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Rise of the geeks as big data gets sexy

According to the Harvard Business Review, the role of data scientist is the sexiest job in the world in the 21st century.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the role of data scientist is the sexiest job in the world in the 21st century.

The relatively new role has climbed to the top of the charts, to become one of the most demanded skills across the world.

But the number of people able to handle the colossal amounts of data humans and machines produce every second is nowhere near enough.

According to IDC, 20 per cent of IT budgets will be spent on big data problems this year. The amount of data in the digital world is expected to grow to 40 zettabytes by 2020, or 40 trillion gigabytes.

It is estimated the United States alone will need to increase the number of graduates with the skills to handle big data by 60 per cent, says a report by McKinsey Global Institute. Within the next five years there will be almost half a million big data jobs with a shortage of 190,000 qualified people. The US will also need 1.5 million executives and support staff who understand big data as well.

Dealing with such huge amounts of information taxes even non-human operators.

"Computers can catch fire trying to break down big data," says Noelle Sio, a senior data analyst at Pivotal.

"If you consume and generate that much data, things will break. Being able to find the capacity to deal with it is how big data is defined."

Data scientists employ a mathematical approach to solving specific algorithms that can break down the barrage of data and help to make sense of it.

They use these models to analyse the information and sometimes create visualisations to help explain it in order to enable organisations to make informed decisions about a range of issues.

"We need to educate companies on what data scientists do," says Ms Sio. "There has been a lot of innovation in recent years. When you look at the internet industry, no one has ever generated that much data, so we had to make tools and make them useful."

Organisations across the world are sitting on large amounts of data that in some cases have yet to be mined or extracted. Few are willing to unearth their data and prefer to keep it locked up and guarded by IT departments.

Data scientists are increasingly finding roles in the medical field and telecommunications fields. There is a lot happening with any sector that involves sensors. "It is not so much the trend of the existence of data but the trend is that you can do something with it, that people are storing it and using it as a competitive tool," says Ms Sio.

Based on anecdotal evidence, there are as yet no data scientists in the GCC region. There are no data science-specific degrees on offer, although that is likely to change within the next few years.

The US, however, is leading the charge in this regard. This year New York's Columbia University will be offering a master's degree and certificate programmes that focus heavily on data.

The University of San Francisco already has a master's programme in data analytics, while data science is taught at other US institutions including New York University, Stanford, Northwestern, George Mason, Syracuse, University of California at Irvine and Indiana University.

It seems the maths geeks have finally taken their revenge by claiming the world's sexiest and most sought-after job.

 

thamid@thenational.ae

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