Data Science and the Growing Importance of Professional Certifications

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Data Science and the Growing Importance of Professional Certifications

Find out why professional certifications might be the future for data science careers.

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Data scientists are among the most sought-after technical talent today. According to Glassdoor, Data Scientist has been the top role in the US for four consecutive years and is increasingly identified as an essential component for business growth. As the demand for data science talent increases and the importance of the role is understood, the need to formalize the profession arises. What exactly is the role of a data scientist and why is professional certification for data scientists growing in importance? 

You may also like: 10 Steps to Become a Data Scientist.

The Role of a Data Scientist

Data scientists work with enterprise leaders and key decision-makers to solve problems by preparing, analyzing, and understanding data to deliver insight, predict emerging trends, and provide recommendations to optimize results. The impact these professionals have varies by industry. For example, in healthcare, data scientists are using cognitive computing technologies to help support doctors to deliver personalized and precision medicine.  

As the variety, velocity, and volume of global data continue growing exponentially, data scientists are needed to make sense of it. Most recently, IDC reported the global volume of data generated is set to increase tenfold — to 175 zettabytes (ZB) a year by 2025, 60% of which will be created and managed by businesses. Organizations that invest in the technologies and talent to understand insights from the data are better positioned for growth. The exponential growth of data will keep demand strong for people who can solve problems in ways that could not have been imagined before and to capture new opportunities.

Data scientists use a variety of data (structured, unstructured, IoT streaming), analytics, AI tools, and programming languages. Cloud infrastructure is usually used to handle the volume and veracity of data streams. Modern applications of data science range from traditional transactional data analytics to natural language processing and computer vision, with a variety of analytical tools, machine learning, and AI algorithms. Armed with data, modeling expertise, and analytic results, the data scientist communicates conclusions and recommendations to stakeholders in an organization's leadership structure. 

Business acumen is an important skill for data scientists — for example, in understanding the problem, formulating hypotheses and testing conclusions to determine appropriate methods to influence strategic choices through data. To effectively communicate their findings to business leaders, data scientists need strong consulting, communication, visualization, and storytelling skills. 

While data scientists typically have academic training in a quantitative discipline such as statistics, operations research, machine learning, or economics, in the last several years, many universities started offering specialized degrees in “data science” or “analytics”.  

The Profession and Certification of Data Scientists

Data Science is a relatively new profession. Many young professionals are attracted to the role as a result of its growing importance within business, the ability to impact results, and the lucrative salaries. In addition, experienced technical professionals see the opportunities data science offers and are increasingly reskilling to become data scientists. Due to the demand and attractiveness of the profession, people are joining from an increasingly broad array of educational backgrounds. As these workers join the labor force, variance in their skills and capabilities has become clear. 

Given the talent shortage, it is advantageous for the profession to have several paths available to develop and deepen necessary skills. Today, universities are offering degree programs in data science at both undergraduate and graduate levels. ‘Micro degrees’ are gaining popularity; specialized companies are offering in-depth boot camps, data science apprenticeships are growing, and online courses and certificates are becoming more widely available.  

The data science landscape is evolving at warp speed, and organizations can be left scrambling and struggling to identify, train, and retain employees — especially given these differing educational backgrounds. With data scientists supporting enterprises on mission-critical issues it is imperative that there are standards in place for the profession.

To ensure consistency, compliance, and service quality across the board, a global certification program is essential. Such a program would provide a career framework with certification that is used and recognized by world-leading organizations. The framework would also provide an objective, reliable measure of candidate capabilities and qualifications and enable organizations to formalize and recognize career progression. 

For the Data Scientist, certification presents an opportunity for enhanced value and visibility as a professional. Such a program would offer data scientists a way to differentiate themselves as experienced professionals with proven results. From a recruitment perspective, organizations need to know that current or potential employees have the knowledge, skills, and experience for the role. A certification program would help to identify the best candidates for critical roles and responsibilities. In contrast to most vendor certifications that are product knowledge-based, Data Scientists require experience delivering business value on relevant projects. 

Programs like this have already been successful in other professions, such as for Business, Enterprise and Solution Architects. Professionals in these fields can achieve a distinctive, peer-reviewed, vendor-neutral, globally recognized, portable credential through The Open Group OpenCA program – a trusted independent benchmark for validating a Business Architect’s skills and experience. Now for the first time, working with IBM, The Open Group and its members have developed the Open Data Scientist certification program.

A recent study, "Facing the storm: Navigating the global skills crisis", shed an interesting light on the impact of certification programs. The study found that when it comes to policies that will bolster labor market competitiveness, certifications have the third highest impact. However, adoption is still very low at just 24 percent. Clearly, this is an area that can drive a significant impact to address the skills shortage, but as of now, it is still underutilized.

Over the coming years, the tools and capabilities available to Data Scientists will continue to be simplified and will be easier to use. However, as artificial intelligence continues to permeate all aspects of business, demand for Data Science skills will continue to grow. A Data Scientist certification program will give organizations of any size the tools needed to begin extracting insights from their growing data volumes and start making data-driven decisions. Importantly, it will help in the all-important fight for the best talent and will ensure that Data Scientists have the necessary skills to fulfill a business need. 

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