Important Skills for the Data Scientist

Blog_SkillsWhat are the important skills for a data scientist?

Most people would say the most important skills are data related. These skills are important. Extremely important. Without the interest or ability to analyze data, it would be hard to be a data scientist.

Many would argue technology skills are important. Data scientists need to be able to use many different types of systems and technologies to analyze, visualize and report on data analysis.

Others would argue that software development skills are important.  Data scientists spend a good deal of time writing code of some sort to help sort, organization, analyze and visualize data.

A few people might argue that data scientists need to be good data administrators. Data must be stored somewhere, so it makes sense that data scientists should have a good feel for managing data.

The skills listed above are the ‘hard’ skills that data scientists need. They are all important and they are all necessary for data scientists to master.

But what about the soft skills?

What about the ability to communicate both in writing and verbally? What about the interpersonal skills needed to discuss business problems and challenges?    How about the ability to research the business and dive into how the business does what it does?

Aren’t those skills important too?

I think they are. What do do you think?

The People Challenge for the Midsize Organization

Smiling Group of ProfessionalsThere are many challenges facing the IT function within the midsize organization. Actually, there are many challenges facing the IT function within all organizations but there’s a particular challenge facing the smaller organizations.

The ultimate challenge for small and midsize organizations is finding the right mix of people and technologies for the things the organization needs to do. For example, for an organization to start exploring big data, they first need to find people and technologies that allow them to do the data collection,data storage and analysis that needs to be done. This particular challenge isn’t all about money, it’s about finding the right people with the right skills to do the work as well as finding the right technologies and systems to deliver the required functionality.

The challenge of finding the right people and technologies isn’t just an SMB challenge. It is faced by every organization, but small and midsized organization can have more of challenge on their hands because they can’t offer the same long career path to new employees.

Over on the Midsize Insider, S. Anthony Iannarino wrote an article titled “You are Hiring for Runway” where he talks about the need to hire for the right skills but also the right “attitude” and growth potential. He writes that organizations should hire those people who can bring a long-term advantage to the business.

That’s the difficulty for many SMB’s – it is often hard to keep people interested for a long career due to limited opportunities. The challenge for the small and midsize organization is, first, to find good people. Then, they need to find ways to keep those people interested and challenged.

WIth the right approach and mindset, small and midsize organizations can provide more opportunities to employees than their larger competitors.

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

hit counter

Big Data, People and the SMB

Ebusiness ConceptAccording to the  2014 IDG Enterprise Big Data survey, most large organizations today (almost 49% of survey respondents) claim to be well along the implementation path for big data initiatives and projects. Additionally, those large organizations are well ahead of their small and medium business (SMB) counterparts.

There are a number of reasons for the lag between large organizations and SMB. The larger organizations have the money to address most of the big data requirements while small and midsized organizations haven’t found any budget to kick off big data initiatives.

In addition to budgetary differences, the larger organizations have access to more people. Whether via consulting companies or outsourcing big data work, large companies can find the people they need to ‘do’ big data. In the world of the SMB, the ability to bring in new people just isn’t there. Even though large organizations have money to pay for more people, the IDG survey points at the difficulty of finding skilled people as one of the most difficult challenges facing organizations today.

For me, the ‘people’ aspect of big data is the largest problem facing any organization. We can throw money at the technology issues and we’ll eventually find the right solution for our problem, but we can’t always throw money at the people problem, mainly because it isn’t necessarily a ‘money’ issue today.

Sure, it will take money to hire and train people but before that hiring and training occurs, organizations need to find the ‘right’ person or people for their big data initiatives. To me, this levels the playing field a bit for the SMB. The SMB may not have the budget to hire consultants, buy the newest and fanciest big data solutions or use the ‘best’ hardware and systems on the market, but those things aren’t what big data is about. Big data is about finding insights and value in data, and what better way to do that then to find people who are interested in analytics and giving them access to the organization’s data and saying ‘go’.

Rather than pigeon-holing people into being ‘developers’ or ‘analysts’ or ‘solution specialists’, SMB’s can give their people the ability see all aspects of the big data lifecycle as well as all aspects of the business. The ‘people’ problem of big data is an area that SMB’s can win if they are a bit creative in their approach. They may not have the million dollar big data budgets, but SMB’s can bring more value to the people equation by giving more opportunities to people interested in big data.

Hiring the modern IT Security Professional

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

I just finished reading Rafal Los’ piece on the Enterprise CIO Forum titled Hiring information security talent a challenge.

Its a good piece that highlights the difficulty of hiring quality IT profiessionals int he security space.  In the article, Rafal highlights two key areas that he argues are causing the challenges…they are:

  • The lack of technical talent
  • The lack of business-savvy analysts

On the lack of technical talen, Rafal says:

CISOs I’ve spoken to primarily complain about the lack of skilled technical information security workers out there to hire.  The ones that are left are the low-level talent or fresh-out-of-college persons with only a command of the ‘concepts’ of security rather than the practice.

On the lack of business-savvy analysts, he writes:

When the CISO does find a technically qualified candidate the big question becomes does that candidate have the business savvy to be more than a blunt instrument?  What is critical for many security organizations is finding people who can apply security and risk principles to the business, and understand the business is the driver for security, not the other way around.

While I don’t disagree with either of these challenges, I’d also argue that another challenge facing many CISO/CIO and IT groups is much more fundamental. That challenge is the challenge of developing your people.

If you don’t train and develop your folks…and your competitors don’t train their folks…then of course there will be a shortage of good folks in the future.

Rafal goes on to offer the following solutions:

  • Find a good recruiter to help find the right talent.
  • Outsource/offload non-business critical work so your security people can focus on critical security tasks.
  • Increase incentives to keep people on your team
  • Work with HR to have them help you find talent within your organization.

While I agree these approaches are useful, there’s a few things that cause me to stop and think.

First…finding a good recruiter who can help you find the ‘right’ talent in the Security space is probably harder than finding the right security professionals. That said, its an ideal approach if you can find someone who has transitioned from IT Professional to Recruiter and can really dive into the backgrounds of candidates .

Increasing incentives will always help…but many times its not the ‘pay’ that drives people away. There are many reasons that drive people to change roles/companies. A few of these reasons (from my experience) are: lack of leadership; lack of advancement opportunities, lack of training opportunities, lack of challenges/new technologies….and there are many more.  So…saying that Increasing incentives will help solve the hiring challenge isn’t exactly true.  While it can help in some instances, it won’t help in all of them.

Rafal’s last point of working with HR to have them help find talent in the organization is a great idea. At every place I’ve ever worked, there have been people working outside of IT that had the right skills and mentality to work inside IT but they could never quite find the “in-road” to make the transition.     If the CIO and IT group can put a program in place to build up an internal (and external) identification program, the hiring challenge will be become a good deal easier.

Lastly..hiring for IT has always been a challenge.  There will always be the conundrum of hiring ‘new’ folks (those straight out of college) or hiring experienced folks. At the end of the day, its one of the many challenges that the CIO must face and find ways to work around.

Image Credit: escher_relativity by By williamcromar on flickr

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

The Fanboy and The Professional

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

In the world of IT / technology, we have two main types of people: The Professional and The Fanboy.

The Professional

The Professional is the backbone of IT.

They are the people that spend their entire career toiling away in an under-appreciated, over-worked and continuously under-funded job function.

They view technology as an enabler for the business and work to make sure their organization has the ‘right’ technology.

They are pragmatic, yet open to new approaches and ideas…even radical ideas that mean real change for them and their organization. While they may not like the change, they see the reason for the change and work to make it happen.

The Professional is the person that makes IT ‘work’.  They are the Clydesdale of the business world…they can pull their weight plus much more….and they are always available when needed.

The Professional is the person that will engage in intelligent discussions about the current state of IT and the future role of technology and the IT professional in organizations.  These are the folks that understand that IT is ever-changing and they need to change to keep up. They may not be happy that their role is changing, but they understand that it is and are willing to have the conversation.

The Professional understands that Shadow IT exists and that technology ownership will continue to migrate away from IT. They are doing their best to find ways to help secure, manage and support other’s technology projects.

Without The Professional, the IT group, and the organization will be stuck in place without the ability to move.

The Fanboy

The Fanboy is the coccyx of IT.

They are the people that spend their entire career jumping from new technology to new technology without really ever seeing the ‘value’ within any.

They view technology as the solution for everything and are always pushing for a ‘new’ technology to be purchased / implemented to solve business problems.

They are utopian in their thinking. While some people use words like ‘visionary’, most times The Fanboy is closer to Don Quixote than Ghandi.

The Fanboy is the person that makes enemies around organizations. They are the ones that point to processes and procedures as reasons for not doing something. They are the reason non-IT folks dislike IT folks.

The Fanboy is the person that will argue that IT is and should be the most important department within every organization. They are the ones that argue that only IT can ‘own’ technology and Shadow IT should be crushed.

Without The Fanboy, the IT group, and the organization, might have to endure a little discomfort at first, but they’ll  soon find their comfort spot and be just fine.

The Fanboy or The Professional

While it can be argued that the coccyx is an important aspect to the stability of the human body since tendons and ligaments attach to it, when compared to the rest of the spine, the coccyx is pretty unimportant.

I’ve interacted with Fanboys my entire career…and they make me tired.  They argue against any change that doesn’t make IT stronger and more powerful. They argue against anything that allows non-IT related groups to have anything to do with technology.

I’ve also interacted with Professionals throughout my career…and they make me excited about the future of IT and technology in business.  They are open to new ideas and they understand that change isn’t “about them” but about the greater good of the organization. They understand that you don’t have to be in IT to need/want technology and do what they can to make technology accessible to everyone.

Most people in the IT world are Professionals…but it only takes a few Fanboys to ruin it for everyone.

Are you a Professional or a Fanboy?

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

What have you done for me lately?

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

What have you done for me lately?

If you’ve grown up in the world of IT, you probably either get asked this question regularly or you feel that the people within the organization are thinking it.

Its fairly common to have a technology project finish up and everyone is shaking hands and slapping backs after the successful implementation.  Then…the next day, everyone’s looking toward the next project, the next platform, the next milestone.   While everyone’s happy that you’ve done “something” for them now, they immediately revert to a past tense mentality and the mindset quickly moves to one of “What have you done for me lately”.

I don’t believe this is intentional though. I think people truly do care that IT professionals are around and helping to implement and manage technology…but the world of tech moves so fast that it feels like there’s always something ‘new’ to do. This ‘never done’ mentality leads to the “What have you done for me lately” approach.

In fact…many in IT ask this question of each other and of those outside of IT.  Its a question that comes up often in most organizations. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Well…it can be a bad thing if you let it.  This mindset can cause consternation and bad feelings throughout the organization. But…it can also be used for good.

Think about it this way..if you or your IT staff have become complacent, a form of this question might be a to ask yourself or your team.   Ask yourself “What have we done for them lately”…and see where that takes you.

This type of question does a few things.   It should force you to step back and revisit your recent projects and deliverables.  It should also force you to revisit those projects that were successes AND those that were failures. It should also force you to step out of the complacency box and rethink those things that you are currently working on and how to deliver on those projects. Lately, it should force you to stop thinking about you and start thinking about them.

So…instead of asking someone else the age old question… re-frame that question. Ask yourself what you’ve done for them.  Ask your team what they’ve done for the rest of the organization.  Its a simple question but can deliver valuable answers.

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

If you'd like to receive updates when new posts are published, signup for my mailing list. I won't sell or share your email.