Knowledge is power, data is money

The big data technology revolution is allowing companies to realise the full potential of their data, which has now made it a commercial imperative. This has led to huge industry demand for data scientists – the people working behind the scenes, manipulating, analysing and communicating data to solve previously unsolvable problems, offering business intelligence that has a huge impact on the bottom line.

Although big data is no longer a foreign concept, many companies still face the day-to-day challenge of storing, processing and analysing vast data sets. Infrastructure, costs and choosing the right technologies are just a few of the stumbling blocks. However, the biggest challenge seems to be finding people with the right scientific and technological skills to transform big data into big value.

> See also: What makes a great data scientist

These days, the advances in cloud and open source software mean that the cost for businesses to access their data is just a fraction of what it once was. The likes of Hadoop and Open Source are no longer just for the big companies because technology has matured so we now have a solid way to do big data cheaply. With more companies continuing to ask questions of their data, what’s missing is the skills to properly implement these benefits as, across the industry, there is a shortage of people with data science skills.

Rackspace has first-hand experience of the struggle to find these skills – from our own search and from what our customers are telling us. The number of permanent data scientist posts in the UK has increased by a staggering 1005% in the past two years, making it one of the fastest growing and most in demand professions. Yet, last month, innovation charity NESTA revealed that four in five of the 45 data-intensive businesses they interviewed were struggling to find the skills needed to fill positions.

So, while all the talk in the industry has been around the importance of the curriculum to fill future digital roles, it seems not enough attention has been paid to the challenge we are facing to fill skilled digital roles right now. We must be proactive to ensure the skills gap does not grow so wide that it becomes difficult to bridge.

The most effective and, crucially, immediate solution is to up skill existing occupations. There are communities, forums and training programmes out there so the knowledge is easy to get hold of. People just have to have the inquisitive nature to want to learn. This is why Rackspace has supported the first ever boot camp for data scientists – science to data science – which took place in London this summer.

The initiative worked to train 85 PhDs, all with analytical backgrounds to make excellent data scientists with the commercial tools and techniques needed to be hired into these roles. Some of the top technology skills data scientists need includes Hadoop (54%), R (55%), Python (47%) and SQL (41%), according to job adverts for the position that were posted during the six months up to July 2014. The S2DS students were introduced to all these topics throughout the workshops which ran across July and August.

The PhDs’ analytical skills were put through the paces with the help of expert tuition from industry leaders and real life big data projects. It also introduced the students to practical data scientists so they can learn how to channel their skills into industry over academia. There really is no limit to the resource out there and if valuable knowledge will eventually go into the market (and there are people who we can potentially recruit later on), then great!

Put simply, data is money and businesses need to find the right people to unlock it. The industry must get behind initiatives like SD2S which is enabling talented individuals to make the transition to data science and, ultimately, build the future of technology.

Sourced from Nigel Beighton, VP of Technology and Product, International at Rackspace

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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