It’s universally agreed that one of the most significant changes that have been brought about by the Covid-19 is the shift in the way people will live and work in the years to come.
By Dr Yudhvir Seetharam, head of analytics, insights and research at FNB Business
Given that technology and digitisation will be central to this shifting dynamic, the role of data scientists in enabling and informing business strategy has never been bigger or more important.
Against this backdrop, one would be forgiven for assuming that data scientists now pretty much have built-in job security as businesses transition to a future characterised by robotics, artificial intelligence and the ability to effectively leverage data to gain a full understanding of the desires, expectations and preferences of their customers.
However, while it’s true that jobs in the data science realm will probably be more readily available and more secure than many other positions over the next few years, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a data science qualification automatically guarantees you a comfortable and secure career.
The simple truth is that no jobs are 100% secure in the current economic environment.
As second waves of the virus take hold across the world, many industries continue to face severe challenges, and companies of all shapes and sizes will be required to take whatever steps they can to avoid bankruptcy. For many, these steps may well include layoffs and retrenchments, and data scientists, analysts and engineers are by no means immune from the impact of such business decisions.
That said, data science was a good career choice long before the ravages of Covid-19, and it will almost certainly continue to be after the virus has been dealt with or brought under control.
However, as with any career decision, it is essential for a prospective data scientist to consider more than just a conducive environment when making the choice to pursue a data-focused career path, whether that is a first career or a change in existing profession.
One of the most important considerations is that, as companies are being forced to take a far more cost-sensitive approach to the way they operate, they will increasingly be looking to get more bang for every buck they spend.
Talent is no exception, and many organisations will be focused on bringing only the best skills into the business or drawing from their existing talent pool rather than looking outside it.
What’s more, where more value can be achieved by outsourcing data analytics, there’s a strong possibility that businesses will do that in order to lower the cost to company often associated with having to employ large teams of in-house data experts.
Obviously, this means that there may well be significant opportunities for aspiring data scientists to join fintech’s and other data services providers, but competition for these positions is still likely to be fierce.
The other absolutely vital consideration for anyone thinking about entering the world of data science is that the current working environment makes it very difficult to get an accurate view of the culture of a prospective employer, or whether you fit well within that culture.
Of course, this is true for anyone going into any position that is currently operating remotely, but the nature of data analytics, and the very close working relationships on which successful data science teams must be built, makes culture fit a vital consideration when accepting a data-related position.
Unfortunately, while digital connectivity has made it relatively easy for data scientists to complete tasks collaboratively, it’s not possible to experience the true organisational culture of a place or team, when you’re not able to immerse yourself in the physical workplace. Which means that, unless you really do your homework around company culture before accepting a job, you could be in for a shock when the time comes for everyone to fold up their tracksuit pants and go back to work.
In the end, there’s no doubt that the changes brought about by Covid-19 mean that undertaking, or switching to, a career in a data science field is likely to provide the individual with numerous opportunities in the years to come. However, that doesn’t mean that one should simply throw caution to the wind when making potentially life-changing career choices.
Future growth in demand for data scientists is inextricably linked to economic and industry forward momentum and the ability of businesses to once again reach a position of sustainable growth. For most, the data scientists they already have will certainly be instrumental in getting them to that position.
But it’s likely that only once most arrive there, they will start to seriously and actively look to build those data science teams by means of external recruitment. While it’s not possible to say exactly when that will be for every business, it’s almost certain that the day will come – at which point the supply of qualified, well-rounded, business-minded data scientists is unlikely to be able to keep up with global demand.