Is it still worth it to become a data scientist?

With wages flattening and competition increasing, there are signs that the outlook for data scientists may be less bright than previously thought.

For several years, the data scientist has been rated one of the best jobs in the United States, in terms of salary, job demand, and satisfaction.

But there are signs the coveted role may lose its luster, as data scientists’ salaries begin to level off.

Figures produced by Glassdoor Economic Research show a year-over-year decline in salaries for U.S. data scientists in February and March of this year.

“On Glassdoor, we saw the compensation of data scientists decrease by 1.2% in March 2019,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor.

“This is a continuation of a longer-term trend – salary growth for data scientists has been well below the national average over the past year.”

Glassdoor isn’t the only one noticing the trend, with a similar decrease in wages evident in data collected by Stack Overflow over the past year.

“Salaries for data scientists are getting closer to those for software developers in general,” said Julia Silge, data scientist at Stack Overflow, adding that there was “much less difference” between the salaries of the two groups taking into account education level.

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As for the reason for the salary squeeze, for Zhao of Glassdoor, it is clear that there are now more applicants for data scientist positions than there are jobs available.

“As data science has grown in importance, registrations for data science programs and bootcamps have exploded. This huge increase in the number of workers for limited entry-level jobs reduces wages, ”he said.

While analyst reports often discuss the surge in demand for data science skills, anecdotal evidence from those in the industry suggests that demand may be outstripped by the large number of new entrants to the field, thanks to the explosion in the number of data science experts. courses offered by online learning centers like Fast.ai and Coursera.

Vicky Boykis, Senior Director of Data Science and Engineering at CapTech Ventures, wrote that she and others she knows in the industry have seen the number of applications for junior positions more than quintuple. in data science.

“It can be very difficult for someone with a new data science degree to find a data science job, given the number of new people they are competing with in the market,” she wrote. .

But how do you reconcile the suggestions of an oversupply of data scientists with the frequent reports of a data science skills shortage? Zhao says it’s important to understand that even though companies struggle to find the skills they need, that doesn’t mean there aren’t enough entry-level talent.

“There may be a skills shortage, but not a candidate shortage. It is not uncommon for entry-level or internship positions in data science to receive hundreds of applicants. When employers talk about a shortage, they are usually talking about a lack of experienced professionals. He said, adding that much of this stemmed from the novelty of data science as a dominant field.

One confounding factor to keep in mind, however, is that comparing data scientist salary figures over time is made difficult by the poorly defined role of the data scientist.

“Companies are increasingly using the title of data scientist for other similar roles, such as data analyst or statistician,” Zhao said.

“This confusion of job titles is changing the makeup of the data scientist workforce and reducing wages accordingly.”

Do you have to think twice before training as a data scientist?

With wage growth slowing among data scientists and signs that there may be an overabundance of young talent, should aspiring data scientists be thinking?

Boykis’ advice is to consider entering the field through the “back door”, starting in a related field as a junior developer or data analyst and progressing to become a data scientist, rather than aiming for directly a data scientist as a career.

Stack Overflow’s Silge has a slightly different take on why wages are leveling off and thinks people shouldn’t necessarily be dissuaded from entering the industry.

“I think what we’re seeing is a bit of standardization and professionalization of data science,” she said.

“The last ten years have been a bit of the Wild West when it comes to data science. “How do you become a data scientist? It was a really open question.

“I see the industry moving towards a consensus around ‘What does it mean to be a data engineer? And “What does it mean to be a data scientist?” “.

“When you get to that point, it becomes easier to hire for those roles, and when those roles are easier to hire, you don’t have the crazy salary situation that we had before.”

Glassdoor’s Zhao is also quick to point out that there are still many aspects of being a data scientist that make it an attractive role, including the fact that U.S. data scientists still earn a median annual salary of $ 95,459.

“One thing to keep in mind is that this isn’t necessarily bad news for aspiring data scientists,” he said.

“Data scientists continue to hold one of the highest paying and most fulfilling jobs at work in the United States.”

However, he cautions new entrants to the field to go with their eyes open.

“But that does mean that the competition between candidates is and will continue to be fierce in the years to come.”

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Image: dima_sidelnikov, Getty Images / iStockphoto

Sean N. Ayres