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Memo to recent college grads: Big data jobs are your future

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  March 26, 2013 09:48 AM

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Big Data.gif You may have heard: big data is big. Target uses it to push baby gear onto expectant moms. For Facebook and Google, it's the coin of the realm. And a wide-range of companies--from Ancestry.com to United HealthCare-- are looking to expand their ability to make profitable connections within massive data streams. The only problem is, there aren't enough trained big data analysts to do all this work.

In December, InformationWeek ran a short article sizing up the current state of the big data labor market. The trend is clear: Lots of companies want to hire big data analysts, but there aren't nearly enough to go around. This leaves companies in the zero-sum situation of poaching each other's talent, or hiring outside contractors, retraining their own staff, or waiting for universities to mint more big data analysts.

On this last front, HR managers shouldn't hold their breath. The InformationWeek article quotes Jim Spohrer, IBM's director of global university programs, who says that typically it takes 10 years for degree-granting programs to catch up to changing technologies. By this reckoning, a big data degree is going to be a hot commodity at least through the end of this decade.

So, what does it take to participate in the gold rush? A masters degree in analytics will do. The article cites the program at North Carolina State University, which began in 2007, as one of the best in the country and you can see an outline of the curriculum here. It's vocationally focused, statistics intensive, and includes instruction in programming, text mining, and fraud detection. The InformationWeek article ads that a business background is useful for knowing how to apply your big data toolkit.

Although the U.S. economy is technically recovering, most of the labor market news is still dour. In that light, it's exciting to read about a non-service-based, non-freelance, intellectually interesting field that's actually growing.

Image: Visualization of big data from Wikimedia Commons.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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