You’ve probably heard of the Stark Trek character Data, whose existence is predicated on the idea that machines can become nearly as lifelike as humans themselves, collecting and utilizing vast quantities of data to enable them to engage in the world like people do. We are, fortunately or unfortunately, a far cry from such a future – but that doesn’t mean we don’t have increasingly sophisticated data at our fingertips today, because we do. We just need someone to manage it.
Data scientists do just that: manage data. They take the massive amounts of information flowing into every organization, database, personal computer, government institution, business blog and marketing program, and turn it into useable data. That’s a tall order, of course, which is why they need to be well trained.
A master’s degree in a field related to data science can provide that training. If you’re interested in expanding your career and aren’t sure what master’s degree might do the trick, we’re discussing just that in this post. First, though, let’s have a quick look at what a data scientist is and does.
What Is a Data Scientist?
“Data scientists are a new breed of analytical data expert who have the technical skills to solve complex problems – and the curiosity to explore what problems need to be solved. They’re part mathematician, part computer scientist and part trend-spotter,” says the SAS Institute, adding that “because they straddle both the business and IT worlds, they’re highly sought-after and well-paid.”
This last is an important point for anyone who has student loans to worry about and would like to be able to buy a house someday. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information scientists make on average $118,370 per year or $56.91 per hour. Jobs are growing at a rate of 19 percent, which is must faster than average, and translates to more than 5,000 additional jobs entering the market by 2026.
The takeaway? Anyone who earns a degree in a field related to data science will be set up for life. Now it’s time to take a look at exactly what master’s degree you have to earn to do just that.
Master of Data Science
If you want to take the most direct route, getting a master’s degree in data science itself is smart. The field is growing to the point where it is now viable for universities to offer master’s degrees, both online and off, in the field itself. What used to be a niche in which people learned to collect and analyze data has now become an industry in its own right … and here’s the degree to show it. Earning this degree will bestow many benefits upon you, including:
- You will have the most obviously pertinent skills. With the subject right there in the name of your degree, you don’t have to worry about convincing anyone that you have the right skill set. Future employers will know you have the chops.
- You’ll get a foundational education. Whether you want to use a data science degree to streamline marketing plans, audit companies’ cyber security policies or revamp their vendor communications infrastructure, you can do it with this degree. The bottom line is, you can make it your own.
- It’s a flexible degree. Whether you’re looking for part-time classes or full, online or off, you can find impressive and relevant programs in the field today.
Master of Business Analytics
A good degree for anyone who wants to become a data scientist is one that includes data science as one of its core disciplines, which is the case for the Master of Business Analytics. This increasingly popular degree combines data science with machine learning, artificial intelligence, systems optimization and other tech-forward subjects to give you a well-rounded and cutting-edge look at data science. You can carry this knowledge into all future careers without worry that you will lose your, well, edge. Such a degree also helps you in the following ways:
- It is short. Because you can get this degree in 12 months or less, usually, you can give your career that needed boost without worrying about spending the rest of your life in a classroom (or the rest of your savings, for that matter).
- It is widely applicable to a range of fields and jobs. If you decide you don’t want to do data science per se, that’s okay. This degree can still help you in fields as wide ranging as information security, business analytics or even marketing. If you’re not sure exactly what you want to do, it’s okay to get the degree now and figure out how to apply it exactly later.
- It is in high demand. Data science is growing and changing all the time, but one thing it’s not doing is becoming irrelevant. Again, even if you’re not quite sure what you want to do as a data scientist, having the degree can’t hurt.
Master of Information Technology
According to Rasmussen, “information technology is the application of technology to solve business or organizational problems on a broad scale.” This includes governance, operations, hardware and infrastructure, which work together to make up the machines and programs on which an entire organization runs. IT is a critical aspect of any business, and data scientists will need to be very familiar with the IT infrastructure of whatever organization they work for – making this a good master’s degree to get in the pursuit of a data science job. To wit:
- You can get hired at a range of businesses or organizations. If your primary interest is data science, but you’re not sure you want to constrict your career to that only, IT is a safe choice. Any organization has IT needs, which means that you won’t have any shortage of job offers upon graduation.
- Understanding a range of communications technologies is increasingly unique. In today’s digitally focused world, it’s becoming rarer for an individual to have knowledge of newfangled communications systems – but also maintain knowledge of old school tech such as phone and fax. With cyber attacks coming from every quarter and businesses still needing their old technologies, though, IT individuals who understand both digital and analog are highly prized.
Master of Computer Science
Computer science is the study of computers. This fairly straightforward definition masks decades of increasingly complex technologies, which have collectively enabled us to create data science as a field. If you’re looking for a broader understanding of the industry, computer science might be the way to go. This discipline will educate you not only on the use of data, but also on the machines that make its collection, cleaning, sorting and analyzing possible. That means:
- You will understand data science from the ground up. At a small organization, you would need to manage all computing systems as well as perform data management tasks, so this could be an important boon to your career – especially if you’re looking to become a big fish in a small pond.
- You will have a better grasp of how systems work together. Because today’s world offers so much data, it’s sometimes hard to harness it all from different sources and to understand how they’re affecting one another. A foundational understanding of how machines work together, and how they each generate data, can help to allay this problem.
Master of Software Engineering
If you build it, they will come, goes the old movie line. Unfortunately, this is true in both positive and negative ways. Cyber attackers today flock to vulnerable digital systems, which means that software engineers have to be mindful to code their programs in such a way to reduce the number of vulnerabilities that are open to attackers. Meanwhile, they must also execute the stated purpose of any program, solving a specific problem or patching a flaw. This is a tall order, but many data scientists need to meet it in order to create and run the programs they need to mine and analyze data. Because of this, software engineering master’s degrees often provide the right foundation for a data scientist. If you choose this master’s approach, perks will include:
- You’ll have the ability to write programs. Any data scientist who can not only mine and analyze data, but can also create the applications and routines that help them collect it in the first place, will be that much more highly prized by employers.
- You will increase your salability. Software engineering is a challenging field, and in some ways it is easier to add data science skills onto software skills than vice versa. If you have an interest in both, this could be the smarter master’s to earn.
- The responsibility of evaluating and choosing programs will be yours. Nothing frustrates computer scientists more than using the wrong technology. If you have a software engineering background, though, you have a greater chance of being able to choose your own technology in pursuit of your data science goals at work.