By Surya Konkimalla

In some circles around the Silicon Valley, data science is being called “the next big thing”. This interdisciplinary field of statistics and computer science is taking the job market by storm, with demand for data professionals soaring by the thousands. But what exactly is data science, and what do individuals working in this field do?

What is Data Science?

What makes the data science field unique is that it combines multiple disciplines: the analytic skills of statistics, the programming skills of computer science, and possibly even the ability to formulate effective business strategies.

Data science is centered around the idea of analyzing raw data, drawing conclusions from it, and using these conclusions to guide decision-making or problem-solving. Companies constantly collect data from millions of customers and “mine” it, breaking it down to find any trends that may exist. Understanding these patterns will allow them to make the best business decisions going forward in terms of profitability. For example, think about the recommendations that Netflix gives you. How does it generate them? The company analyzes your viewing patterns and observes your areas of interest. It does this across their user base to decide which of their original series would be most beneficial to produce.

Data scientists are involved with developing the algorithms needed to process the raw data. For this reason, they need a proper grasp of mathematics in terms of statistical modeling and data analysis, as well proficiency in coding and logical thinking skills from a computational perspective.

One of the most important traits of a data scientist is creative thinking, because without it, creating ways to find patterns among such large sets of data would be difficult. People tend to think that programming is only about logic and writing a set of rules for an algorithm to follow. But when dealing with mass amounts of data, traditional coding skills aren’t enough – creativity is essential as well.   

The Data Science Boom

As previously mentioned, the demand for data scientists is booming and job openings are increasing rapidly, an idea that may impact many potential Monta Vista data scientists in the future. According to IBM, in 2015, there were 2,350,000 data science/analytics related job openings. This number is projected to increase by 364,000 by the year 2020. The data scientist profession specifically is projected to have a 28% increase in openings by that same time, to a total of 61,799.

Unlike many other jobs, a data scientist career isn’t tied to a specific sector. All sorts of companies have discovered the power of analytics and want to be able to utilize it: Amazon, Nordstrom, Microsoft, The Hershey Company, and many more have hundreds of job openings for data scientists available as of now.

The Growth of Data Science Education

In response to this demand, many universities are introducing data science programs, giving graduating MV students the opportunity to pursue the field. In 2015, UC Irvine added an undergraduate data science major. This program combines courses from both the Statistics and Computer Science Departments, teaching students how to “utilize their knowledge of statistical and computing principles to analyze and solve real-world data analysis problems”. Students start by learning the foundational concepts of both disciplines, and then continue on to learn about topics such as algorithm design and machine learning.

Similarly, this past fall, UC Davis started a Statistical Data Science track for students who are pursuing a major in Statistics and UC San Diego introduced both a major and minor in Data Science as well.

Another in-state school, UC Santa Cruz, launched the Data, Discovery, and Decisions (D3) research center last summer. Engineering dean Alexander Wolf said, “The establishment of the D3 Research Center within the Baskin School of Engineering will support our growing activities in data-driven discovery and decision making”. D3 has culminated as a result of data science’s rapid expansion.

Providing “a platform for collaboration between industry and academia in the emerging field of data science”, D3 allows individuals from UCSC to collaborate with companies on data science projects. Their goal is to find ways to deal with the large amounts of data that exist across many different mediums.

Numerous universities across the country also offer Master’s Programs in Data Science, such as UC Berkeley and University of Southern California. This will help educate more individuals to the level of specialization that the profession requires and fulfill workplace demand.

Data Scientists of the Future

An MV senior who asked to remain anonymous says he is planning to major in computer science, but finds data science interesting because they are interrelated. He said he is “interested in programming” and sees that “the algorithms that data scientists use to process data are similar to the algorithms programmers use”. The CS component of data science intrigues him, and he noted that integrating statistics adds another dimension to the subject. Since there is such a strong connection between the two fields, it is certainly possible that people that study CS could go on to become involved in data science.

High school students are part of the next generation of individuals entering the workforce. Along with personal interests and several other factors, the current job market may have an influence on what some people choose to study. Data science, being a new and intriguing field, has proven to have a significant impact on the job market. Given our community’s tendency to pursue STEM careers, it is likely that more and more students from this area will study it in the future.

In Silicon Valley, where the tech industry has become the foundation of the community, the rise of data science will be especially prevalent. Both computer science and statistics are incredibly versatile and powerful tools by themselves, but together they gain amazing potential.

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