Where Do Data Scientists Come From?

Data experts aren't uniformly distributed around the globe. Prepare to be surprised at some of the best countries and cities for data expertise.
 Big Data Analytics Masters Degrees: 20 Top Programs
Big Data Analytics Masters Degrees: 20 Top Programs
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Looking for skilled data scientists? Don't neglect Belarus and Ukraine in your search.

"We've hired people and have partners doing development from these countries," Sid Banerjee, CEO of text analytics company Clarabridge, told InformationWeek in a phone interview.

Why does data science talent cluster in some places and not others? Seasoned technology executives offer plenty of informed speculation.

"In conversations I've had with folks in Ukraine, their theory is that a lot of the tech talent in the former Soviet Bloc was [directed at] military programs," Banerjee said. "Their schools still teach fairly advanced science and engineering concepts, but the jobs aren't there anymore. So, these people are applying themselves to next-generation commercial problems."

[ Is your next good data scientist a music major? Read how a Booz Allen Hamilton executive suggests throwing an even wider net. ]

Economics play a role.

Tech companies have been "arbitraging" talent around the world for years, Gian Fulgoni, executive chairman and co-founder of ComScore, told InformationWeek. Fulgoni was the keynote speaker at The Practice of Analytics, a half-day conference hosted in Chicago by operational management and research group INFORMS and the University of Chicago Graham School last week.

As salaries for data professionals in places like India have gradually risen, businesses have begun looking elsewhere, such the Eastern Europe and the Far East, Fulgoni said. "And it might well be moving back to the U.S.," he added.

Forget about comparing countries and cultures; there can be subtle differences even between two universities in the same city, said INFORMS attendee Kean Chew, a senior director of advanced analytics at Halverson Group, which helps global brands design strategies using behavioral science and analytics.

"One university in Chicago is known for quantitative methods, the other is known for qualitative ones," Chew said.

Separately, Chew wondered if the data science skills, eagerly sought by businesses of all types right now, are transferable between industries. "Can the data scientist working in, say, consumer packaged goods do as well when he jumps over to an auto company?" he asked.

Tom Deutsch, a program director on IBM's big data team, expressed the widely held sentiment that centers of data excellence grow up near universities with world-class computer science/IT master's degree programs.

Responding to a question posted on LinkedIn by InformationWeek, Deutsch said the schools act as magnets for people, who often go on to create nearby businesses. The startups, in turn, use the schools for talent and research.

Regardless of an analyst's country of origin, proper training is essential, said Michael Rappa, executive director of the Institute for Advanced Analytics and a distinguished university professor at North Carolina State University. The Institute, which established the nation's first master of science in analytics (MSA) degree in 2007, currently graduates about 80 students a year.

Although there are now about two dozen masters programs aimed at filling business' urgent need for big data and analytic talent, there is still a shortage, as InformationWeek's 2012 Staffing Survey confirms.

"The tools are advancing amazingly, and data is everywhere, but the missing element is producing people who can bring it all together," Rappa said.

The big data market is not just about technologies and platforms -- it's about creating new opportunities and solving problems. The Big Data Conference provides three days of comprehensive content for business and technology professionals seeking to capitalize on the boom in data volume, variety and velocity. The Big Data Conference happens in Chicago, Oct. 21-23.

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