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Analytics Magazine

Data scientists: salary survey shows pay, demand continue to rise


data scientists salary survey
 Linda Burtch

Elite data scientists, increasingly in demand from U.S. leading corporations, are riding high on the big data movement, with top-level managers seeing an 8 percent increase in base salary over last year and median bonuses topping $56,000. Data scientists can score 16 percent increases in their median base salary when changing jobs.

The second annual Burtch Works Study: Salaries of Data Scientists, the only U.S. study looking at salaries, education levels, gender and geographical location of this breakout profession, confirmed that the elusive kingpins in the big data movement can earn base salaries of well over $250,000 when managing a team of 10 or more. The study also found that the vast majority of data scientists have at least a master’s degree and probably a Ph.D., and one in three are foreign born. Over a third of all data scientists remain on the West Coast working for technology and gaming companies.

Moving Mainstream

Data scientists are becoming more mainstream as corporate America embraces the data movement and pursues data-driven growth opportunities. So many more large, established companies have hired data scientists that the proportion of data scientists employed by startups – the firms that were the first to use big data – declined from 29 percent in 2014 to 14 percent in 2015.

“Originally embraced by tech startups whose business models relied on analytics, data scientists are increasingly being hired by major corporations to get their arms around and benefit from the massive amounts of data that can improve the business’s performance and business model,” says Linda Burtch, managing partner of Burtch Works, the executive search firm that conducted the study. “This influx of opportunities at more traditional firms is being met with excitement from many data scientists who are turning to more stable options after witnessing the risk and uncertainty of the startup world.”

The profession of data science has emerged to solve the peculiar computing and analysis problems of data that are not only big but also unstructured and messy. Unlike other analysts, data scientists know how to use tools invented specifically to store and retrieve massive amounts of data efficiently. They are proficient at distinguishing the useful from the useless in messy data through the use of sophisticated statistical models and machine learning techniques. It is only in recent years that data storage has become sufficiently inexpensive that many businesses have the capacity to save enormous sets of unstructured data, and are establishing data science teams.

“We’re seeing more high-profile appointments, such as Dr. DJ Patil, the U.S. government’s first chief data scientist, and Paul Ballew, global chief data and analytic officer at Ford, confirming commitment to data use in government and corporations,” Burtch adds. “Data scientists want to see top-level buy-in behind enterprise-wide, data-driven decisions and know that their work influences those decisions.”

The study found that the median years of experience of data scientists in the sample was only six, down from nine in 2014’s study, suggesting that millennials are starting to flood the hot field and as a result, many academic programs are forming to produce these specially trained graduates. The study also found median junior level salaries of $91,000 on data science teams, and up to $110,000 on the West Coast where competition for entry level talent is fierce.

Study Highlights

The 2015 Burtch Works study found data scientists are:

• Generally young (with a median of only six years of experience), highly educated (92 percent have at least a master’s degree, 48 percent have a Ph.D.), overwhelmingly male (89 percent), and a disproportionately large number are foreign-born (36 percent).

• Nearly one-third (29 percent) hold a degree in mathematics or statistics while one-fifth (18 percent) hold a degree in computer science.

• Over one-third are employed on the West Coast (36 percent) and almost half work for firms in the technology and gaming industries (43 percent).

• The median compensation of data scientists varies primarily with years of experience, depth of expertise and management responsibility, but can range from $91,000 with one to three years of experience up to $250,000 for managers leading teams of 10 or more.

• Data scientists earn more than other predictive analytics professionals that strictly work with structured data. When entering the job market, for instance, a data scientist with one to three years of experience can earn 24 percent more than a predictive analytics professional with the same level of experience.

The study of 371 data scientists was conducted by Burtch Works, an Evanston, Ill.-based executive recruiting firm which specializes in the placement of quantitative business professionals, now one of America’s hottest job segments due to demand for big data professionals. A full copy of the study can be found at


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