Students Flocking to Analytics & Data Science – A Good Thing?
Over the past few years there has been a seismic shift in the business world. Companies of every type – from technology and entertainment to government, non-profits, video gaming, and many more – have developed an obsession with being data-driven. Although “data-driven” may verge on corporate buzzword territory, the fact is, companies that leverage their business data to make smarter decisions perform better than their competitors.
For those of us who have been in the quantitative community for years, this comes as little surprise, but business media from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times have been awash with splashy headlines about the enormous demand for, and high salaries of, analytics and data science professionals (I admit, I have even contributed to a few such headlines).However, lately I’ve found myself wondering: is this a good thing? The field is evolving quickly and now many, including students and established professionals alike, are being drawn to a niche field that seems to be exploding. Is this influx of professionals into the field healthy and sustainable?Students have been flocking to analytics and data science. According to an analysis conducted by the American Statistical Association, “bachelor's degrees in statistics grew 17% from 2013 to 2014. This marks 15 consecutive years the number of undergraduates in statistics has risen, increasing by more than 300% since the 1990s. From 2000 to 2014, master's and doctorate degrees in statistics also grew significantly at 260% and 132%, respectively.”The academic world has been working to keep up with this demand, with the number of universities offering bachelor’s degrees in statistics increasing by 50%, and master’s degrees increasing by 20% from 2003 to 2014. Additionally, there has also been a tremendous increase in the number of boot camps and MOOCs promising to train up people who wish to jump into the field. The increase has been rapid enough that it is difficult to find an up-to-date list of the numerous options now available.At Burtch Works, we’ve also noticed a surge of young professionals entering analytics careers. Each year we release The Burtch Works Studies, reports on the compensation and demographics of professionals working in Data Science, Predictive Analytics, and Marketing Research (you can learn more about them here or download them for free). One of the demographics that we monitor for our samples is years of experience.
Our data suggests that a larger, younger cohort is joining the field. For predictive analytics professionals, over the past year, the median and mean years’ experience dropped from 10 and 11.5 years respectively in 2014’s report, to 9 and 10.5 years in 2015’s report. In fact, over 74% of predictive analytics professionals have no more than 15 years of experience (see the graph for a year to year distribution comparison).Last year, I posed that “data scientist” may soon replace “lawyer” or “doctor” as the profession of choice for parents that encourage their children to pursue successful careers, but I also recognize that it is important for people to follow their passion. Something to consider is whether some of the increase in students pursuing math-related degrees are students choosing the hot career du jour, not necessarily because it is actually what they want to do.What do you think? Are we headed in the right direction? Or has analytics and data science just become the new “web developer circa 1999”?