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Booz Allen recently sat down with two of its own, Dr. Kirk Borne and Nicholas Nahas, to gain some expert insight into how to make it in one the hottest disciplines of our time: data analytics.
Dr. Kirk Borne, principal data scientist at Booz Allen Hamilton, spent nearly 20 years supporting NASA projects before working for 12 years as a professor of astrophysics and computational science at George Mason University. Meanwhile, Booz Allen Senior Associate, Nicholas Nahas, is a stand-out expert in the field, and has his finger on the MENA pulse when it comes to all things data.
Q: Kirk, What advice would you give someone hoping to pursue a career in data science?
A: My number one piece of advice always is to follow your passions first. Know what you are good at and what you care about, and pursue that. So, you might be good at math, or programming, or data manipulation, or
Q: What skills do employers look for to solve the current data science talent shortage?
A: The best solution to the data science talent shortage is a team of data scientists. There are many skills under the umbrella of data science, and we should not expect any one single person to be a master of them all. So, I suggest that you become expert in two or more skill areas, but also have a working knowledge of the others. Those skills include machine learning, (data mining), information retrieval, statistics, data and information visualization, databases (modeling, organizing, querying), data structures (including indexing schemes), programming, graph/network analysis, natural language processing, optimization, and modeling and simulation.
Q: Is formal education the best way to gain these important skills, or is it possible to learn on the job?
A: This is a tough question. Academically, the "sweet spot" is a master's degree, though a PhD is required for a research appointment in academic institutions or research labs. These days, more and more organizations are willing to hire data scientists with little course work and some experience, without an advanced degree. However, the degree will eventually be very important for career advancement (perhaps most importantly an MBA, which now includes business analytics), so don't avoid getting your degree—it just doesn't have to come before your first data science job.
For those who stay in school, the good news for physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and other science students is that they can easily translate their science skills into a data science profession. But, if you are starting out now with the vision of being a professional data scientist, then definitely get into a master's degree program in that field.
Q: Nicholas, why should people consider pursuing a career in data analytics in the MENA region?
A: The MENA region is an exciting place for a career in data analytics for two reasons. First, there is no shortage of data. Digital transformations led by industrial adoption of Internet of Things technologies, companies investing in online and mobile platforms, and governments launching e-government services have generated vast amounts of data. Second, there a lot of opportunities to grow a data career. Unlocking value from data requires the data engineers, scientists, and analysts—positions that are high in demand by hard to find. What better place to start a career in data science?
Q: How has the field of data analytics changed and developed in recent years in MENA?
A: Data analytics in maturing in the MENA region. Five years ago, organizations were interested in learning about what data analytics is and were just beginning to explore its benefits.
Today, many organizations have either developed a view on what they want from data analytics or have already invested in the capability and are looking to maximize its potential. However, while before there were challenges in the adoption of analytics, now there are challenges of implementation of analytics. These challenges range from translating insights into business value to navigating data laws and privacy concerns. Addressing these issues will require more than just analysts and scientists—it will require business acumen and leadership in the data analytics field.
Q: What excites you most about the future of data analytics in MENA?
A: In the MENA region, I’ve seen leaders of both public and private organizations across a diverse range of industries present bold visions and ideas about how data can transform their organization and society. Applications vary and include: using data analytics to improve patient health outcomes, creating data-driven government decision support centers, using rigorous automated algorithms to transform business processes, creating analytically-tailored communications to enhance the customer experience, and developing open data platforms that enable public- and private-sector organizations to innovate.
I’m excited to see the MENA of the future, where these ideas take form and come to life!