How to Become a
Data Scientist

Best Education Tracks, Key Skills, and Top Certifications

Thanks to the rise of technology and big data, the demand for data scientists is at an all-time high. If you’re looking for how to become a data scientist, this comprehensive guide will show you the best route.

Read on below to learn about the cost and timeline for becoming a data scientist. You can also find out the estimated salary and job outlook for this lucrative position.

What Is a Data Scientist?

A data scientist is a tech professional who analyses and manipulates data. They study data trends to provide viable solutions to real-world problems in an organization. Data scientists use a combination of technical and social science skills. They use different programs and programming languages like Python to manage data.

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Data scientists usually use advanced technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence to make sense of unstructured data. They typically work with people from other fields to reach a common goal. Every industry needs data scientists.

What Type of School Should You Attend
to Become a Data Scientist?

To become a data scientist, you can attend a university, bootcamp, or community college. If you are self-motivated, you can take online classes and teach yourself.

Below are some of the most popular education paths for data scientists.

Best Data Science Education Tracks

There are several education tracks for prospective data scientists, and each one comes with its pros and cons. While a Bachelor’s Degree in Data Science used to be the most common track, tech bootcamps have been gaining popularity in recent years.


Community College

Community colleges can offer certificates and associate degrees to students who want to study data science. The associate degrees usually run for about two years, but some may last up to four. Community colleges are usually more affordable, so they are a good place to start.

Some states allow residents with in-state high school diplomas to enroll in two-year programs at community colleges for free. Those who pay for community colleges tend to spend less than those who attend universities. You can get an entry-level position with an associate degree or use your credits towards a bachelor’s degree later.


Data Science Degrees

Universities in the United States offer data science bachelor’s degrees. They usually run for four years, but you can also finish in five. If your dream school doesn’t offer a Bachelor’s Degree in Data Science, go for a computer science or information technology program.

After getting a data science bachelor’s degree, you can apply for a master’s or PhD. These can help you get higher positions for a larger salary and professional recognition.


Data Science Bootcamps

Coding bootcamps are rapidly gaining popularity in the tech industry. By attending a data science bootcamp, you can get the knowledge you need without the high prices or long study time. The best data science bootcamps offer accelerated training in career-specific skills.

Bootcamps demand a weekly time commitment of 40 to 70 hours for full-time programs and 10 to 20 hours for part-time programs. The prices can vary from free to $20,000. No matter what, bootcamps are less expensive than a traditional degree. They also offer career placement services, networking opportunities, and other job assistance.


Data Science Courses

This is a popular option for people who prefer self-paced learning or already have degrees. Massive online course providers like Udemy and Coursera offer affordable data science courses in specific areas of the field.

You may get a certificate of completion when you finish the course, but it isn’t equivalent to a degree. An online course will only give you a slight resume boost. Individual lessons in data science can help you save money while you upskill.

How to Become a Data Scientist: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Become a Data Scientist: A Step-by-Step Guide

There are many data science education options and therefore many paths you can take. You can become a self-taught data scientist or follow a degree path. Either way, you should hit some specific milestones as you go.

Below are four basic steps to becoming a data scientist.

Take online programming lessons

All data scientists must know different skills like Python, Julia, Scala, and SQL. These are the most common programming languages and tools used by data scientists. The earlier you start learning, the easier it will be later on.

Explore more complex concepts

Machine learning and big data go hand-in-hand with data science. To become a data scientist, you must learn how to design or use machine learning tools to manipulate data and make valuable predictions. You should explore these advanced subjects as soon as you can.

Get an education

The steps above will have helped you decide whether or not data science is for you. Now it’s time to get a degree or certificate. You should choose which education path fits you best.

Specialize in one industry

After you’ve got the knowledge you need to become a data scientist, consider specializing in one sector. Data science has a broad range of applications across industries. You can focus on database management, artificial intelligence, medical research, and more.

Continue to learn

Technology is always evolving and so is data science. You should use your peers and online communities to stay up-to-date with new ideas. This is the best way to be a great data scientist.

Key Data Science Skills

Key Data Science Skills

A successful scientist combines technical and non-technical abilities. Learning as many of these skills as possible will give you an edge when you start job hunting. Read below for some of the most essential data scientist skills.

Math and Statistics

Whether you’re dealing with structured or unstructured data, you’re going to work with numbers. You may need to convert messy data into figures so you can quantify them. This is one of the best ways to reach conclusions and provide solutions. Having a solid background in math and statistics will make your job as a data scientist much easier.

Analytical Skills

This one might be the most essential data scientist skill. It can help you know which data will be instrumental in developing solutions and which will not. An organization may give you access to its database, and your job will be to create actionable plans by analyzing the data and studying trends.

Computer Science

Computer science skills bring everything together for a data scientist. You need to take a deep dive beyond the fundamentals of computer science. All your work will revolve around computers, so you should be an expert. Your education track should cover everything you need to know.

Data Scientist Salary and Job Outlook

On average, data scientists earn $121,238 per year, according to Indeed. Those with less than 12 months of experience earn $102,530, while those with three to five years of experience earn $139,705. These numbers are astounding, even for tech fields.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recognizes data science as the 11th fastest growing job between 2019 and 2029. It noted a 31 percent increase in employment. This shows that there are still several career advancement opportunities if you start learning data science in 2021.

Min salary


Average salary


Top salary


Entry-Level Data Science Job Requirements

Most companies will ask for bachelor’s degrees in data science, computer science, or other related fields. However, you may also be able to get an entry-level job with an associate degree or a bootcamp.

The average salary for entry-level data scientists is $68,054, according to ZipRecruiter. However, this can range between $55,000 and $83,000, depending on location and your education.

What Does a Data Scientist Do?

What Does a Data Scientist Do?

A data scientist infers ideas and makes decisions based on raw data. They help organizations increase profitability by solving problems. The role may vary from one industry to another, but all data scientists work closely with stakeholders to make informed decisions.

Below are some of the most common responsibilities and roles of data scientists.

Convert Raw Data to Insight

No matter what, all data scientists use raw data to gain valuable insights. They also communicate these conclusions to stakeholders or managers so they can be used to make business decisions.

For example, a data scientist working as a researcher in a big pharma company might analyze historical and real-time data about a particular disease. Their findings would be used to create a cure or vaccine for the disease.

Data Modeling

A data scientist designs data modeling processes to develop predictive models and algorithms. These models are used for custom analysis. The data is stored in the organization’s database and used as a reference whenever necessary. Data analysts also use visualization to manage and analyze data.

Use AI and Machine Learning

Data scientists working with big data firms tend to use AI and machine learning tools to collect data from many access points. This is because you can’t draw accurate conclusions by analyzing data collected from a single point.

This is when your knowledge of programming languages like R and Python will come in handy. Other great data analysis tools are Tableau, RapidMiner, KNIME, Power BI, Apache Spark, and QlikView. 

Data Science Certifications

Data science certifications can help boost your resume. Certification is proof to your prospective employers that you have what it takes to be a data scientist. Professional certification exams will test your skills and knowledge of data science.

Below are some of the best certifications for data scientists.

Certified Analytics Professional (CAP)

This certification is for data scientists who specialize in data analytics. The examination is rigorous, but the certification lasts for three years. The assessment is less expensive for members, and non-members pay $695.

Dell EMC Proven Professional Certification Program

This is one of the best data science certifications for professionals. After you pass the exams, you will be more than qualified to work in the field. Prospective employees will know that you have been tested to the highest associate level in the industry. The exam costs $200.

Cloudera Certified Associate (CCA)

If you want to work with Cloudera software, the CCA certification will help. It is also an ideal assessment for entry-level data scientists who want to prove that they understand data science fundamentals. Each exam costs $295, and the certification lasts for two years.

How to Prepare for Your Data Science Job Interview

How to Prepare for Your Data Science Job Interview

The best way to prepare for a data science interview is to read the job description and study practice questions. The questions depend on the industry, but usually have to do with your experience and skill set.

Read below to see some practice questions that can help you become more confident before your interview.

Data Science Job Interview Practice Questions

  • Describe a data science problem that you had to solve.
  • What is the difference between bivariate, univariate, and multivariate analysis?
  • How would you build a random forest model?
  • What are your strengths as a data scientist?
  • Can you write a program for printing numbers between one to fifty?
  • What are the benefits of dimensionality reduction?

How Long Does It Take to Become a Data Scientist?

Becoming a data scientist can take anywhere from a few months to a few years. The fastest way to become a data scientist is to enroll in a bootcamp. You can get your first data science job after only a couple of months of intensive learning. Some of the best bootcamps for data science are Data Science Dojo, General Assembly, and BrainStation.

If you opt for an associate or bachelor’s degree, you will spend two or four years studying. The highest paying data science jobs are for people with master’s degrees, PhDs, and years of experience. A higher education path would take between 10 to 12 years to complete because you will have to get a bachelor’s degree first.

Associate degree


Bachelor’s degree


Master’s degree


Should You Become a Data Scientist in 2021?

Yes, you should become a data scientist in 2021. The year might be the best time to learn data science. This is because all projections reveal that there is an increasing demand for data scientists across many industries.

Data scientists and other data science experts are among the highest-paid experts in the United States tech industry. Even if you start with an entry-level position, you can quickly work your way up by acquiring more degrees and certifications. Now is the time to become a data scientist.

Data Science FAQ

Can I work from home as a data scientist?

Yes, you can. Data scientists, just like many other tech experts, can work from home as long as they have the right equipment.

Are data science skills transferable?

Yes, they are. While some data scientists aim for big data companies like Amazon, Google, and Oracle, you can work in any company that processes large datasets.

Do I need non-technical skills for data science?

Yes, you do. Everyone who wants to dive into data science needs non-technical skills like communication, creativity, leadership, and problem-solving. This is because you will be working with different teams and communicating your findings.

Is big data the same as data science?

No, it isn’t. Big data is a term used to describe large datasets that usually require data analytics. Data science is just an umbrella term that covers everything related to data.

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