Do You Need a Master’s Degree in Data Science?

You'll be spending a lot of time perusing job boards and listings for data science. Many will require a master's degree in the field or something related. Does this mean it's game over if you don't have a master's degree in data science?

As with anything, the answer isn't straightforward. It certainly helps to have an advanced degree in data science. But, if you don't have one you still have plenty of options. You may have to work a bit harder, but if you want it bad enough, it'll happen for you.

In college

Consider the Jobs Being Offered

If a company is looking for a senior data scientist, then the requirement for an advanced degree may be enforced. Entry-level positions will have more flexibility, all equal. Therefore, you may need to level down a bit in your job search. Of course, that means less pay and more of the mundane work that senior personnel won't want to do. However, you will get a foot in the door and experience.

Many companies offer some tuition assistance. You could take a lower position and get your advanced degree while working. You will be in a better bargaining position when that happens. Even without tuition assistance, the experience is golden, though.

Shortage of Workers

Where Are the Workers

Companies are ramping up their data science efforts, and they are having a difficult time finding qualified candidates. Part of this difficulty stems from the newness of the field. While data science has been "a thing" for a while, the discipline remained part of the computer science landscape. Programmers and other tech people have been working with data since we have been capturing data.

Within the last eight years or so, there have been developments that are defining new roles specific to data. This is largely due to the availability of data and tools to work on the data. The takeaway is the field is evolving and companies are trying to determine exactly what they need.

I believe the roles will solidify as is happening now. But, that still leaves companies with trying to staff quickly. They want to gain a competitive edge by analyzing data for patterns. The patterns that emerge will give companies an edge.

Of course, as more companies jump on the bandwagon, that edge will narrow. For instance, in the world of baseball, the Oakland A's gained an advantage by using Sabermetrics to find undervalued players in 2002. This is after they lost three key players. With the analysis, the team made it to the playoffs. Most baseball teams today hire sabermatricians. But, the question becomes are any of the teams gaining an edge or is sabermetrics the new status quo

You may read about a shortage of data science professionals and yet still have difficulty finding a job. One reason is the transient nature of the field to date. Since companies don't fully understand what it takes to gain insight into their data, they can't formulate a job requirement effectively. This is changing as the field becomes stable. But, we're not there yet.

Comparing Apples to Apples

When I was working as a lead computer programmer (still do, sort of), I would lean towards choosing someone with a bachelor's degree in computer science over someone who had a master's degree in an unrelated field. The person with the computer science degree would likely have the temperament for working in this field. This isn't to say someone outside of the field couldn't adjust. But, the fact they didn't study it to begin with would indicate to me this wasn't on their list of priorities. 

Interview

I realize this is a simplistic view. I would obviously consider all aspects of both candidates. But, the computer science candidate sets the tone from the start. 

It will likely be the same for hiring managers today. If someone has an inclination towards data science but does not hold an advanced degree, the manager will consider that. Smart managers will look past what's on paper and will take into consideration the person's interest and history.

On the other hand, if you have an advanced degree in a related field, such as data science, and the requirement is for an advanced degree, that will help you quite a bit.

Alternative Steps

The biggest challenges with obtaining an advanced degree are time and money. A master's degree takes approximately two years and that's as a full time student. The costs vary widely depending on the schools and the locations. It's reasonable to expect at least $20,000 or more and it can take anywhere from one to two years. Therefore, if you are looking to get a job in data science, you'll have to either suck it up and get that advanced degree, or you'll need to find alternatives.

Alternative Steps

The following are some alternatives to consider. The more of these options you try, the better your chances of getting a job in data science without a master's degree.