How to Become a Data Scientist
How to Become a Data Scientist

Sequencing genes. Studying Twitter posts. Researching what seeds grow best in which soils. Cataloging stars. Data scientists are at work in all these scenarios, collecting data and finding the meaning in it — helping organizations discover relationships between genes and disease, determine how to target products to customers’ interests, yield more crops, map the universe.

“There's something beautiful about making data tell a story,” said Roger Barga, general manager and development director at Amazon Web Services. “It's like solving a riddle or finding the treasure in a treasure hunt.”

What Does a Data Scientist Do?

Mining knowledge from data is easier said than done. Data sets can be unimaginably large (you’ve heard of big data) and difficult to store and process. As a data scientist, you might need to integrate data from various sources — smartphones, sensors, the web, etc. — or grapple with unstructured data. And that’s just the beginning.

    Projected Growth

Nationally: 31% 
Washington state: 30%

    Median Annual salary

Nationally: $100,910
Washington state: $129,560

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine

In this role, you’ll need to use a range of techniques and tools, such as statistics, algorithms, machine learning, text retrieval and natural language processing, to analyze data and interpret the results. And there’s one more crucial thing a data scientist needs: curiosity.

“Data scientists have to be curious about the data. Explore the data. Ask questions and combine different data sets together,” explained Barga, who is on the advisory board for UW Professional & Continuing Education's UW Certificate in Data Science. “It’s that end-to-end thinking that differentiates an effective data scientist.”

Are Data Scientists in Demand?

With the power to transform raw data into decision-making insights, it’s not surprising that data scientists are in high demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for data scientists is expected to grow nationally by 31% by 2030 and by 30% in Washington state.

This kind of demand does not surprise Bill Howe, senior data science fellow and founding associate director at the UW eScience Institute, and associate professor in the Information School. “There’s a lot more data than there used to be,” he said. “Every company, large and small, is doing the kind of analysis required to accurately predict what will sell.”

Industry isn’t the only area where the use of data science is growing. “Data science is having a transforming effect in the science fields,” Howe said. “Astronomy, earth sciences, oceanography, political science, social science — these are just a few examples of fields where exciting work is happening using data science.”

Data is everywhere, and so are data jobs. “If you’re good at data, you can go anywhere and get a job,” said Howe.

Furthering Your Education in Data Science

Interested in data science? Check out the UW Certificate in Data Science, the Data Science Foundations course and other related programs:

For more career tips and industry trends, visit the News & Features section of our website, and subscribe to our email list. To learn more about UW Professional & Continuing Education certificates, specializations, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.

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