Carving Out a Career in Big Data

You have probably seen it starting to crop up in job titles on job boards. It has become a very hot topic both in the business as well as the IT press. Big data is hot. Want proof?  Consider this: IBM has created an entire new product division around this phenomenon called Big Data Products.

What is Big Data?

At its most basic, “big data” is extremely large amounts of structured and/or unstructured data too big for analysis in traditional databases and database management tools. This data can come from sensors, click streams, posts to social media sites, multimedia data (images, video), transactions, log files, real-time GPS data and more.

This means enormous amounts of data. Terms such as exabytes (20 zeros) and quintillion (18 zeros) are used. At this point we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day which means that 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years (Source: IBM).

What Types of Jobs Are There In Big Data?

The need to “do something” with all of this data is creating a significant number of big data related jobs. What should you look for when looking for a big data job? In a quick scan of job boards you will find job titles such as: Big Data Engineer, Data Mining Engineer or Data Mining (Big Data) Engineer. The title that has really come into vogue in the last 18 months is Data Scientist, but big data jobs can come with more mundane titles such as Business Analyst, Business Intelligence Analyst, Data Analytics Engineer, or Data Architect.

What these jobs all have in common is the need to “make sense” of all of this information – to turn it into something that can drive insight and action.

What Skills Are Needed?

So we know that big data is big, no pun intended. We know that it is driving job growth. How do you jump on this bandwagon? What do you need to know and what skills should you have if you want to pursue a big data career?

Big data jobs typically require a broad range of skills. The good news for tech-savvy power-users and business-users is that many of the jobs do not require hard-core programming skills but rather require business or other job-specific knowledge, strong analytical skills, and knowledge of analytical tools.

What are some specific skills that can help? Knowledge of:

  • Data mining and machine learning techniques
  • Data visualization tools
  • Data warehousing
  • ETL (extract, translate, load)
  • Hadoop (Hadoop is an Apache project to provide an open-source implementation of frameworks for reliable, scalable, distributed computing and data storage.)
  • Predictive modeling
  • Statistical modeling with tools such as R, SAS, or SPSS
  • Structured and unstructured databases

Where to Acquire These Skills

In addition to what you have or may be able to learn on-the-job, Big Data University is a great place to learn more about big data and to start to acquire some of the necessary skills. The good news is that many of the courses are free.

Also, many vendors provide big data training. For example, EMC offers data science and big data analytics training and IBM offers big data courses.

Don’t forget higher education. Colleges and universities offer degree programs in analytics, predictive analytics, business analytics, business intelligence, and data mining, all of which provide a great foundation for launching a big data career. If you do not want to dive into a full-fledged degree program, certificate programs are also available in these topic areas.

Mold an Existing Analytics Job into a Big Data Analytics Job

If you are already involved with analyzing data in your current job, try to take it to the next level. Take some of the free courses and see if your company will pay for other courses that provide you with the necessary skills to analyze larger and more complex data sets. It is always best to learn new and very marketable skills in an existing job.

Don’t Forget the Marketing and Sales Side of This!

In addition to the jobs that require technical and analytic skills, don’t forget that there is also a need for people with a strong “conversational” knowledge of big data to market and sell big data products and services. So don’t forget those Big Data and Hadoop Product Manager, and Big Data Sales Representative jobs.

Sharon Florentine is a Rackspace blogger. Rackspace Hosting is the service leader in cloud computing, and a founder of OpenStack, an open source cloud operating system. The San Antonio-based company provides Fanatical Support to its customers and partners, across a portfolio of IT services, including Managed Hosting and Cloud Computing.