With interest in big data increasing exponentially, many experts fear that U.S. companies will be unable to keep up with international competitors. And workers' awareness of the job's generous salaries and extras makes it more difficult to find truly qualified people.
"People are slapping buzzwords on résumés and looking to get 50 or 100 percent more, and they're getting it," said Scott Gnau, president of Teradata Data Lab. "There are a lot of folks who can spell Hadoop and put it on their résumé and call themselves data scientists, and nothing can be further from the truth. We need, as an industry, to get that term defined."
While the "data scientist" title is somewhat all-encompassing now, Gnau expects that it will that three specialty fields will emerge soon: technologists, who write the algorithms and code to transverse the large amounts of data; statisticians and quantification experts; and artist-explorers, creative people who can navigate content and find something others don't see. Each area will require specific training.
"You're going from managing mildly complex data sets and volumes that are very structured [today] to sort of the Wild West of data," Bearden said. "It's high velocity. The volume is extraordinary."
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While some universities—including Arizona State, Oklahoma State and the University of Georgia—offer programs with a big data focus, those students won't enter the workforce for several years.
Some labor experts say that could be too long, given the deluge of big data opportunities now as well as on the near-term horizon. Some herald immigration reform as a potential silver bullet, but the issue remains a minefield.
"We're woefully underprepared for what's to come," said John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger Gray & Christmas, an outplacement company. "If we were smart, not only would we be focusing on encouraging the best technologists in school to go down this path—with programs designed and incentivized—we would be fighting to become the place where the brainpower of the world wants to come to live. Instead, with our visa programs, we make it difficult."
That need for capable employees is part of the reason Facebook formed a political action committee to lobby Capitol Hill on the issue. But the matter's not likely to be settled soon, so employers in need of data scientists have to search elsewhere.
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