Data scientists have become instrumental to many of Alabama’s biggest industries, from finance and insurance; to healthcare, biotech and the pharmaceutical industry; and from retail, manufacturing and marketing, to HR and tax revenue collection in the public sector. The value of data science is largely reflected in the salaries data scientists earn. According to executive recruiting firm Burtch Works, in April 2015 salaries for data scientists at almost every level had increased from just a year prior. As the demand grows for master’s-educated data scientists across all industries, salaries are expected to continue increasing in kind as employers compete for skilled scientists amid a growing shortage in the labor pool.
McKinsey & Company’s Business Technology Office researched the use of big data in domains across the US, and found that by 2018, the US alone could face a shortage of 140,000-190,000 data analysts and scientists. As dire as this might sound, a much more significant shortage of 1.5 million is projected for master’s-prepared data scientists with managerial skills.
From the systems engineering team with the General Dynamics Information Technology branch in Alabama that contracts with local government to interpret and communicate data related to government programs, to the data scientists with Infinity Property & Casualty that identify trends and direct processes, there has never been more opportunities in Alabama for skilled data scientists than there are right now. With the potential for high earnings, job security, and many different career paths, professionals with advanced data science degrees in Alabama have a lot to look forward to in the coming years.
Preparing for a Master’s Degree in Data Science in Alabama
Data science master’s programs maintain high standards for enrolling students, with requirements that often include a relevant work history and proficiencies in math, hacking, and coding.
Undergraduate Degree and Master’s Prerequisite Courses
Minimum qualifications for data science master’s programs usually include:
- A minimum of a 3.0 in bachelor’s coursework
- GRE or GMAT scores in the top 15 percent, with particular emphasis on the quantitative section
- A bachelor’s degree in a related discipline such as statistics, applied math, computer science, or engineering.
Prerequisite courses vary from program to program, but usually include:
- Calculus I & II
- Linear algebra
- Programming languages
Relevant Personal and Work Experience
Most programs require:
- A minimum of five years of technical work experience in data science
- Work experience demonstrating quantitative abilities in coding, hacking, math and statistics, database administration, and data mining (as relevant to program)
- Analytical reasoning ability
- Knowledge of data structures, algorithms and analysis of algorithms
- Knowledge of programming languages, especially Python and Java.
In Alabama, there are many different avenues to gain the required experience.
Boeing’s Alabama branch hires entry-level data scientists to analyze missile defense system components, communicate with suppliers and teammates about results, develop algorithms and use software code to improve existing systems and develop performance assessments.
Based in Alabama, IDEX is a corporation that develops systems for fluid-handling applications such as pumps, flow meters, engines, sanitary systems, and food and beverage processing. IDEX hires data analysts with bachelor’s degrees to function as part of a team where they analyze data and prepare reports for clients. Data often relates to sanitary and storm sewer flow rates, sewer system evaluations, and wastewater treatment plant evaluation.
Smaller local companies in Alabama often hire entry-level research analysts to work with a team on running research reports and collecting data.
Preparing to Demonstrate Basic Proficiencies
Data science master’s programs require candidates to take either the GRE or the GMAT exams and score within the 85th percentile in the quantitative section. In order to prepare for these tests, candidates may take practice exams.
The GRE website offers free sample questions, software including practice exams, and prep guides to individuals preparing for the exam. The quantitative section is the most critical component of the exam for candidates seeking data science master’s degrees. In order to prepare, the GRE website publishes a guide on how to prepare for the quantitative section. Students must be prepared to answer mathematics questions as well as to model and solve problems with quantitative methods. Arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis are all topics included in this section.
If opting to take the Graduate Record Exam General Test of Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the student must also score in the 85th percentile in the quantitative section. The GMAT website offers test-prep materials, and students can also take a free practice exam hosted by Veritas prep. On the GMAT’s quantitative section, students will answer a series of questions designed to measure their ability to analyze data and draw conclusions. It will involve word problems, numerical problems, and interpreting graphical data.
Bridge Programs and Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Options for Applicants Who Do Not Meet Admission Criteria
In the case of data scientists who do not possess each of the required skills, most data scientist master’s programs offer bridge program options in order to teach the required subjects before enrolling in core curriculum.
These bridge programs cover:
- Linear Algebra
- Data Structures and Algorithms
- Programming languages: R, JAVA, C++, Python
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are available to prospective graduate students that want to proactively supplement their education with online problem modules, interactions with professors, and lectures. These are offered online completely independent of data science master’s programs.
Bridge programs are sometimes available through graduate schools that offer master’s programs in data science. Bridge programs allow students to fill gaps in knowledge related to mathematics and programming at their own pace before beginning graduate-level coursework in data science. Students will be required to pass any bridge courses before continuing in the program.
Earning a Master’s Degree in Data Science in Alabama
Alabama offers several traditional in-state, on-campus options for students pursuing data science master’s programs, but more and more students are opting for online degree programs. Online programs offer fully accredited curriculum recognized by the US Department of Education and professional associations nationwide. Some online programs require students to visit campus a certain number of times to meet with professors in the program, and most programs require internship/immersion experiences for students in their last semester, which are also often held on campus.
Full time programs will take an average of 20 months to complete, part-time programs take an average of 32 months, and accelerated programs can be completed in a year.
There are several different master’s programs titles to choose from:
- Master of Science in Data Science
- Master of Information and Data Science (MIDS)
- Master of Science in Applied Statistics, Data Mining Track
- Graduate Certificate in Data Science
- Data Mining and Applications Graduate Certificate
Curriculum and Core Coursework
Curriculum for data science degrees will vary among programs, but all degrees will require a combination of the skills and specialties listed below:
- Data Mining
- Experimental Statistics
- Data and Network Security
- Visualization of Information
- File Organization & Database Management
- Statistical Sampling
- Quantifying the World
- New Approaches to Managerial Economics
- Research Design and Application for Data and Analysis
- Exploring and Analyzing Data
- Applied Machine Learning
- Legal, Policy and Ethical Considerations for Data Scientists
- Applied Regression and Time Series Analysis
Key Competencies and Objectives
Coursework often found in data science programs centers around deriving insights from data sets, using analytical methods to quantify data, and communication of data points. Courses represent a range of disciplines within the social sciences, computer science, statistics, management, and law.
Graduates of the program will be able to properly retrieve, organize, and analyze data, apply statistical analysis and machine learning techniques to data, design visualizations, communicate important data points, and comply with all federal requirements for data security.
Master’s degrees help offer the assurance of more opportunities in the employment sphere, a higher rate of pay, and the opportunity to manage a team of other data scientists.
Career Opportunities for Data Scientists in Alabama with Advanced Degrees
As nearly every company requires digital internal data processes, data scientists become essential to smooth operations in many industries. In fact, Forbes reported a 27% increase in demand for data science employment within the industry of professional, scientific and technical services from 2013-14.
The following job listings are shown as illustrative examples only and are not meant to represent job offers or provide any assurance of employment. These examples were taken from a survey of job vacancy announcements for data scientists in Alabama in February 2016.
Senior Data Scientist at Alabama Power Company in Birmingham, Alabama
- Develop data management programs
- Develop relationships with key members of Alabama Power Company’s teams
- Develop data applications for management and representatives
- Communicate analysis of analytical results
- Execute analytical strategies across all of Alabama Power Company’s units
- Master’s degree in data science or related field
- Advanced analytical expertise
- Knowledgeable in leading information technologies
- Experience providing quantitative support to non-technical team members
- Experience in implementation of quantitative methods in a professional environment
- Experience with Bayesian estimation, stochastics, consumer-level modeling preferred
Supervisory Operations Research Analyst at Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency in Redstone Arsenal, AL
- Developing a Ballistic Missile Defense System.
- Leading studies and analysis to inform the system
- Design, develop and adapt scientific methods and techniques to improve existing systems
- Develop new programs involving weapon systems
- Correlate, analyze, evaluate, and apply data and information to conduct program assessment
- Master’s degree
- One year specialized experienced in related work
- Must be eligible to obtain high-level security clearance through the US Military