Data science transfers to the big league

David Reed, director of research and editor-in-chief, DataIQ

As the football transfer window finally closes, the data and anaytics industry’s own transfer programme is also nearing completion. S2DS, the pioneering science to data science retraining programme launched by Pivigo, has reached the end of its fourth week and, with it, the potential for its 95 alumni to launch themselves into new careers with commercial organisations.

The growth of S2DS has been impressive - it now runs three times a year - and reflects the ongoing strong demand for data science skills in mainstream companies. Talking to some of its participants at a keynote presentation last night, it was clear that the message is getting out into academia - their skills have value.

While the hype around data science has dampened down - and with that a reduction in the salary premium which the job title was commanding a few years ago - the need for these skills only continues to grow. But there are two things which are now different in the market from when Pivigo first had the idea to “take analytical PhDs and MScs and turn them into rock stars” three years ago.

Firstly, firms now have a better idea of what data science means and why they want it. Instead of the “must have” status it enjoyed previously, there are now “must do” projects which require the sophisticated analytical and modelling skills, plus creative thinking, which transferring PhDs and MScs can bring. 

At the leading edge, this might be finding genomic markers for disease which can lead to preventative treatments (a live use case and project within the S2DS programme). In the mainstream, it may be working out how rich digital behaviour data sets can form the basis for a new marketing-oriented service (another sponsor example). One reason why companies engage with the summer school is to get first-look access to these hard-to-find practitioners in order to speed up the adoption of data science into their organisations.

Secondly, scientists looking to move into commercial jobs now recognise that their technical knowledge and abilities are not enough on their own. Basing your authority on the qualifications you hold is only the starting point - to convince the business you have what it takes demands a good dose of presentational and personal skills, too.

What is striking about the cohorts who go through the S2DS summer school is that they bring a level of personal confidence and willingness to engage that is a long way from the inward geek image of PhDs. To some extent, this is about self-selection - those who do not want to be put under the pressure of commercial deadlines are likely to stick to pure research - and is also a validation of Pivigo’s screening process.

For all parties involved, however, the continued success of the programme is to be applauded. It should also serve as a wake-up call for any academics who have yet to consider a transfer and to all companies who have not recognised the depth of the skills and the value they might bring. But hurry - the window of opportunity is closing.

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Director of research and editor-in-chief, DataIQ
An expert commentator on all things data, David has been editor of DataIQ since its inception in 2011.