Fledgling data science profession under strain, says SAS research

The fledgling data science profession is under strain, with its mostly young workers struggling to adapt to corporate life

The fledgling data science profession is under strain, with its mostly young workers bending themselves out of shape to adapt to corporate life, research has revealed.

This is among the results of psychological research conducted by analytics software firm SAS on a group of nearly 600 self-identified data scientists. 

The 24-question survey was based on the Disc profiling methodology, which measures degrees of dominance, influence, steadiness and compliance along axes of proactive and reactive, as well as introvert and extrovert.

The report What Makes a Great Data Scientist? based on the survey – which has been running since this summer and will continue – said: “It is unlikely any individual will have all of the skills required to maximise the value of big data, so it is important for managers to identify the particular skills needed and build a cohesive team of individuals with complementary skills and traits.

"Failure to do so can result in individuals trying to fulfil roles to which they are not suited – which may lead to stress and burn-out."

SAS HR director Sue Warman warned these typically young people are finding themselves disjointed by the stress placed on them.

"As this arena matures we will learn more about how to get the best out of people,” she said.

55% of the respondents emerged as stressed, with 25% of men and 30% of women heavily stressed. However, Warman explained based on this sample, data science has more women in it than other areas of IT, with 191 of the 596 respondents being female – equal to 32%.

The report revealed the survey’s respondents are operating with limited experience. 45% had less than three years of experience, while 76% had fewer than 10 years.

“There are already not enough people in this arena to service the demand today, and we know there will be growth in demand," said Warman. 

"There is also not the depth and sophistication in skills in this community. Organisations need to train better and not make people accountable too soon. Give people the best chance to do their best work. Limited work experience means you haven’t quite learned how to prioritise,” she added.

The survey classified respondents in six personality types:

  • The geeks made up the largest group of respondents (41%). They have a technical bias, strong logic and analytical skills, and they focus on detail.
  • The gurus (11%) are predisposed to scientific and technical subjects, but are persuasive communicators with strong social skills. Their roles include promoting data science benefits to management.
  • The drivers (11%) are highly pragmatic and determined to realise their goals. They are self-confident and results-oriented. Their roles include project management and team leadership.
  • The crunchers (11%) like routine and display high technical competence. Their roles include technically-oriented support roles, such as data preparation and entry, statistical analysis and data quality control.
  • The deliverers (7%) have technical skills but also bring focus and momentum to ensure project success. Their roles include project and person management with a high level of technical knowledge.
  • The voices (6%) generate enthusiasm for data science at a conceptual level with their communication skills. Their roles include presenting results to senior business audiences.



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