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In the days of yore parents pushed their children to pursue noble lucrative professions – doctor, lawyer, banker – but as times change they may soon encourage another career path: data scientist.
Big data is being billed as the next big thing – the key to gaining a competitive advantage and increasing profitability for companies both big and small. The increasing importance of data analysis in decision making has boosted demand for employees with analytical skill sets, popularizing career paths that lead to big data jobs.
"As the demand for employees with quantitative and analytical skills increases you're seeing more quants (data professionals) being placed in key decision-making roles," said Linda Burtch, founder and managing director of Burtch Works, a U.S.-based executive recruitment agency for quantitative business professionals.
"They're being hired to drive the core profitability of the business," she told CNBC.
Show me the money
It comes as no surprise then that big data pays well.
According to Burtch Works' 2014 study of salaries for data scientists - typically those with university degrees in a quantitative field of study that are comfortable with programming languages and statistical methods - the median salary for employees not working as part of a team was $80,000 for those with 0-3 years' experience and $150,000 for those with 9 or more years' experience.
At the managerial level the median salaries were higher, with those responsible for a team of 1-3 earning $140,000 and those responsible for a team of 10 or more earning $232,500.
By contrast, the mean average annual income for a lawyer in America was $131,990 in 2013, while doctors earned $183,940, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A job seeker's market
Employees with big data skillsets are in demand. In a 2011 report, McKinsey Global Institute estimated that by 2018 there will be 4 million big data related positions in the U.S. that require quantitative and analytical skills. However, there will be a potential shortfall of 1.5 million data-savvy managers and analysts to fill these positions, it said.
Linda Burtch also noted a shortfall in supply: "The most common complaint among our clients is that there aren't enough candidates."
According to a Burtch Works flash survey conducted in the first quarter of 2013, 89 percent of respondents said they were contacted via LinkedIn at least once a month with new job opportunities. Twenty-five percent said they were contacted weekly.
Got what it takes?
Typically data scientist roles are more advanced than other big data roles and thus require more experience, more advanced degrees and a computing background.
According to the Burtch Works study, 46 percent of data scientists have PhDs while 42 percent hold Master's degrees. By area of study, mathematics/statistics, computer science and engineering make up the top three positions, accounting for 32, 19 and 16 percent, respectively.
However, don't be fooled; it takes more than just an advanced degree to land a high-paying role.
"In addition to analytical skills companies focus on candidates that have a strong sense of curiosity, business acumen and good communication skills," Burtch said.
Time to hit the books
So you're ready for a career change and want to be a data scientist? While studying to become a data scientist is no walk in the park, finding a place to do so is becoming easier.
"More universities are offering analytics-focused programs. Some MBA programs, for instance, offer analytics-related concentrations," Burtch said.
The University of Iowa, for instance, began offering a big data focused undergraduate major called Business Analytics and Information Systems in 2013.
"The program developed as a result of both the anticipated demand such as that reflected in the 2011 McKinsey report on big data as well as our conversations with local and national employers," said Gautam Pant, associate professors of management sciences at the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business.
Read MoreWhat is big data?
"The program has been well received so far. The enrollments have increased by a factor of 60-70 percent since we announced the business analytics track in our major last year. We have about 170 students in our Business Analytics and Information Systems (BAIS) major at this time and we expect that number to continue to rise for the next few years," he said.
"University programs related to business analytics and business intelligence have continued to increase. At many schools these are offered as graduate and professional programs." he added.