Big Data, Big Bucks

(This post appeared last week on our successor blog, the Analysights Data Mine)

In their 1996 bestselling book, The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko constructed profiles of the typical American millionaire.  One common characteristic the authors observed was that these millionaires “chose the right occupation.”  When Stanley and Danko wrote Millionaire, I doubt many of their research subjects were data analysts, predictive modelers, data scientists, or other “Big Data” professionals; but if they were to write a new edition today, I’ll bet there would be a lot more on the list.  “Big Data” jobs seem to be “the right occupation” today.

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, veteran analytics recruiter Linda Burtch of Burtch Works predicted that job candidates with little familiarity with “Big Data” will face a “permanent pink slip,” while observing that analytics professionals earn a median base salary of $90,000 per year. Ms. Burtch distinguishes between “analytics” professionals (who typically deal with structured data sets) and “data scientists” (who typically work with large, unstructured data sets), when classifying income levels.  Data scientists, Burtch Works found, make a median base salary of $120,000.

Even more impressive is the median base salaries of entry level professionals, those with three years’ experience or less: $65,000 for analytics professionals and $80,000 for data scientists.  At nine or more years’ experience, the median base salaries rise to $115,000 and $150,000, respectively.

Much of the reason for the hefty salaries is that companies don’t often understand what skill sets they need.  Ms. Burtch mentions this in her comments to the Wall Street Journal, and I indicated as much in a previous blog post.  Add to that the fact that needed skill sets are also highly specialized and relatively few professionals have such skills, or a large pool of them.  Because of the scarcity, candidates can command such high salaries.

For companies, this suggests that in order to get the most value out of a “Big Data” hire, it must first decide the typical projects it will expect the candidate to perform, and then base the required skill set and years of experience accordingly.  Then the company can budget the salary it is willing to pay.  This will ensure that the company isn’t hiring someone with 10 years’ experience in data analytics and paying that person $120,000 per year just to pull data for mailing lists, when it should have hired someone out of college for about one-third of that.

For candidates, the breadth of skill sets employers seek in “Big Data” professionals suggests they can maximize their salaries by continuing to broaden their skills and experience within the data realm.  For example, someone with years of SAS programming and SQL experience may branch out to other programming tools, such as R and Python. Or, such a professional may expand his or her skill set by developing proficiency in data visualization tools such as Tableau of QLIKVIEW.

Working in “Big Data” may not make someone “the millionaire next door,” but it may bring him or her pretty close.

 

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