Data science industry attracting more jobs to Scotland

Busy mum Anita George wanted a fresh career with better prospects. The new world of data science was ideal, and an innovative programme gave her the perfect opportunity.
Anita and her daughterAnita and her daughter
Anita and her daughter

If all had gone according to her original plan, Anita George would be in an architect’s office laying down the designs for a home, office block or public building.

She’d be letting her creative side flow, solving problems such as which materials to use and how to integrate them into her plans. The result would be a solid structure for people to move through, live in and admire.

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But even well thought out plans can sometimes change; and in Anita’s case, a fresh look at the opportunities architecture might offer, sent the mum of one in an entirely fresh direction.

And instead of helping to create new buildings, her focus is now on the rapidly growing field of data science – a very modern job compared to the age old profession of architecture, and one that is increasingly becoming a vital component of many modern businesses.

“There are such huge opportunities in data science across different sectors, whether it’s marketing, finance, healthcare, banking, with great potential for employment and growth for the economy,” explains Anita, who arrived in Scotland from Kerala in India to set up home with her husband Anthony Thomas, who works in IT.

As the world we live in becomes more connected, with push of a button transactions gathering more and more information about each and every one of us, the need for bright minds to unravel all that data is constantly growing.

Financial services businesses need them to crunch information created by digital transactions, market trends and customer behaviour to help better understand and predict future needs, services and markets.

Service and production based businesses use data information to plot new products or target specific areas.

And in the world of health, data scientists are disentangling detail related to patients’ needs, treatment and the services they access to help improve care, target spending and tackle areas of need.

Indeed, that’s where Anita finds herself today, having made the leap from architect working in India where she was raised, to the world of alogrithms and analytics in Scotland, and picking up an MSc in Data Science for Business from Stirling University on the way.

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Working in public health for NHS Scotland, crunching data related to patients with cataract problems – analysing their treatment, hospital visits, what help they required, and so on – may not have been what she initially set out to do. However, like many recent MSc data science graduates who have swapped studies for well-paid jobs with bright prospects, the mum of one from Dunblane in Stirlingshire, is not looking back.

“Data science is constantly evolving and I’m evolving with it. My background in architecture was creative, I was imagining colours and designs, then suddenly it was spreadsheets and numbers.

“But the opportunities are so immense, I’ve never regretted it for a moment.”

She is just one of many success stories to emanate from a string of MSc data science courses across 11 Scottish universities which have been supported by The Data Lab, one of the eight innovation centres funded by the Scottish Funding Council through the Innovation Centres programme.

It is using its £11.3m grant to help develop new data science opportunities across industry, the public sector and in universities, propelled by a mission to return a minimum of 248 new jobs and an additional £104.5m of value to the Scottish economy.

To do that, The Data Lab has been forging partnerships between businesses looking to use their data in innovative ways and academia, creating opportunities for innovation and driving forward university courses and training to help create the next generation of bright data scientists.

Over 500 students have benefitted from The Data Lab’s education programme which includes the MSc, industrial doctorates and executive education programmes among other training opportunities running since 2015.

A further 130 students have just entered the latest MSc courses at 11 universities around Scotland.

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Among them is the MSc Data Science for Business at University of Stirling which Anita followed. Run in partnership with SAS, a global leader in business analytics, and developed with financial services organisation HSBC, it included a Data Lab scholarship and work placement.

“I wanted to learn a business oriented course so that I can get employment in any industry, unlike architecture which is a niche area with extremely specialised jobs and roles,” recalls Anita, 34, who praises the Stirling course and staff for the support she received.

“I also wanted to learn technical skills rather than just business or management skills. MSc Data science for Business was the perfect blend.”

Her work placement was with National Services Scotland Information Services Division – the area within the NHS that she now works with.

“It involved analysing data to optimise patient pathways for patients diagnosed with cataracts in Scotland,” she explains. “It was a real good work experience as I liaised with analysts, medical director, staff from the Scottish Government and once even travelled to Golden Jubilee National Hospital to interview a doctor to understand their perspectives.”

According to Josh Ryan-Saha, programme manager and innovation consultant at The Data Lab, a considerable number of MSc graduates like Anita move into well-paid jobs, often directly related to their work placements.

“Around 50 per cent of the last cohort was in work just four weeks after graduation, while some of the remainder are involved in research in Scotland,” he says. “These are well paid, high value jobs.”

One recent graduate, Ross McLean, started his own business, Keedo, after completing his MSc in Data Science at Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University (RGU).

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As well as supporting MSc programmes and working hand in hand with MBN Solutions, which finds work placements for the data science students, The Data Lab has just unveiled funding for online ‘MOOC’ university courses designed to provide training in data science to students around the world.

It’s an important move which helps position Scotland as a world leader in the field.

“What Scotland needs to do is be the place that anyone who wants to be in data can learn it and anyone who wants to work in it can do so,” adds Josh. “One Scottish strength is the strong community we have. There are events for people to share and support each other – that’s a big part of it, learning from friends and colleges.

“These online training courses in data science are relevant to sectors of the Scottish economy, so for example there’s data science for gaming at Dundee, health and social care at Strathclyde. That helps to project Scotland as a world leader in data science.

“If people across the world are taking University of Edinburgh, Strathclyde or Dundee online courses, they will associate Scotland with research rigour, which helps make the country more attractive. “

The Data Lab estimates £17 billion of new revenue opportunity within Scotland alone for new data solutions. And with 90 per cent of all the data in the world created in the past two years, there would appear to be a bright future ahead for data specialists like Anita.

“Every day I see analysts who started like me and are now in very senior roles.

“There is now a wide exposure for data skills, and with DataLab and MBN running several events and hackthons, more and more people are getting to know about it,” she adds.

“This sector has career aspects from now and for the future.”

For more information, visit SDI here.

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