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September 10, 2018

Columnist’s Corner: Demand for Data Analysts beyond Silicon Valley

Opinion: Data Analysts are Hot Commodities in Virtually Every Region, Industry

By Eric Larson 

[Earlier this year,] Information Management shared “11 top data management and database administration jobs” from Robert Half International’s 2018 Salary Guide for IT professionals. The slideshow—featuring position titles such as big data engineer, big data architect and business intelligence analyst with hearty six-digit salaries—showcases the potential of what CompTIA researchers refer to as the “insights economy” in CompTIA’s recent IT Industry Outlook 2018.


The insights economy is built upon the accelerating deluge of digital data—90 percent of which, analysts say, has been created during the past two years. Advances in distributed computing power and storage enable the capturing of nearly every data point quite literally under the sun, as the ever-expanding use of satellite imagery floods data streams.


So, it’s no wonder businesses pay generously for information management and administration talent. Data-driven activities already account for a sizable portion of global GDP, a figure that will only grow as organizations of all shapes and sizes across every industry sector apply emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to creating insights such as predictive analytics.


But, as Forrester’s J.P. Gowdner wrote in a recent blog post shared by Information Management: “Augmenting workers—more frequently, with more sophisticated tools—will require an upgrade in employees’ skills.”


That may be a considerable challenge. CompTIA’s Assessing the IT Skills Gap study found that “big data” was among the top seven areas in which organizations reported moderate to significant skills gaps, with more than half (53 percent) of the IT and business executives who were polled expressing concern.


Where will U.S. companies find the analytics talent necessary to remain competitive in the insights economy.


My organization believes middle and high schools are one excellent place to look. Why? Because tweens and teens already make up a quarter of the U.S. population and will account for more than 20 percent of the workforce in the next five years. Plus, my team’s research suggests many in this cohort have the disposition to become more than technicians; they will be technologists, people working with technology of varied types in companies of all shapes and sizes across the country along a broad spectrum of industries.


We expect that workers with a technologist’s mentality—an optimal mix of hard technical skills and relationship “soft skills” acumen—will be well-suited for fast-paced, continually evolving realms like predictive analytics.


However, as argued in my last couple of articles, seven myths about technology careers can obstruct the development of the next generation of technologists. We already busted two big fallacies about working with technology.


So, let’s tackle another one:


Myth #3: “If it’s not at Facebook or Google, it’s not a technology job.”


No Valley Required: If big data arguably is among the most crucial factors driving the world economy, how could a force so powerful be contained in one region? You don’t need to live in Silicon Valley to have an enriching, exciting career in data management, as the Robert Half guide demonstrates. Despite surface differences, every industry increasingly and inevitably depends on the flow of digital data. From small, family-run businesses—such as corner convenience stores, dry cleaners and lawn services—to big banks and insurance companies, technologist positions refining data and converting it into valuable insights exist in almost every organization around the globe.


No Size Fits All: Per CompTIA’s research, there are about 375,000 small information technology companies in the U.S., and those companies employ nearly half the workforce in the IT industry. Thousands of jobs are available at innovative companies, large and small, creating plenty of places to work no matter where you live. And as telecommuting becomes popular, the opportunities will multiply.


In my next post, we’ll discredit the fourth myth about tech careers on my list: “A tech career means being stuck at a desk.”


Eric Larson, senior director of Creating IT Futures signature initiative, IT Futures Labs, will contribute to Information Management on a regular basis in 2018. Follow him on Twitter at @ITFuturesEric.


Please also follow @infomgmt and @FoundationEaton for updates on tech myths, careers and other stories about young technologists.