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Coding the Future

 
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Data science is in high demand. Businesses are diving deeper and deeper into their data and therefore require more and more data analysts and scientists to support in this pursuit. Therein lies the problem. There aren’t enough data scientists to meet business demand. Studies show that Europe needs almost 350,000 more data scientists by 2020 to meet the demand from both private businesses and public organisations.

And beyond 2020, fuelled by artificial intelligence, the demand for data scientists isn’t going to slow down. So, to respond to this, how can we increase the number of people being trained in computer and data science and the number of people interested in data as a career? The Harvard Business Review called the data scientist “the sexiest job of the 21st century” so to that point this article takes a look at how education is changing to encourage more people into this in-demand, attractive line of work and what companies in the private sector are doing to support this.

Education Responds to High Demand

How well do you remember ICT lessons from your schooldays? The younger people in our office remember learning about spreadsheets and word processing whereas the more mature members of our team remember ICT lessons as simply being introduced to a calculator…

Fast forward to today and there are dozens of initiatives focused on ensuring that teenagers are prepared for a career in a tech driven world. Just last year, the government pledged over £75million to train 40,000 teachers across the UK in computer science education. The team behind Raspberry Pi, a computer widely used to teach programming, along with STEM Learning and the British Computer Society will deliver the training across the country as well as providing educational resources and certification.

Focusing in on data science specifically, there’s a longer way to go. We’ve visited school careers fairs and for a lot of the teens we spoke to data is “how you get Internet on your phone”. The “Big Data Skills Gap”, as it is often referred, is going to be one of the most pressing issues of the next few years. Particularly as more and more organisations look to implement machine learning, ensuring that there are enough candidates to fill roles is key and this starts with education.

Universities in particular are responding to growing concerns. For example, the London School of Economics has developed a Data Science and Business Analytics degree programme. Statistics show that there has been an uptake in this kind of degree which should be producing highly qualified job applicants in the next few years.

Businesses Creating Their Own Solutions

Although schools and universities are making progress with the delivery of computer and data science education, businesses aren’t sitting around waiting for them to deliver the next generation of their workforce.

Relatively speaking, careers in big data and data science are a pretty new thing. Such roles, although varied, require an impressive list of skills including computer science and maths as well as strong commercial acumen. That’s why a lot of companies are choosing to retrain and upskill current employees. Many larger companies are developing their own data science programmes. For example, for the last couple of years Airbnb has been running an internal “Data University” in an attempt to make all of its employees more data literate.

Also, we should be doing a lot more to encourage women into data science careers. We’ve written before on the lack of women entering and being interested in entering these roles. Less than 20% of data scientists are women and around 10% of data science teams have no women on them at all. This presents a huge barrier to solving the skills shortage. Initiatives like Women in Data Science aim to provide education as well as inspiring women into data science roles. To take this further, big businesses could focus on creating programmes, in the same guise as Airbnb, which focus specifically on educating and encouraging women and, in fact, other minorities.

Conclusion

Data focused roles are amongst the hardest to fill. We know that firsthand. Businesses, schools and universities are reacting to close the skills gap before it becomes too large to solve. Whether from computer science, maths, or business related fields, graduates are emerging that have the skills required to succeed in data science. It’s our job to make it an attractive career choice.