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What’s being called the ‘sexiest career of the 21st century’? Data scientist. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Data scientists sitting in chairs watching presentation as part of the Data Lab's Data Talent event

There’s nothing more powerful than the insight that properly analysed data delivers, and it has the potential to transform virtually every business..

Many of the things that we do every day, from sending a text to using contactless payments, are generating data. And as technologies like smart home appliances and electric vehicles become more common, the amount of available data will grow.

The people who know how to gather that data, analyse it and show executives how it can shape their growth plans are the ones who will be in the greatest demand.

Driving Scotland’s fintech future

Big data has an especially big role to play the financial services sector.

Financial services companies that manage to crack big data will be better placed to understand and predict customers and markets. This will give them a competitive edge over their rivals.

“If you want to keep a competitive advantage in financial services and to move ahead, you have to have these data skills,” says Josh Ryan-Saha, programme manager and innovation consultant at The Data Lab. The Data Lab helps companies, the public sector and universities work together to develop new data science projects.  

“The best companies will be using data now to develop new products and services. They can choose anywhere in the world, so Scotland needs to have people here with the skills they need now and in the future.

“Scotland is in a good place,” he says. “There is local talent here. We can do really well.”

Fintech in Scotland

Universities rise to the challenge

Of course, it’s not just the financial services sector that can benefit from data. All companies, from small start-ups to global tech giants, can improve their products and services by getting better insight into their customers and their behaviour.

Scotland’s universities are playing a big role in supplying the data talent that companies need. Edinburgh’s School of Informatics attracts some of the best talent in the world – around 150 masters students alone – as well as skilled number crunchers from the School of Statistics.

The University’s EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Data Science is in helping train up a new generation of highly skilled data scientists, including 50 PhDs over five years. The first group of students started in September 2014.

The Data Lab is also supporting future data scientists through the Data Lab Msc, which is a collaborative effort between the organisation and 11 Scottish universities.  

One of these collaborative programmes is the MSc level Data Science for Business at University of Stirling, run in partnership with SAS and developed in partnership with HSBC.

Dr Kevin Swingler, course director of MSc in Big Data at Stirling, says, “Data and the new things that data allow computers to do is disrupting almost every aspect of modern life. It is rare for a single technology to have such a wide impact and it is exciting to be part of that.”

Big opportunities for big data talent

Robin Huggins, head of business development at recruitment specialists MBN Solutions,  says Scotland is ideally placed to take on the challenges of big data. MBN Solutions has worked with The Data Lab to find work placements for 50 of the students it helps fund. 

“We sit in an optimal position with regards to the delivery of the next breed of data specialists,” he says. “Data specialists come from a variety of different routes and this variety is a strength. We have the school leavers - technology native young adults, to whom ‘all things data’ come very naturally.

“Then, we have older, more experienced people who have touched upon data in a previous role and decided to focus on this space as it holds a larger appeal to them than other technology sectors.

“Finally, we have people from other professional walks of life who have decided to retrain. The skills they have developed in other roles often make them extremely well rounded data specialists.”

When it comes to data, Scotland is already ahead of the game – now we just need to keep going.

“We have a simple choice to make. The stable door is already open. We’re either on the horse or we’re not.”

How we support data science in Scotland