Is Data Science for Me? Taking a Second Look at the Sexiest Job of the 21st Century

Lillian Pierson, P.E.

Lillian Pierson, P.E.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

It’s been nearly eight years since the Harvard Business Review first declared that data scientist was the sexiest job of the 21st century. Perhaps despite this fancy label, you’re still asking yourself the question, “is data science for me?”. 

Just the other day, I was doing a little research, trying to figure out what sort of content I wanted to develop for the next six to eight weeks for the community, and I saw an article in Towards Data Science. Back in 2018, one of their contributors was rehashing the often touted saying that “data scientist is the sexiest job in the 21st century”six years after Harvard Business Review had first proclaimed in 2012.

And I thought to myself…is it really? Is data scientist really the sexiest job? 

Is Data Science For Me? Let's revisit the so-called "sexiest" job of the 21st century...

You see, I spent five years of the last decade working full time in data science before moving into leadership roles. 

And in my opinion?

Being a data scientist is NOT the sexiest position in the world (but I do know another that is!).

And what is that position you may ask? Being a data leader, my friend.

In order to argue my case for why being a data leader trumps being a data scientist, I’m going to compare and contrast the roles using three main happiness metrics. I’ll use these to evaluate the differences between data science and data leadership. I hope that by using these metrics I’ll be able to answer the question, “Is data science for me?” and show you whether or not you should be pursuing data science or data leadership.

Next, we’ll talk about how you can actually up level your own skillset so that you can get closer to achieving a data leadership role and get out of the data implementation grind. 

I’ll finish up by showing you three places you can go to affordably upgrade your data leadership skills.

“Is Data Science For Me?” – Let’s Discuss Using Happiness Metrics

Let’s discuss the roles of data leaders and data scientists in relation to three happiness metrics: peace and calm, purpose, and financial reward.

Happiness Metric #1 –   Peace & Calm

Our ability to feel calm and collected at work rather than stressed and frazzled has a direct impact on our wellbeing. Individuals who are able to keep their stress levels low find greater happiness at work. There are two main ways that stress shows up for professionals in the data science industry.

Keeping Up With New Tech

As data scientists, we feel a ton of stress, all of the time, as we try and keep up with all of the cutting-edge trends and evolutions in AI research and development. 

Want to STOP stressing about learning every single implementation technique, taking one coding course after the next? There’s a faster way to uplevel your data career. Check out Winning With Data, my new 30-day challenge and digital asset bundle that helps you climb the data science career ladder and quickly become a highly-regarded data leader????

Quite honestly, it’s frightening to think you must keep up with every new data development, otherwise, you won’t be competitive as a data scientist. Dealing with that constant pressure can be incredibly anxiety-inducing. 

The truth is, as an individual, it’s impossible to keep up with every single new trend and innovation in data.

As a data leader, however, your job is a lot more fixed. Your focus is on delivering data projects and making sure that they create profit for the business. To do that, you take a methodical,  strategic approach that is very consistent. Because of the consistency and repeatability, there’s a lot less stress in your day-to-day. As a data leader, you’re less interested in constantly learning the hottest new technologies; it makes a lot more sense to go with what’s tried and true. 

Just take Hadoop as an example. Back in 2012, everyone was buying Hadoop because it was the latest and the greatest. And now, pretty much all of the Hadoop vendors are dead. As a data leader, you’re better off sticking with what’s proven, which helps minimize stress and uncertainty.

Quantifying Your Value

As a data leader, you actually know and can quantify the value your contributions are creating to your company’s bottom line . Because that’s your job. Your role to make sure that your data projects are profitable, and to constantly be monitoring and managing the profitability of data operations. So each and every day, you’re able to see how well you’re doing in that aspect. 

Whereas when you’re a data scientist,  you’re completely isolated from the actual work that you’re doing. A lot of times as a data scientist, you’ll be building models and doing work with data and it never sees the light of day. That’s a scary place to be because you don’t know if you’re going to continue to have a job. You don’t know that you’re actually justifying this expensive salary you’re getting paid. It almost feels like the more money you make, the bigger a target you have on your back. When you have no clue exactly sure how much you value the work you’re doing is generating? That’s a whole lot of stress.

Do you want to get started straight away on doing work you know is creating an impact and improving your organization’s bottom line? My newest 30-day challenge and digital asset bundle, Winning With Data, is the shortcut to getting promoted to data leader in 30 days or less.

Happiness Metric #2 –  Purpose 

I’m a data leader, and before I got into data I was an engineer, and I’ve always preferred systems over processes. All my engineers out there understand what that means! 

Basically, as a data, leader, you understand exactly how the work you’re doing impacts the business, so you have a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. You see how it affects people’s livelihoods and how the business improves because of the work you’ve done. It’s very tangible. 

But as a data scientist, on the other hand, you’re stuck in the weeds. You get caught up narrowly working through all the processes, making sure everything is accurate. In fact, you don’t always get to the point where you see that the work you’re doing makes any difference at all. Does that sound like a fulfilling way to spend 40-50 hours of your life each week? Coding for the sense of code, not knowing if it has any impact at all, is not the most rewarding way to live.

is data science for meHappiness Metric #3 –  Financial Reward

While the popular phrase goes “money can’t buy happiness” the truth of the matter is that whether we like it or not, our salary greatly affects our quality of life. More money means a greater ability to send our children to good schools, to provide for them and get them a better education, pay for extracurricular activities, and save for retirement. Money does make a difference, especially with how expensive our cost of living is these days. The reality is, financial reward is a consideration when you’re asking yourself the question, “is data science for me?”.

As a data leader, you’ll make TWICE as much money as a data scientist. For LESS stress and MORE satisfaction. That’s what I like to call a win-win-win ????

I checked today on Glassdoor and the average salary for American data scientists is $113,000 per year, whereas chief data officers make $235,000 per year.

There’s a spectrum of titles and there are levels of advancement in data leadership, just like in data science or in analytics. Your title could be chief data officer, VP of analytics, or head of data science – all of these roles qualify as data leaders. 

What Are The Essential Skills You Need To Be A Data Leader? 

If you’re wondering, “is data science for me?”, there are three essential elements that you need to be a data leader. In the simplest terms, they are: 

  1. Data technology skills: You don’t need to understand every single detail of data implementation but you do need to understand how they work and their caveats. Having a sophisticated understanding of the inner workings of data technology, skill sets, and resources matters.
  1. Team and organizational leadership skills: People skills are of the essence if you want to become a data leader (even if you see yourself as a coder, tech person). If you want to get ahead in your career, more tech skills won’t help you move up a level higher….you’ve got to develop your people skills. 
  1. Technical planning and data strategy skills: After you’ve got data literacy skills and leadership skills down pat, the third core competency needed to become a data leader is high-level data strategy skills. 

Where To Find Affordable Resources To Become A Data Leader 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, I know many of us are concerned about money and looking for affordable solutions. I’ve put together a few resources that will help you gain the skills necessary to become a successful data leader – without breaking the bank. 

If you’re looking to upgrade your data technology skills 

If you’re looking to up your understanding of data technology skill sets and resources, definitely head over to Udemy. The courses are $10 a pop, and any of the four-star plus courses are great. If you work through them, you’ll start to get a pretty good understanding of what you need to know in order to start doing this high-level leadership, strategic type of work. It won’t teach you everything, but it’s an awesome starting point!

If you’re looking to upgrade your leadership skills

Becoming a great leader is a whole other journey in of itself, one where you’ll probably learn a lot through trial and error. But if you want to start building up those leadership skills before you’ve had a chance to lead a team, you should definitely check out the book Dare To Lead by Brene Brown.  I’ve been reading it myself lately, and it’s all about changing perspectives and learning how to become a better corporate leader.

If you’re looking to upgrade data strategy skills

If you’re wondering where you can learn sharp technical planning and data strategy building skills, you need to check out Winning With Data. You’ll want to start with the case collections, where you’ll learn to evaluate winning data cases and learn to apply them to your own organization’s needs, and then you’ll want to work through the data strategy starter kit. 

Winning With Data is a brand new product just released after nine tireless months of research and hard work, with the goal to democratize data strategy. I was tired of seeing big-name consulting firms charging a quarter of a million dollars to come in and build lackluster data strategies each quarter. Data strategies that are, quite frankly, based on cookie-cutter templates and don’t provide any real value to the organizations they’re claiming to support. 

I realized there was SO much potential for data professionals to step up, start delivering profitable projects and become high-earning, highly-respected data leaders. I’m here to help you land your next promotion by teaching you the ins and outs of data strategy and leadership, so you can start experiencing less stress, more purpose, and greater financial reward in your data career.

Get started with my newest bundle, Winning With Data, to take the first step in your data leadership journey. This 30-day challenge & digital asset bundle will dramatically shortcut the path to becoming a highly-regarded data leader, even if you don’t have a decade of data implementation experience.

Join Winning With Data now and start taking decisive action to become a better data leader TODAY!  ????????

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Hi, I'm Lillian Pierson, Data-Mania's founder. We welcome you to our little corner of the internet. Our mission is to equip data & technology service providers, SaaS founders, and consultants with the cutting-edge insights, trends, and impartial perspectives they need to harness the potential of applied AI, build strategic data-intensive solutions, and catalyze rapid business growth.

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Fractional CMO for deep tech B2B businesses. Specializing in go-to-market strategy, SaaS product growth, and consulting revenue growth. American expat serving clients worldwide since 2012.

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