Prospects For India’s Data Scientists Jump From Hot to Red-Hot

Rajendra Pawar, founder of NIIT, India’s largest computer education firm, is predicting a major shortage of data scientists in India.

A huge explosion of data in many forms will require collection, reading and analysis which in turn will require increasingly specialized skills, Pawar told Boom in an exclusive interview last week.

This massive spurt in demand, though not new in itself, is now getting hitched, in a powerful way, to the larger Internet of Everything or Internet of Things (IOT) future where increasingly, devices will be connected with each other. This has in some ways, further pumped up the demand for data scientists.

Networking giant Cisco’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Padmasree Warrior recently said her firm expected IOT to be a $15 trillion opportunity globally and a $500 billion opportunity in India alone, in the next 10 years.

A McKinsey study from 2011 estimated that by 2018, the United States would have 4 million positions requiring such skills and projected a shortfall of 1.5 million data-savvy managers.

Other reports quoting McKinsey have said India will need 200,000 data scientists in coming years. McKinsey also said while the United States graduates the maximum number of people with 'deep analytical training’, India was number three, just behind China.

The window of opportunity is large but not long, says Pawar. “We have people who are good in math. But conventional analysts have to make the transition and use language which consumers understand,” he said.

While the opportunity is there, the threat, he says, is how fast the industry acts. “The window of opportunity does not stay long - we have to reorient the front end analyst and build strong back end processes,” he says.

Pawar quoted the example of a gaming company in Las Vegas they work with that uses data to profile its consumer to a level of detail “you would surprised to know.”

“We are a technology and education company. The changes we see also inform the education company as to what skills companies need. That’s where Data Sciences is becoming important. We have a university that has a masters in data sciences which is being launched in association with three top IT companies.” he said.

NIIT also offers a course in analytics and big data. It’s website says companies are already creating positions like Chief Analytics Officers (CAO).

India has several big data and data science courses but they appear to be run by small institutions with limited capacity as this compilation of analytics training institutes appears to show.

A UC Berkeley course in data science defines it as a program designed for professionals wanting to solve real-world problems using complex and unstructured data with an emphasis on the importance of asking meaningful research and business questions while effectively communicating findings.

Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian said in 2012 that the sexy job in the next 10 years would be statisticians. “People think I'm joking, but who would've guessed that computer engineers would've been the sexy job of the 1990s?,” he is quoted saying.

Interestingly, the White House has just appointed Indian-origin data scientist Dr D J Patil as the Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy & Chief Data Scientist at the White House Office Of Science & Technology Policy.

A Harvard Business Review (HBR) article in 2012 asked if the data scientist was the sexiest job in the 21st century? In defining the person, HBR asks, “What kind of person does all this? What abilities make a data scientist successful?”

And answers by saying: “Think of him or her as a hybrid of data hacker, analyst, communicator, and trusted adviser. The combination is extremely powerful—and rare.”

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