Transforming from data scientist to a data science leader

A female technician working on a tablet in a data center full of rack servers running diagnostics and maintenance on the system

There’s an increasing number of data science jobs available as businesses recognise the competitive edge available from data science – but what about data science leadership? While business leaders are expected to be able to interpret balance sheets and other reports, the same cannot be said for data analytics. Many leaders still defer to data science consultants, which makes it difficult to integrate analytics with business strategy and leaves a lot of opportunity on the table.

Big data is no longer an IT project – it has become an essential part of an effective business strategy that requires data science leadership constant education, such as provided by KDnuggets with analytics, big data, data science and machine learning resources.. Here’s how you can transform from a data scientist to a data science leader that will empower the businesses of the future:

1. Ask more intelligent questions

Data analysis involves the collection, cleansing, transformation and modelling of enormous amounts of data. Data science uses scientific processes to extract knowledge and insights from that data – by asking intelligent questions. Data science leaders combine this ability with business acumen to ask more intelligent questions that deliver strategic advantages.

A question like, ‘what is the most efficient way to use ads to increase sales?’ could reasonably be expected to elicit some useful insights from big data. However, this question creates a problem if the business’s objective is to maximise profit, rather than increasing sales. Advertising is twice as effective at reducing price sensitivity than it is at increasing sales. So, a more intelligent question like ‘what is the most efficient way to use ads to maximise profit’ would yield more useful insights.

2. Understand that data generation is a strategic imperative

The daily use of technology in industry and by individuals now provides an almost endless stream of data – but not all data is useful. Data science leaders think about the generation of data as a business goal. They can recognise which data will support business strategy. They can also influence their leaders and their teams to apply that data across a business’s supply chain – from inbound to outbound, and every business unit in between.

To date, one of the most effective uses of data science in business strategy has been improvements in supply chains. Improved data collection and machine learning have made forecasting more reliable while improving efficiencies in materials and streamlining processes. Data science is now extending out from the supply chain into customer service and marketing – taking advantage of even more data being provided by devices connected to the Internet of things (IoT). Data science leaders will be the vanguard of this expansion, enabling all business units to maximise the insights from this data.

3. Know how data is generated

You’ve completed data science courses, so you know how data is generated. To become a data science leader takes a shift in mindset to put that knowledge into context.

Business leaders know their business intimately – every element that affects them in a positive or negative way. For data science leaders, this means assessing the insights from analytics in the context of the whole business and its strategy.

An American department store could have used some more data science leadership when it made one of the great data science missteps. It used data mining to identify customers who were pregnant. That insight, amongst others, was used to market baby products to the customer and her partner. In this case, the customer was a teenage girl who hadn’t revealed her pregnancy to her parents. Perhaps a data science leader could have helped the data science team, or the marketing team, to understand that this level of familiarity is a little too creepy for customers.

4. Shift your focus 

Transforming from data science to a data science leader requires a shift in focus as your daily tasks progress from technical to human. Instead of head-down coding with a focus on one task, data science leaders spend more time heads-up assisting other people to do their jobs – shifting focus among many different tasks. Leadership is less technical and more of a human skill that can be learned. So, without abandoning your technical expertise, data science leaders recommend working on your motivational and feedback skills. 

Another aspect is the shift from a personal to a global perspective. In data science jobs you advocate on behalf of yourself and your technical skills. As a data science leader, you’ll be advocating on behalf of data science. This could be reporting to the board and CEO, taking data science to the far reaches of the supply chain, or hiring staff and building high performing teams. Success in data science relies on having the right people in the right places.

5. You can always improve at giving feedback

Many of us have had a bad experience getting feedback, let alone giving feedback! Despite this fact, data science leaders can’t shy away from giving feedback just because it’s hard. Like leadership, it’s a skill that can be learned and no matter how capable you are, you can always improve.

Successful feedback relies on relationships and timing. If you only ever speak to an employee to address your concerns, it’s never going to go well. Instead, establish a relationship of trust with regular communication. Then always be sure to praise in public and save criticism for conversations in private. Construct a workforce development plan for your team and embark on some leadership courses for yourself.

The master's for data science leaders

In the last few years we have generated 90 percent of the data in the world, so it’s no wonder that data science jobs are booming as businesses scramble to catch up. Data has become a business imperative and is undoubtedly the way of the future. The next logical step in data maturity for many businesses is to incorporate data science into leadership and strategy.

RMIT Online's Master of Data Science Strategy and Leadership has been built by industry leaders in business and data science. It applies machine learning to real-world business problems and highlights the power of machine learning in decision making. This data science course provides not just leadership, but the ability to lead in an age of digital disruption. Whether you come from a data science or business background, one thing’s certain – you will always benefit from asking more intelligent questions

Get in touch with our Enrolment team on 1300 701 171.