Finding Long-Term Solutions to the Data Scientist Shortage

March 28, 2016 By Alex Woodie As we learned in the first part of this series, the gap between…

Georgia (Apr 1, 2016)March 28, 2016


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By Alex Woodie

As we learned in the first part of this series, the gap between demand for skilled data scientists and supply is driving salaries north of $200,000 in some areas of the country. If big data analytics is to be democratized, steps must be taken to ensure that this short-term misalignment doesn’t turn into a long-term problem. Here are several ways the data scientist shortage is being addressed.

Perhaps the most straightforward way to approach the data scientist shortage is simply to train more of them. To that end, universities around the country are ramping up data science graduate programs. In just a few short years, dozens of major universities–from Kennesaw State University and USC to NYU and University of Tennessee-Knoxville–have launched two-year PhD- and Master’s level programs, and interest among college graduates is reported to be high.

But as KSU Professor Jennifer Priestley noted, universities are running in their own unique set of problems as they build these programs. “We’ve talked about the talent shortage in the private sector, but the reality is we’ve got the same challenge in academia,” Priestley tells Datanami. “Most academic universities cannot pay the same salaries as the private sectors, so we are very much in competition for the private sector for the very people who will be closing the gap.”

Since data science PhDs are such a new thing, universities can’t expect to build their data science program by hiring the newly minted data science PhDs. That means universities are asking tenured computer science professors to “pivot” mid-career into data science, which makes many of them uncomfortable. And when KSU and other programs start cranking out the data science PhDs in a year or so–slowly at first, then picking up steam–universities will have a tough time keeping them within academia to help train the next generation of data scientists. “We don’t have the talent to create the talent that the private sector needs,” Priestley says. …

KSU Professor Priestley echoes that sentiment. “What I tell my students, any student that wanders by my office and doesn’t know what to do with themselves, I tell them study math or computer science, learn how to program in something,” she says. “I get you don’t want to be a computer programmer for the rest of your life. But until you figure out what you want to do, you’ll never go hungry if you know Python, you’ll never go hungry if you know SAS.”



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit