“The ability to take data — to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualise it, to communicate it — that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades,” said Google’s chief economist Hal Varian 11 years ago. The first of those decades is now. Students of today need to plan early to build a robust career in future technologies like data science. The undergraduate program one pursues can be an important catalyst for their career in data science. In that pursuit, a commonly asked question is: What should I major in to be a data scientist?

What Should I Major in to be a Data Scientist? 

For most young professionals today, a college education is the first step to any career. What subject one studies in college plays a major role in the first job one would find — this is especially true in case of campus placements. If you dream of making a career in data science, choose your college major carefully.

Minimum Qualification for Data Scientist Jobs

A data scientist is expected to bring to the table a niche skillset that combines knowledge of mathematics, statistics and computer science. A major in any of these subjects can set the ball rolling on a data scientist career. Take the example of this data scientist role in HP: It asks for a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Source: LinkedIn

A look at the job vacancies available now shows that employers no longer seek PhDs with primary research experience. There are several junior data scientist jobs that BSc and BE degree holders can get.

That’s not the only answer to the question: How to become a data scientist? Today, every field from architecture to zoo management uses data science techniques to gain insights and make decisions. For instance, if you are a pharmacology major, you can use data science in pharma product development. If you’re a finance major, you can use data science for banking security, customer relationship management, fraud prevention and so on. A major in any field, with a certificate program in data science, can make you a specialist.

Does My Major Impact Job Opportunities?

Yes, it does. There are over 700 openings listed on LinkedIn for junior data scientists. Most of them require either a BE, BTech or a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, statistics or computer science. If you have any of these qualifications, you are automatically eligible for these positions. This means that you are likely to have more opportunities open, across industries, when you are starting your career.

On the other hand, if you have a degree in any of the other streams, you will need additional qualifications like a certificate program or an online course. Liberal arts aren’t unrelated to data science either. Take the case of Springboard learner Aritra, who graduated with a liberal arts degree before he joined the data science career track. After learning data science from scratch, he is now successfully working on multiple projects as an analytics consultant. The idea is that your major can be supplemented by other learning sources to direct your career path towards data science.

This is true for experienced candidates as well. For instance, you may be a banker with 10 years of experience across various roles. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make a transition to data science. With an online course and some initiative, you can gain the skills needed to transition to a data science career quickly.

Most professionals who have experience in any domain typically go back to the same domain to leverage their knowledge. A banker might become a data scientist in a bank or a fintech company, which makes the most of their banking knowledge as well as data science skills.

However, this generally increases how long it takes to become a data scientist. So, typically, people with a few years of experience in any particular domain do a certificate program to make a career transition into data science within that domain, without losing out on the previous experience.

Does My Major Impact My Earning Potential?

Source: LinkedIn

Data from LinkedIn salary shows that education level has a significant impact on one’s data science career. Those with MBAs or PhDs typically join mid or senior-level roles while bachelor’s and master’s holders start at entry-level roles. However, the field of study varies significantly. 

While your college major can help get a foot into the data science door, you should keep in mind that these roles will not be dependent solely on your choice of subject. Self-taught data scientists are plenty in the market. Skills in a programming language like Python can also initiate a transition to a data science career. Specialising in an area like deep learning, natural language processing, computer vision, etc. can increase the opportunities available too.

So, How to Become a Data Scientist?

The truth is that every educational background brings a unique perspective to the domain of data. Liberal arts teaches social and cultural nitty gritties, economics teaches foundations of money, MBA teaches you to approach data from the point of view of a business. Most importantly, data science is a multidisciplinary field, which brings together people from all backgrounds to use data to make sense.

To become a data scientist, 

  • If you’re a statistics or mathematics major, supplement your knowledge with programming and data science basics including data science tools and data science algorithms. 
  • If you’re a computer science major, brush up on your statistics and data skills.
  • If your major was in a specialised area or if you have domain experience, learn the basics of data science and apply it in practice for personal projects in your domain. 
  • If your major is in professional services like law or public policy, you can learn the practice of data science to help shape the future of your profession as a researcher or advisor.

The most important part of becoming a data scientist is a clear understanding of the tools, techniques and processes of data science. Structured learning of databases, data wrangling, visualisation, statistical inference, supervised and unsupervised algorithms, etc. will be enough for you to begin a data science career. 

A major in related fields like computer science, statistics, mathematics, etc. can expedite the beginning. Whereas a major in fields like arts, finance, sociology etc. will offer a deeper understanding of data science practice in the long term. Either way, you can become a data scientist for sure.

Whether you’re a fresher looking for a data scientist job or an experienced professional aspiring to use data science methods in your domain, you can gain all the skills you need at the Springboard Data Science Career Track. In addition to a world-class curriculum and hands-on projects, the course also offers career coaching, 1:1 mentorship, and a job guarantee to ensure you become a professional data scientist.