Ever since ‘data scientist’ was voted the sexist job of the 21st century in 2012, its demand has only grown. Today, about 2.7 million data science related jobs are available. This number is estimated to increase to 11.5 million jobs by 2026, a 325% increase.
If you have been wanting to switch careers and work within the field of data science, there are several options available for you. Assuming you have the right education or experience, you can choose to strike out as an independent contractor or join a data science consultancy.
Each path has its merits and downsides, but there are clear benefits to one above the other. Let’s explore each one.
Become an independent contractor
Let’s start off with the more difficult path: working by yourself. The temptation to skip the long interview rounds and be your own boss has called to many people. In the UK alone, 15.3% of the workforce consists of self-employed individuals.
However, being a data science freelancer requires much more than being good at data science. Salesmanship, marketing, and even accounting are just some of the necessary skills you need as a freelancer. Networking is another.
If you are a new graduate with little to no practical experience, you might spend more time getting clients and being profitable. You will need to build up a good reputation and a wide network in your field.
Previous experience in the field will definitely help shorten the time before you are well-established. But you will still have to learn the entrepreneurial skills needed to run a business.
Join a data science consultancy
No consultancies are alike but it is possible to place them in one of three categories:
● The Big Three or MBB (McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company)
● Traditional tech companies (f.ex: IBM and Accenture)
● Small independent agencies
Which one is the best choice for you depends on how autonomous you are in your work, how much experience you have already, and how fast you are willing to learn.
The bigger companies tend to have trainee programs for data science graduates where they can work in different areas of data science, such as:
● Data Mining and Statistical Analysis
● Cloud Computing
● Database Architecture
● Business Intelligence and Strategy
● Cognitive Computing Development
● Data Visualization
● Data Analytics
However, you are not likely to work on any cutting edge projects. You will also have to adhere to a more strict hierarchy.
‘In small independent agencies, on the other hand, you are likely to have work autonomy, participate in more exciting projects, and ultimately learn more. Data science consulting in such agencies might be more demanding, but in return, you end up growing more in your skill. Small independent agencies aim to offer a higher level of service and expertise, because (much like the independent contractors of the world) they don’t have the luxury of a known brand to vouch for their level of expertise.’
Pavel Akapian, Lead ML RnD Engineer,
InData Labs, Data Science consulting firm
Compared to bigger consulting firms, smaller agencies engage in shorter projects and thus complete more of them in a given year. While there are merits to both long-term and shorter projects, the advantage of completing more shorter projects is the learning possibilities.
In independent agencies, you can get a chance to learn about different industries and see how they currently use data science to solve key business challenges. Additionally, you are more likely to broaden your data science skills beyond Python and R. You can also learn:
● various SQL dialects
● machine learning models
● optimization techniques
● distributed computation frameworks
● cloud services
● probabilistic programming languages
● APIs and web applications
● UX design
● data visualization,
● scalable software application deployment
Final advice on choosing a path
As you see from this article, there are many ways to start out in data science consulting. The path you choose will depend on how you want your career to look like, and what your starting point is in terms of skills.
However, most of these paths will still be available to you if you choose another. If you grow tired of working by yourself, you can join an independent data science agency. Or if you have worked in a big consulting company, you can always strike out on your own and offer you niche expertise.