Where do you find great data scientists and analysts?

Two years ago in 2015, a study by MIT Sloan Management Review said, 40% of companies were finding it tough to retain data analytics talent. Meanwhile, International Data Corporation said that by 2018, there will be a need for 181,000 people with deep analytical skills, said an article on business.com.

By now, we are all well aware of the fact that data analysts and scientists are the new cool kids on the block; finding these rare folks are still a struggle for many companies. When asked if agencies were a good place to start when looking to scour for talent, experts on a panel discussion, held at Marketing’s one day conference, Analytics 2017, said yes.

Roy Goh, director service delivery/management (analytics), Merck Sharp & Dohme admitted that he was previously from the agency world himself.

“There is a lot of talent in [on the agency side] because they have gone through the rigour in training and time put in work hours,” he said.  He added that many a times, marketers can attract agency talents to the client side because of the better work-life balance and benefits.

When asked what triggered him to make the move, he said:

Why I jumped over to the client-side was to gain experience and be an expert on the subject matter. I think that is something that would attract talent.

"And of course, what attracted me was seeing real value in what we do and business success,” he said.  He added that now when he looks to make a hire, he is always on the hunt for transferable skills.

“As I mentioned, it is very hard to find the ‘unicorn’ which is someone who can do it all. At the end of the day, it is about diversity of all skillsets coming together,” he added.

David Sanderson, founder and CEO of Nugit added that he too recently grew his team with hires from the agency side.

“We just hired a few people from the agency and yes they are well-trained, but I have seen a lot of different scenarios.  I think they are also looking for new opportunities and to gather training and experience. So, we do get a lot of candidates from agencies, but I also see a lot of applicants from marketing organisations who want a new challenge. “

Kelly Yoong, head of analytics solution, SmartHub, StarHub added that while these ‘unicorns’ Goh refered to are rare, a company needs to be able to “cross train” to build up the best data scientists and visualisers over time.

Who is more demanded of: Data analysts less demanded than data scientists?

When asked by the audience members who would be in more demand given the current landscape, Yoong was of the view that data visualisers are of more importance because having great graphics, and a storyteller, opens up room for conversation. This can lead to more avenues being explored that will in turn give more budget to delve deeper. As such they are vital.

“I think definitely a data analyst is more important. In fact, I think they are more important than data scientists because they can help change data to a story, especially when it is being presented to senior management.He added:

Data scientists sometimes can’t convey in the right language, so our view is that data analysts are very important.

Reiterating his point on cross training, he said that by working together, the “visualisers become good data scientists and vice versa, where those great with algorithm skills pick up storytelling”.

Goh added that is while in his organisation there are data analysts who are in junior positions, the skill set they have on visualisation is very much vital as they can help convey the right stories.

Speaking the same language

While the common belief is that the data guys and the marketing guys have a hard time communicating, it doesn’t always need to be the case. With budgets tightening, many might struggle to create the right environment for the two to impact on.

However Nugit’s Sanderson said it doesn’t have to always be an expensive affair. Simple steps such as going out to lunch or team building can help bridge this gap, said experts on panel.

“Because we were growing so quickly, recently we found many people in our company hadn’t spent time to meet and know their colleagues.”

So the company started a “Date your colleague” initiative where members from different teams were urged to head out and just share a photo and it would be on the company.

“Everyone likes a free lunch and people sharing and its working well,“ he said.

Goh and Yoong too agreed that while investments in training were vital for the growth of the company, getting teams to open up through team bonding or sharing a simple meal can help bridge this communication gap.