becoming a must-have. In fact, in addition to its popular data science major, UC Berkeley data science staff predict that data science will become the school’s biggest minor over the next few years.

“The undergraduate market here at Berkeley is very unique because it’s becoming a culture where data science ubiquitous for everybody. It’s not just some additional skills that you learn and specialize in. It is the baseline level for an increasingly huge amount of students. Five years from now, I think 90% of undergraduate students at Berkeley will have taken our Data 8 course. And that will shape their framework of how to do other data or technical work in their other disciplines,” said Anthony Suen, program analyst for the UC Berkeley Data Science Education Program and Berkeley Institute of Data Science (BDIS) fellow.

“For undergraduates, just like they’re learning math and basic English writing skills, data science will be part of the toolkit they want. Data science is part of a liberal arts education.”

Similarly, at the graduate and professional level, there’s a growing need to catch up, and an opportunity to strengthen career paths and job prospects by adding data science skills.

“I do see a lot of people that have been trained in other fields and have some quantitative background, but they want to be retooled with data science skill sets. Maybe they’ve originally just learned how to use seller’s data or have some basic programming or technical experience, but they don’t know how to deal with wrangled data,” Van Dusen said.

“And maybe you’re not going to be [the data science] person, but you still need to have these skills to succeed in the next generation of jobs. People on teams, they’re going to need to be able to talk to their manager, their colleagues, software engineers. Or even with automation — almost all workplaces are going to have automation. There’s a lot about data science that’s learning how to interact with the automation, what are the algorithms of the operation. You might not be programming the robot, but you need to understand the flows of things that are going to train the robot.”

Data Science for Every Level, in Any Industry

An increasing range of professionals are leveraging data science skills to ask questions and explore problems across many fields.

While, according to The Hybrid Job Economy report from Burning Glass, the demand for data scientists has jumped over 15% between 2010 and 2018 alone, the real impact of big data skills has been in jobs that once had little to do with statistics. “The demand for metrics — and the growing ease of measuring and visualizing them — is reshaping business practices across industries,” the report says, citing marketing and business analysis examples, in addition to highlighting the wide demand for data science and analytics skills in decision-making roles, including managers across a range of industries.

“The famous John Tukey said, ‘the best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone’s backyard.’ This is true of data science: whatever your field of interest is, I can assure you that there is data to make it better. Being able to extract information from data is actually a very powerful position to be in with data being collected in all aspects of society, ranging from marketing to health and even to sports and entertainment,” said Philippe Rigollet, associate professor in the MIT mathematics department and Statistics and Data Science Center.

Expert Insights: Where Will Data Science Have the Biggest Impact this Decade?

While tech companies may employ many data scientists, only 26 percent of respondents to an O’Reilly industry survey said they worked in traditional tech industries. Here’s our faculty and industry expert predictions for other industries to watch in 2020 and beyond:

  • “Data science has the potential to transform how we deliver public services to the poor. The constraints we now face to improving the lives of the poor are not the cost of accessing technology or creating algorithms, but the amount of talent; we need people who are excited to work in this area and willing to put their intelligence to this type of work.” – Esther Duflo, Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics, MIT, co-founder and co-director of the J-PAL, winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences
  • “I think the most potential with data science right now is in the public sector. There’s a huge amount of opportunities for good to be done; for government agencies, nonprofits, and other initiatives that I feel like industry has adopted and thrived on based on data science work, but there are huge unmet opportunities for social good that can be done.” – Anthony Suen, program analyst for the UC Berkeley Data Science Education Program and Berkeley Institute of Data Science (BDIS) fellow
  • I see a lot of growth in the medical field. It seems there’s so much you can do, so much information available from the clinical side and there’s a lot of new devices like wearables. And in general, I do see a lot of industries be it insurance, banking, etc. being more efficient due to the introduction of data science into those industries.” – Joseph Santarcange, PhD, IBM Data Scientist
  • “To me, the most exciting prospect of data science in the coming years is personal medicine based on genomics. New technologies create huge amounts of data, for example in single-cell genomics, which is now enhanced with high-resolution microscopic images. This contains information with a precision that we’ve never seen before and it has the potential to really advance our understanding of the genetic mechanisms that govern the development of many diseases. Large scale data science techniques are beginning to transform the way we handle this data. I believe that the coming decade will be pivotal in this direction: combined with targeted genome editing technology such as CRISPR-Cas9, we will soon see new targeted drugs that improve the condition of millions of patients.” – Philippe Rigollet, associate professor, mathematics department and Statistics and Data Science Center, MIT

Explore courses and programs to gain data science skills at any level, from programming in python to machine learning to data visualization.

How do I Choose the Best Data Science Course or Program for me?

In today’s data-driven world, data science skills are now an essential part of every professional’s toolkit. The number of organizations and types of industries that use data will only continue to grow in 2020 and throughout the next decade.

“Regardless of the approach you are considering to try to change the world, there is very likely a way data science skills can help,” said Irizarry.

Whether you work in the data science field or not, learn more about how data science skills, tools, and concepts can make a big impact on your career.

Take your next step: From foundational courses to advanced degrees, find your data science path at edX.