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Considering a Career in Data

Robin Reshwan

Data. Many of us may think data is just a line item on our cell phone bill where we are penalized if we used too much that month. In the business world, data is on the mind of every CEO. How to acquire customer data? How to use data to determine buying patterns? How to keep confidential data safe? These questions have resulted in a wave of new career paths -- and our workforce does not have enough qualified employees to match the hiring. Here are two paths to consider if you want to participate in these fast-growing professions.

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Marketing Analytics. Marketing departments are huge consumers of data and technology. A prediction by Gartner (a leading research company) estimated that by 2017 the head of marketing will actually spend more on information technology than the chief information officer. Businesses of every kind want to know more about their customers and want to create practices that make it easier to target the right customers at the best time in an effort to increase sales efficiently.

Most entry-level marketing careers begin by learning all of the technology tools available to capture customer preferences, identifying buying patterns and marketing goods or services. Proficiency with the software tools leads you to where data and ideas converge. Initiatives measured by analytics drive the majority of marketing efforts in mid-to-large firms. Measuring things like click-through rates and determining the return on investment for specific marketing campaigns or strategies give executives factual information about what is actually working (and what is not a good use of time). If you are pursuing a career in marketing, be prepared to demonstrate more than just good ideas -- as a matter of fact, your ideas may not even be needed for many years to come. Instead, display how you have increased followers, expanded online communities, grew user engagement and ultimately had an impact on revenue because of your analysis of data. Let the numbers show your marketing potential.

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Data Science. Ever wanted to be a treasure hunter? Maybe you have a knack for solving puzzles, finding glitches or seeing the piece that is out of place? Good news -- you might be a natural data scientist.

But why pursue a data-driven role versus a more traditional math or programming role? Eric Haller, executive vice president and global head of Experian DataLabs, gives this explanation: "Data Science offers continuous exploration. It is a multidisciplinary career path. You look for things that others may not have seen -- patterns to tell a story. Furthermore, the stronger your skills, you can tackle more complex and intriguing problems -- marketing, fraud, credit risk."

A safe way to explore the career path while a student or a new computer science or mathematics graduate, advises Haller, is to try out some online courses in data hygiene, data management, data infrastructure, analytics, statistics and machine learning. If the online learning piques your interest, then you can pursue an advanced degree in data science specifically. A career may start as a data engineer, tasked with cleaning up data sets. Over time, and possibly with an even more advanced degree, you can move to a data scientist role where you tackle business and security problems more comprehensively using your technical and analytical skills.

If you are pursuing career growth in the field, Haller suggests that you be prepared to demonstrate your math, programming and data management skills in interviewing situations and that you actively network to learn more about the companies and industries best suited to your interests. Also, there are considerably more opportunities in certain regions of the U.S., such as Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, New York, Austin, Texas, Charlotte or Raleigh, North Carolina and San Diego. The highest concentration of roles is near the technology and financial centers throughout America. Relocation may be necessary for career progression.

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In a 2009 article in The New York Times, Hal Varian, the chief economist at Google, famously noted, "I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians. And I'm not kidding." Move over programmers and software engineers. Analysts and scientists who can manipulate huge amounts of data and emerge with powerful insights that impact strategic decisions are now the ideal professions for career-minded high achievers. With its rapid rate of growth and employment potential, the future is bright for those who pursue big data.

Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.

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