Five Must-Have Characteristics of Extraordinary Data Scientists

Bill Skelly

Data, Data Scientists, Dataversity

May 22, 2023

Data Concierge: Building a Better Data Science Operation

This was first published in Dataversity.

There’s no better time than right now to be a data scientist.

Despite recent large-scale layoffs in major tech firms, the future is bright for data managers, analysts, data wranglers and consultants. In fact, the number of jobs requiring data science skills is expected to grow by 27.9 percent by 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.[1]

Continuing advancements in technology and big data means career opportunities for data scientists will remain in high demand. Add the rapidly evolving areas of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and blockchain, and the role of data scientists will expand to include risk management, data governance, ethics, data visualization and more.

Skillsets of Data Scientists

Typical skillsets required for a career in data science includes being analytical, detail oriented and linear thinking. Being curious and inquisitive, while aligning with the scientific method are important, as well.

However, as more organizations are leaning on data to make strategic business decisions, keep loyal clients and acquire new customers, data scientists are being challenged to enhance their knowledge and experience. Some data scientists may choose to specialize in a specific area, including business and market analytics, AI and machine learning technology, and infrastructure and data cleansing.[2]

Characteristics of Extraordinary Data Scientists

As corporations and organizations across the globe require data that’s more vast and varied than ever before, the most successful data scientists possess characteristics that are outside the norm. These data experts excel beyond typical left side of the brain demeanor, which is the more logical, analytical and orderly side. Exceptional data scientists must also embrace the right side of the brain behavior, which is the more creative, artistic and imaginative side.

Here are five characteristics of extraordinary data scientists:

1. Blue sky thinker
With accelerated AI innovations, mercurial media platforms and emerging high-tech, blue sky thinking is necessary to solve today’s problems and the unforeseen challenges of the future. Data experts must contribute to productive brainstorming and adopt an inventive mindset to help their organizations address volatility in the global economy, political uncertainties and more.

2. Prioritize application over education
So called “book smarts” create a strong knowledge-base for new data experts, but oftentimes those lessons are rigid and don’t apply to the unstructured questions being asked in real world scenarios. Furthermore, the evolution of the field is happening so fast – that tools and techniques learned in school are obsolete by the time you get to a place where you can put those into practice. Even the computers from back in the day are considered antiquated. Being street smart may be better than being book smart right now. While a college degree will always be important, data scientists must also be ready to unlearn, relearn and upskill to tackle unexpected hurdles. Data experts are advised to regularly update their certifications, take courses on the latest software and get training on system upgrades.

3. Converting complexity to simplicity
Data scientists have to be ready to work with colleagues across departments who are unfamiliar with data and the technology being used. They need to explain the terminology and acronyms and simplify language so that teammates will understand the value of the numbers and information being provided. By simplifying the complex, teams will be more collaborative to meet the organization’s goals.

4. Visual storyteller
To clearly establish the value of the information being provided and support data-driven decisions, creating visualizations helps executives and other team members. Organizing the datasets into a story aligns decision makers and streamlines action steps. Savvy data scientists will partner with marketing or design experts to create data visualizations and help them craft a compelling story.

5. Consultative approach to problem solving
In a highly competitive environment, gone are the days when data scientists can simply provide mountains of data and then walk away thinking it was a job well done. While it’s true that a monumental task was already accomplished to organize, cleanse and analyze the data, plus create a report complete with spectacular visualization. Now, data experts must also work with teammates across the organization with a consultative approach to problem-solving. Data scientists must take into account the bigger picture and overall organizational goals. They must serve as an asset in overcoming obstacles, helping to gain market share, increasing sales and more.

These five characteristics underscore the changing role of data scientists. Although you may be asked to stretch beyond your comfort zone, by embracing these qualities, you’ll be among the extraordinary data scientists who will be invaluable to your organization.

William Skelly is CEO of Causeway Solutions, a leading provider of Acquisition Analytics and innovative data services. Causeway Solutions empowers clients to make smart, timely, data-driven decisions through real-time consumer insights to better reach target audiences.


[1]: "Why Data Science is the most in-demand skill now and how can you prepare for it?" World Data Science Initiative
[2]: "Data science predictions for 2023," Meghan Malas, Fortune