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Want to work in data? Here are 6 skills you’ll need

27 Jan 20211.72k Views

Members of the Siliconrepublic.com community highlight some of the in-demand skills for data professionals right now.

Click here to view more articles on working in data.

There are many reasons someone might choose to work in data. There’s huge variety in the field, with roles spanning analytics, mining, compliance and more. And, according to Glassdoor, analysts can typically earn around €35,000 in Ireland while senior data scientists can earn up to €73,000 each year.

But what are employers in the industry looking for right now? We asked some people in the Siliconrepublic.com community to share their thoughts on the skills in high demand.

Coding

Coding is an essential part of any data job, but there are hundreds of programming languages to choose from.

Python is one of the most popular languages to learn. At Aon, employees draw on Python to help companies mitigate against possible risks and inform future decisions. According to Fergal Collins, CEO of the Aon Centre for Innovation and Analytics in Dublin, Python is a key skill when it comes to delivering impactful analytics from data.

“Its accessibility and ease of use, which facilitates rapid exploration of data to deliver analytics that solve client problems, is what makes it stand out from the crowd,” Collins said. “Python is very versatile and flexible, lending itself not only to data analytics but to web development and the ability to deploy code to many environments – from local to cloud.

“The active and supportive community driving solutions and research in Python goes a long way to making Python my team’s go-to choice of skill when it comes to working effectively with data.”

Other tools to think about include TensorFlow, Keras and Spacy, which Brian O’Halloran used in his data science role at Liberty IT.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

Visualisation

Hays’ global head of technology, James Milligan, recently highlighted to us the top data science skills for the post-Covid world, including the ongoing demand for data visualisation skills. Visualising data involves taking the numbers, extracting trends from them – such as potential opportunities and risks – and presenting this information in an “easily digestible way” to stakeholders, he said.

Mark Greville, vice-president of architecture at Workhuman, agrees. “Organisations will need to embrace interactive data-visualisation tools in the future,” he told us. “We will be rethinking how we help our humans engage with the amazing insights, so these will become the norm.

“Being able to interact with the data in new and visually appealing ways will add another level to what’s possible.”

Governance

Milligan also emphasised the importance of data governance skills. He said that in order to bring value to an organisation, data should have “integrity and insight”.

To assess this, data professionals must investigate where the data came from, how ‘clean’ it is and how it has been analysed. Getting answers to these questions requires a worker to “critique the terminology that has been used, how information has been tagged and whether this can be interpreted with integrity”, Milligan said. “If something isn’t correct, someone needs to spot this and rectify it immediately.”

Equally important are the security measures you take with the data you’re handling. As OffSec’s Ning Wang recently told us: “Doing security well is not just following the process and going through the motions; it requires people to be able to think critically and creatively.”

Communication

Communication is important for almost every role and the data sector is no exception. Whether you’re a data steward like Dun & Bradstreet’s Deirdre Linnane or a senior data scientist like Fidelity Investments’ Sean Curran, effective communication is key.

When Linnane first began in her role, she was surprised to learn how frequently she’d be interacting with clients. Her background in customer-facing roles helped her adjust, but she’s still careful about using too much jargon in her conversations.

For Curran, storytelling skills have proved invaluable to his work in data. “I use my technical skills on a daily basis across R, Python, SQL, maths and stats,” he told us. “However, I think the best skill you can learn as a data scientist is the ability to tell a story of how to approach business problems and how to come up with a solution that the client understands and trusts.”

There are other data roles that place even greater focus on the ability to communicate. As a ‘data science evangelist’, Rosaria Silipo’s goal is to help others engage with data science more deeply. She leads public presentations, lectures and courses and writes blog posts, articles and books on the topic.

Creativity

Working in data isn’t all about numbers. In fact, many professionals list creativity as one of the top skills they draw on in their data roles. And for Silipo, it’s one of her favourite things about working in the industry.

Setting out to solve a problem in data science is a highly creative process, she told us. “In this phase there is nothing wrong; you can let your creativity run free, experiment.”

Creativity isn’t simply a nice-to-have in today’s working world; it’s a critical skill. As Hays’ Karen Young highlighted in this guest article, roles like chief innovation officer have emerged in recent years. US consulting company West Monroe is even carving out space for all sorts of creative leadership, from chief coffee officer to chief hot sauce officer.

But whether you’re a leader or not, the importance of bringing your creative flair to the world of data can’t be overstated. “Human creativity is immune to automation,” Young said.

Curiosity

If you’re interested in data, chances are you’re a curious person by nature. Many data jobs share a fundamental characteristic; their goal is to arrive at answers by solving the problems presented by large amounts of information.

Karl Heery of Aon believes curiosity is crucial for data workers; it’s something he looks out for in new hires.

So if you’re determined to work in data, take Silipo’s words of wisdom with you: “Keep being curious and keep learning about new technology, new algorithms, new solutions, the work of others.

“Our field is constantly changing; new uses and new techniques pop up every day. Keeping the interest and the curiosity high means to keep up with the technological evolution.”

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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