Data scientists are today’s “most-wanted” business visionaries. And Australia is improving its ability to develop home-grown data scientists as well as attract them to Australia from all over the globe.

Despite these improvements, each recruitment gain is often mirrored by a loss. Many of Australia’s data scientists are quickly recruited away to Silicon Valley and other booming tech markets competing for game-changing data intelligence. How do we get them to stay? Is it all about money and prestige, or are there steps Australian enterprises can take to better engage and retain them?

To answer these questions, Harvey Nash sat down with two data scientists: Bo Peng and Mike Stringer of the US firm Datascope Analytics. We asked them our retention questions and, as data scientists are inclined to do, they turned our questions on back on us. They asked us to think differently, and consider how well businesses understand data science and the role it can and should play in an organisation. They counsel businesses to get educated and excited about the vision, creativity and curiosity that come with its true practice.

They reminded us that if you already have an answer to the question you are asking, a data scientist is not who you need.

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(Image source: EMC)

In the end, Peng and Stronger provided us with four revealing guidelines any business should follow when seeking to incorporate data science professionals and practices into their organisations:

  1. Demonstrate a Culture of Data Science Understanding The notion that data science is a practical IT solution for organising analysts and the spreadsheets they are asked to create in order to report on company data is exactly the kind of thinking that sends data scientist candidates running for the airport. Businesses would do far better to leverage these skilled and highly educated data professionals for their most valuable capability: defining and researching problems and solutions that we have yet to ponder.

What Do Data Scientists Do? Data scientists research the questions and create the requirements that define data output. They ask the questions, but they do not manage, or manipulate, the answers. They take a long-term business view, framing ambiguous problems in the form of never-before-asked questions and the relevant data criteria that will close the gaps on your way to greater success. When you don’t know what questions to ask, you hire a data scientist.

What Don’t Data Scientists Do? Data analytics and reporting. If it’s a report you want, don’t ask a data scientist. It’s a common misconception that data science is a next step in the data analytics and business intelligence pathway that came with the big data movement. In reality, data science comes long before the ‘ah-ha’ moment revealed in data analysis.

The first thing a good data scientist will listen for when talking with a potential employer is an understanding of the distinction between data science and data analytics. Businesses attuned to the difference have a vastly improved recruiting advantage over those who lump all data roles (science or analytics, big data or unknown data) together.

  1. Create a Culture of Data Awe It takes a culture that encourages curiosity and creativity to get the most from data scientists and their teams. The key to crafting new, critical business questions is the freedom to ask any question and consider any possibility.

A satisfied data scientist is one who is learning about your whole enterprise and industry through direct research and opportunities to view both from new angles. With an expanded view of how things work and the autonomy to act, a data scientist can solve inherent but as-yet-unveiled or unrecognised business problems. Organisations that embrace a strong belief in the value that wonder and amazement can contribute to research and innovation are ready for data scientists and the value and vision they offer.

  1. Make the Local Culture Central to the Experience For data scientists, Australia provides unique opportunities to work on projects with a cultural slant unlike any they would encounter in another part of the world. Compensating data scientists on an international scale is important; however, finding ways to help data science leaders find value in the unique opportunities within the industry, as well as in the country at large, is essential not only in bringing them here but also in keeping the right ones here. Businesses that can effectively demonstrate the unique opportunities of Australian-based data science will tap into the innate passion for pursing unique research and exceptional problems — a passion that defines so many data scientists today.
  2. Support the International Data Scientist and Community Embracing data science also means going beyond an understanding of the discipline and its practitioners. A business can and should support data science in the local community and university programs. It’s a way to advance the field while seeding new generations of data science professionals.

The data science community (both here in Australia and internationally) is a famously generous and sharing community, full of highly intelligent professionals eager to learn from each other and showcase their own work. By encouraging data scientists within their organisations to participate in data science events nationally and globally, businesses can help their data science professionals from feeling isolated while gaining cutting-edge knowledge and boosting their pride in the data science work being done right here in Australia. And that’s data science we can all get excited about!

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