Best job in America? 5 things to know about becoming a data scientist

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What makes a "hot" career hot? In the case of data scientist, named "the most promising career in 2019" by LinkedIn and the "best job in America" by Glassdoor, it's not just the earning power. The money is great, with a median base salary of $108,000, according to Glassdoor, but data scientist also tops the charts based on job satisfaction. And, according to LinkedIn, the career path readily leads to promotions.

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Along with those benefits for people who work as data scientists, the "promising" label describes how the U.S. will need bunches of data scientists in 2019 and for years after. Glassdoor already has 27,630 data science job listings on its website nationwide. As Discover Data Science noted, "companies, research organizations and governmental agencies are scrambling to find qualified data scientists."

Of course, if just anyone could fulfill the job requirements, the job wouldn't pay well or be considered "hot" among career forecasters. If you'd like to get in on this highly touted career path, here are five things you'll need to know:

What does a data scientist actually do?

If you're thinking, "that's like a data analyst, right?" think again. According to DDS, there is not a "mutual one-to-one correspondence" between those two job descriptions.

"Becoming a data scientist is a relatively new career trajectory that merges statistics, business logic and programming knowledge," DDS noted. "Given the exponential amount of data being churned out via our smartphones, desktops, and the vast array of IoT devices throughout the world, governments and private enterprises are interested in gleaning insight from their extensive data collection processes."

Data scientists know how databases are contructed and how to harvest data required by a given organization's database management system. According to DDS, data scientists also "have meta-level understanding of which models are the best fit for the data being analyzed."

How does one become a data scientist?

Turns out you can start preparing to be a data scientist without ever stepping foot on a college campus. Yes, high school, even 8th grade, is not too early to start working on the underpinnings of this field. Essentially, it helps to be the sort who geeks out on computers from an early age.

"Becoming proficient with the most widely used programming languages in data science such as Python, Java, and R – and refreshing their knowledge in applied math and statistics – will help aspiring data scientists get a head start," DDS explained. "In fact, entering college with an already established skillset frequently improves a student's learning rate. But, also, early exposure to data science knowledge requirements is helpful for determining whether a data science career is the right fit."

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What kind of college is required?

The career path is new enough that students are still forging their own undergrad paths, but, DDS noted, "the most sought-after majors for data science are statistics, computer science, information technologies, mathematics or data science (if available)."

Major in one of those, and minor in another, DDS suggested.

Since the education involved is a lengthy, potentially expensive process, Learn How To Become also advised saving money by earning an associate's degree first. After that, you can transfer the two-year degree to a four-year school to finish undergrad.

"Online programs can also be cheaper and more flexible," LHTB advised. "Bootcamps and MOOCs can accelerate learning and save money."

LHTB also advocated for a broad range of instruction at first.

"Some data scientists engage in data mining and data cleaning. Others work with machine learning tools and techniques. In other cases, data scientists work with Hadoop, Hive & Pig and other big data platforms. By choosing an initial educational path that exposes you to a broad range of instruction, you'll learn what you're good at, what you like and what kind of potential careers are right for you."

The LHTB website also offers a search tool listing different schools for data science, along with their tuition, acceptance rate, student population and whether they have online options.

Is it a tough field to crack?

No doubt about it, the data scientist trajectory can be tough.

"Both intellectually and in terms of education, data science is a heavy lift," LHTB said. "Consider taking a free data science course through an online learning portal like EdX to make sure this field is really right for you before you take the plunge."

According to a May 2018 update on a study from Burtch Works Executive Recruiting, there's no simple path to attaining the skills for a data scientist position. You're not going to just luck into it.

"Although more and more data scientists are opting for master's degrees, about one in four professionals in the field with less than three years experience still hold PhD degrees," LHTB noted.

Can you ever just relax?

Just like you almost have to be born with the inherent traits for the career path, you can never say, "Okay, done with the learning now." Because just as the data science job outlook will continue on the upward swing, so will the influx of data driving it. Data scientists need to come with expertise and background, but also a thirst for lifelong learning.