On December 21st, 2020, I started my dream job. I had finally made it into the most prestigious role in data and analytics – I was a bonafide data scientist.
It’s funny because one year and two months earlier, I thought about leaving analytics for good. I found myself stuck in the reporting trap – where it seemed like the only thing I could ever produce was another Tableau dashboard – despite my best efforts to move towards analysis work.
I didn’t feel like I had control over my career. It seemed like other people made those decisions for me. Every time I did something outside dashboard work, I’d hear the most horrific words you could ever hear at work: “that’s not really your job to worry about.”
And so I drew a line in the sand. I said no more. I got in this field to use statistics and programming to find cool insights and make real world predictions. That’s what I’m going to do.
I left my job – one that paid well for easy work – without another lined up – a move that concerned family and friends alike.
I devoted myself to finding the data scientist role I always wanted and managed to finally do it one year later.
Many Smart People Never Become Data Scientists – Why Did My Story Turn Out Differently?
It’s hard not to feel like one of the lucky ones. Many other people aspire to become data scientists. It’s not uncommon to see openings for data scientists to have hundreds of applicants.
That’s understandable. On average, data scientists make about $120k a year. The work-life balance is generally pretty good and the work is intellectually rewarding.
After landing my dream job, it didn’t take long for other aspiring data scientists to contact me on LinkedIn to ask me – ”how can I land this sweet gig?”
Well… it depends on who you ask. I knew many other data scientists and I had asked them all the same thing. There were some overlaps in their answers, but there was also a lot of variation.
Some created project after project with Kaggle datasets. Others offered to work for free for existing data science teams. Others simply started doing the work of a data scientist at their current job and got promoted. And others just applied and got hired right out of the gate! Without a graduate degree no less!
And that’s the harsh truth about data science. Every data scientist has a different story for how they landed their dream job. As much as I wanted to find the silver bullet – the one true path guaranteed to get me a data scientist job – there really wasn’t one.
I had to find my own path and develop my own strategies. And it’s my hope that you learn from my journey with your own job search.
My Strategies for Becoming a Data Scientist
In the year between my last job and my new job, I had three broad strategies:
Demonstrating aptitude to potential employers through graduate school and side projects
Using my best medium (writing) to develop a reputation among the data science community
Just because the steps are simple and straightforward doesn’t mean they’re easy. I had to apply myself academically – for the better part of a year – and take significant financial risks – all on the chance that my plan would work.
Let’s go into more detail about how I used these strategies.