What Skills Do Data Scientists Need to Build Their Careers?

Can an old data dog teach data scientists new tricks?Can an old data dog teach data scientists new tricks?

As data scientists continue to take bigger roles in their organizations, what key capabilities are needed to take their careers to the next level? I’ve interviewed and worked with over 16,000 senior level executives throughout my executive career.

Over 65% have served in the top three roles in their organizations, both big and small. From startups to Fortune 10 global leaders. I have a unique perspective on what it takes to excel at both entrepreneurship and leadership. My best clients grace the covers of magazines and many run some of the world’s most respected organizations.

Over the past several months I have been asked by clients to evaluate and assess their data scientists for promotion. I’m helping to evaluate their teams to decide what needs to happen to become a more data driven organization. In several cases, I’ve been tasked with finding a new person to lead the client’s digital transformation efforts. These organizations are looking to leverage technology to grow their business and make better, faster decisions. They need stronger data scientists.

Now for the challenging part. How do you evaluate an organization’s leadership capabilities in the emerging field of data science? I’ve been in this situation several times before in my career and I know it’s going to be difficult. I have been involved with many emerging fields in the past from quality to competitive intelligence to enterprise level applications that span the organization and their supply chains and into their customers. Clients expect me to help them determine who the best people are to lead their efforts in a particular area.

Today and tomorrow I’ll share what I’ve learned from early adopters and then what happens as business becomes better at leveraging people, processes, and technology to build a stronger, more agile business. A warning here, I’m not a data scientist nor have I ever played one on TV. I’ve noticed several patterns that you can use to get promoted and allow you to leverage your strengths to get more enjoyment out of your career.

The first capability most great data scientists possess is they are insanely curious. They are always asking questions. They are constantly asking what if, why, and how come. This can be a good thing, but overused, they can be seen as people who are never quite satisfied with the answers they receive.

Many are so good at working with ambiguity they seem to thrive on it. The shadow side of this quality is they are often unable to make a decision and then stay with it. Curiosity killed the cat and, if you’re not careful, it can kill your career.

Curious, smart people can become very challenging to manage and, even worse, can cause serious disruption on the team. I’m not saying this is a problem for all leaders, but it requires data scientists to consider who they are working with before launching into their ongoing investigations we call projects.

To be effective as a data scientist you must develop emotional intelligence. It’s learnable, but it may not be the favorite development activity for most of the data scientists I’ve worked with in my career. Most would prefer playing with technology to learning how to manage their emotions. Most times, it’s not your emotions you’re managing, but dealing with many leaders in fields that are outside your comfort zones.

Most leaders I’ve worked with are apprehensive when dealing with new fields and very smart people. Most entrepreneurs feel that they are where they are because of their intuition. Asking them to begin making decisions in another way and you may be on the way to an intellectual rumble. One in which both parties may come out unfulfilled. Successful data scientists will need to influence people with a wide range of leadership experience.

We are going to talk more about this in future blogs because I believe emotional intelligence can make a huge difference to your career and life. I believe that as the speed of change increases and we do more with less, emotionally intelligent leaders will be the people who help get us to where we need to go.

As you take over your multi-generational analytics team, you will need to be able to work with a wider range of technical capabilities that you have seen throughout out your career. From the tech phobic marketing leader who still has an older blackberry mobile phone to the recent college grad who runs their life from their IPhone, you’re going to need increasing mental flexibility and agility. This is my world and welcome to it.

Tomorrow we will talk more about developing the leadership capabilities that data scientists will to need to lead your data team today and into the future. See you on Thursday.

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