Big Data Offers Big Career Opportunities

What skills do project managers need to jump into the booming big data sector?

8 January 2013

Every minute, 204 million emails are flying around the world, 100,000 tweets are posted and consumers spend US$272,070 online, according to tech company Domo. Google alone receives over 2 million search queries in those 60 seconds. As big data continues to flood servers, organizations are scrambling to find professionals who can harness, analyze and monetize the information deluge.

The promise of big data could drive US$34 million in IT spending in 2013 and create 4.4 million jobs globally by 2015, according to an October 2012 report by IT research firm Gartner. But only one-third of those jobs will be filled, says Gartner, because of the dearth of professionals with the “data management, analytics and business expertise and nontraditional skills necessary for extracting the value of big data.”

So what does it take for project professionals to land a job in the growing field?

First, project managers should go in armed with a keen understanding of the economics of big data. “Accumulating big data without an actionable benefit can result in costs outpacing those benefits too quickly,” says Doug Laney, vice president of research, business analytics and information innovation at Gartner, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Project managers must be able to tie tons of data to a distinct business value, says Sanjul Saxena, PMP, senior vice president, Foundation’s Edge, an IT firm in Santa Clara, California, USA.

That value can take the form of anything from operational efficiency to customer insight, he adds.

In addition, deep-dive analytics requires a big-picture approach — and reaching beyond the usual software development and engineering teams. Project professionals must be able to collaborate with other departments, such as engineering, operations or business analysis.

“The big data team’s core mission is to make sense of all that data,” says Sanjay Gupta, a technical architect with energy management company Landis+Gyr, Noida, India. “Big data projects operate on a different cycle than traditional ones. It’s not so much about ‘plan, then do,’ [but rather] ‘experiment, learn and evolve.’ It requires a [multidisciplinary] mindset attuned to research as much as delivery.”

Big data projects call for more than the standard warehousing, recording and trending skills. And that could mean additional training. Analyzing complex data sets requires knowledge of predictive modeling as well as visualization techniques, such as data trees and clustergrams.

The good news is, because big data is a newer discipline, most organizations accept that there will be some on-the-job learning of new skills or software for new hires. Greta Roberts, CEO of Talent Analytics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, notes that there isn’t just one analytics role. She recommends entering the field in a role closest to your current role — data preparation and data acquisition are similar to project managing data. Then, widen your scope to full-blown analytics.

Beyond technical prowess, Ms. Roberts suggests highlighting soft skills, too.

“We spoke with thought leaders in the analytics community, and they said, ‘Give me somebody curious, and I can train them on the [other] skills,’” she says. “A project manager who is innately curious will say, ‘How can I systematically go about solving this complex problem?’ And that’s the same thing they need to do as analytics professionals.”

Similarly, creativity is a requirement in today’s deep-dive analytics jobs. “That’s the thing about big data,” says Ms. Roberts. “You need to poke around. Analytics has been around forever. It’s just bigger now.”

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