Data scientists face an unnerving paradox as the pandemic rages on

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Data collection is big business as you might know, but simply collecting data isn’t enough.

Firms can collect huge swathes of data, but if that data isn’t being utilised it’s just taking up space on a hard-drive somewhere.

This has lead to a surge in demand for data scientists in recent years, but 2020 lead to a global disruption in a variety of industries. We say disruption because we can’t swear but the fact of the matter is that COVID-19 threw everything for a loop.

Overnight, employees were told to work from home. Economies crashed and finances wore thin.

Ironically, in a world driven by data, we didn’t have enough data to anticipate or prepare for what this pandemic threw at us.

Despite that, one would assume that data science would become invaluable as firms sought to squeeze every bit of revenue they could from as many sources as possible.

However, when the pandemic came a-knocking, many businesses, especially here in South Africa, quite rightly started pinching pennies.

“One of the most important considerations is that, as companies are being forced to take a far more cost-sensitive approach to the way they operate, they will increasingly be looking to get more bang for every buck they spend. Talent is no exception, and many organisations will be focused on bringing only the best skills into the business or drawing from their existing talent pool rather than looking outside it. What’s more, where more value can be achieved by outsourcing data analytics, there’s a strong possibility that businesses will do that in order to lower the cost to company often associated with having to employ large teams of in-house data experts,” explains Dr Yudhvir Seetharam, head of analytics at FNB Business.

The analytics head says that while data science will continue to be an in-demand skill, those pursuing a career in the field may want to broaden their job search. Even existing data scientists shouldn’t assume that their jobs are guaranteed.

“As second waves of the virus begin to take hold across the world, many industries continue to face severe challenges, and companies of all shapes and sizes will be required to take whatever steps they can to avoid bankruptcy. For many, these steps may well include layoffs and retrenchments, and data scientists, analysts and engineers are by no means immune from the impact of such business decisions,” says Seetharam

Fintechs and data service providers will be looking for data scientists but competition will be fierce.

What is ironic is that while decision makers may be cutting costs and leaving data scientists behind, Seetharam suggests that getting back to a position of sustainable growth will require the help of data scientists.

“It’s likely that only once most arrive there, they will start to seriously and actively look to build those data science teams by means of external recruitment. While it’s not possible to say exactly when that will be for every business, it’s almost certain that the day will come – at which point the supply of qualified, well-rounded, business-minded data scientists is unlikely to be able to keep up with global demand,” Seetharam explains.

This is a double-edged sword in that if you’re studying to become or are a data scientist right now, your future is in flux given economic restrictions but your future relies on helping overcome those restrictions.

The next few years will prove very interesting indeed.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.