Is a new breed of data scientist evolving in Scotland?

Scotland is witnessing the emergence of a new breed of data scientists, according to specialist recruitment outfit MBN Solutions.

'Bring on the era of the data scientist 2.0,' said MBN Solutions chief executive Michael Young. Picture: Contributed

The Glasgow-based firm, which last year won a deal to help find roles for master’s degree students on courses backed by Data Lab, Scotland’s publicly-funded innovation centre for data science, said the new generation of specialists will have to be able to combine technical abilities with “soft skills” such as critical thinking and relationship building.

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Robin Huggins, head of business development at MBN, said the project to place Data Lab graduates into roles within the business community had highlighted the need for those pursuing a career to have real “employability skills” – creating what the firm has dubbed the “data scientist 2.0”.

He added: “For many, it will come as no surprise that many data scientists are leaving the world of academia with tremendous skills and technical capabilities.

“However, historically myself and my team most frequently hear potential host businesses demanding more robust and obvious domain expertise and employability skills. It was to the credit of the Scottish universities involved in this programme that for the most part, their students were suitably equipped in this respect.”

The MSc courses funded by Data Lab were launched in collaboration with Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University, Glasgow Caledonian University and the universities of Dundee, Glasgow, Stirling, Strathclyde and the West of Scotland.

Michael Young, chief executive of MBN, said: “We are proud that Scotland is at the forefront of equipping its very best data scientists with the skills and additional expertise necessary to help them find challenging work that will add great value to their host employers.

“It’s been eye opening to explore the additional requirements businesses have – and are now demanding – and even more impressive to explore how willing the Scottish MSc students were to acquire the skills. Bring on the era of the data scientist 2.0”.

MBN said it spent a “considerable amount of time and effort” to help understand the workplace competencies required beyond data science skills alone. Using what it terms “matrices of need”, students underwent training where required to make sure they had “polished employability and soft skills”.

Paul Forrest, the recruiter’s chairman, said: “We have often discussed and opined on the importance of ‘the bridge’ between what the board or senior management need in a business and what the data scientists are able to deliver.

“Whilst we have read much about data science 2.0, an obvious evolutionary step, we think we have now arrived at the age of the data scientist 2.0 – a role where the data scientist is a deeply collaborative business expert with data and analytical skills to match interpersonal and critical thinking competencies”.