A data scientist walks into a bar graph…
You’ll hear many awful jokes like these during your data science career, but the good news is that you will be laughing all the way to the bank. Top data scientists earn, on average, $264,569 a year, depending on their skills, years in the profession and education.
But what does education mean in a data science context?
Can you become one of these professionals with little more than an internship and lots of ambition? Or do you need an actual bachelor’s or master’s degree in data science?
Learn the answers to these questions below!
Different Types of Data Science Education
First things first, you’ll need some kind of formal education to enter the highly lucrative data science field. It’s unlikely an employer will hire you if you can’t manage data responsibly or don’t know the difference between data science vs. programming.
But does educational experience always involve completing a degree? And what type of degree might you need?
Data science bachelor’s degree
Some data scientists enroll in a straightforward data science bachelor’s of science degree after completing their secondary school studies (or later in life). These degrees provide students with the skills required to become data scientists. They include skills such as computer science, data science vs. programming, statistics and machine learning. Students will typically complete a final project where they showcase the skills learned during the previous four years.
Bachelor’s degree in another subject
Other data scientists enter the field by completing a degree in a subject like math, computer science or even physics. Alternatively, they might take data science as a minor (for example, in a data science vs. programming program). Professionals who go down this route might fill any “gaps” in their data science knowledge with on-the-job training, an internship or completing a short data science course (more on that later).
Some professionals have master’s degrees in data science, which is typically more intensive than a bachelor’s program. Masters’ students usually learn advanced data science topics in a short period—typically two years.
An associate’s degree in data science provides a foundational introduction to the topic. Depending on the employer, this degree might be enough for someone to land a well-paid job after their studies. However, many students will go on to complete a bachelor’s in data science or a related topic before entering the profession.
All these degree types provide students with a certification in data science (or a related field), proving to employers they have the skills required for a job in the field.
But Do You Need a Degree to Become a Data Scientist?
It depends on who you ask.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists “bachelor’s degree” as the typical entry-level education for someone starting in data science. However, that doesn’t mean a degree is a requirement for every data science-related job. Only 68% of data scientists working today have a college-level degree. In other words, around one-third of data scientists don’t have a degree and entered the field via other means.
What are those other means?
Creating a data science portfolio
Some data scientists are self-taught and learned the basics of data science with little more than a computer and an internet connection. They might have little (or no) formal training but can crunch numbers and analyze data sets better than some scientists with degrees! While it might be harder for these talented individuals to enter the workforce without a data science qualification, it’s not impossible. A portfolio will showcase any personal projects they have completed and demonstrate their commitment to data science.
It’s possible to become a data scientist with little more than an internship. Although these scenarios are becoming increasingly rare, some top scientists earned their stripes by interning for local companies and perfecting their skills over time.
Short data science course
Perhaps the best way to become a data scientist without a data science (or related) degree is to enroll in a short course that teaches the subject’s fundamentals. These courses can last as little as eight weeks and only require an elementary knowledge of programming and a familiarity with statistics. Graduates can then continue their education by enrolling in a longer data science boot camp or applying for a real paid data science position.
While it all depends on the employer, it’s possible to enter data science without a data science degree. To improve your chances of getting a high-paid job, however, consider enrolling in, at the very least, a short course that teaches you the basics. That can improve your chances of finding work and kick-start your data science career.