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How to find the right data scientists

Viraj V Desai

The changing landscape of the Indian IT industry—and the need to understand high volumes of data—has companies seeking out skilled data scientists. They have strong business acumen and domain knowledge in addition to computer science and statistical skills.

Customer behavior data

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generated through online and mobile activity provides important insight for business. Recent global research from Gartner reveals that 42% of IT leaders have already invested in big data technology or plan to do so in the next 12 months.

In a country with a population as big as India, individuals who can understand and translate big data are highly valuable. Indian enterprises are seeking professionals who can handle heterogeneous data and analyze it to help businesses find value in it.

The role of the data scientist

Data scientists are much more than mere statisticians and can analyze both structured and unstructured data. They can differentiate between meaningful and meaningless information to communicate business results.

"The role of data scientists is increasingly becoming important for organizations to execute their big data strategy. Today, organizations need specialized sets of people who can analyze, derive, and communicate impactful findings back to the business to make informed decisions," said Manish Bahl, India country manager at Forrester Research.

"The biggest obstacle that enterprises face today," noted Bahl, "is finding such people in India."

"A formal data science degree is yet to become a standard in India. Thus, experienced data scientists will come at premium. Although there are some vendors offering data science related courses, Forrester expects more vendors to follow this route to push their offerings into the market," he added.

Sid Deshpande, senior research analyst at Gartner India, said, "A data scientist must have business values, good communication, foresight as well as the ability to drive from descriptive analytics to prescriptive analytics."

According to Deshpande, data science is a strong area of growth and the demand for data scientists, with a techno-functional role of a statistician, will increase.

A data scientist is likely to have a doctoral degree and is also expected to be familiar with languages such as Java and C, among others.

Despite the scope associated with this emerging role, very few universities offer courses in predictive analytics or a degree in data science. Companies may consider an inorganic model for fostering data scientists within the company. However, this means that only people with three to five years of experience would be considered for the role and hiring people at the entry level may be difficult.

"Companies are identifying data scientists internally through existing employees who can be trained in line with the company’s objectives," added Deshpande. Among the prospective industries, some companies in retail and financial services are using this approach already.

In the past, the lack of courses has resulted in a brain drain. Deshpande feels however that there is a lot of demand in the country and focuses on the importance of having highly skilled data scientists in India rather than just more of them.