Opinion | Data is a language of business and you will need to be able to speak it

The future of work is data-driven, and companies are hiring.

Gabe Conley, Opinions Contributor

Companies across the world are collecting endless amounts of data in their efforts to better understand customers and predict future trends. However, the dizzying amounts of data available to these organizations far exceed the supply of workers skilled enough to analyze this information and use it to solve business problems.

This supply-demand mismatch may explain why employers from every industry today will pay a premium to hire professionals trained to be data-driven decision makers. Data scientists can expect to earn $113,736 in 2021 while the average salary for all working people was $51,916 in 2019.

Data science, or data analytics, encompasses the application of statistics, mathematics, and computer programming to solve the problems facing businesses and their customers. In turn, these real-world applications enable data scientists to grow their own business acuity and the communication skills data scientists need for articulating their findings often help them to become leaders in their organizations.

Numerous universities have recently developed their own business analytics programs in response to the red-hot demand for data scientists. But leaders at the University of Iowa were well aware of the emerging trends in data applications by 2013 when Iowa became the first school in the Big Ten to establish its undergraduate major in business analytics.

Professor of business analytics at the Tippie College of Business Nick Street was responsible for shepherding the undergraduate business analytics program into existence in those early days. He discussed the importance of churning out generations of data-driven decision-makers then, now, and in the future.

“Business analytics at the university started as really just a side project of mine a couple of decades ago,” Street said. “Over time, and as we realized employers were desperate for people with these skills, it has become its own undergraduate degree and a core part of the education we offer to students in the MBA program, as well as in the Colleges of Nursing and Pharmacy.”

If you find the notion of learning computer programming skills to be daunting, Street wants to quell your worries. “We don’t teach students computer programming for the sake of it—it’s not about that,” Street said. “We teach them just enough programming, and it’s geared towards managing data. Students often find the problems they’re trying to solve are so interesting that they want to learn these skills.”

Like any discipline, data science is difficult to master and it requires training in higher education for most people. Even if you don’t seek to become proficient in analytics, you’ll still benefit greatly from becoming data literate—that is, from being able to speak, visualize, and interpret data.

Since they believe data-literate people make better decisions and because they’re being required to make decisions faster than ever before, companies are trying to foster cultures of data literacy in the workplace. This will require you to be verbally literate, numerically literate, and graphically literate.

Data has become a language of business, and you will need to be able to speak it. To get started in thinking about the subject, Street recommends reading Data Science for Business, by Foster Provost and Tom Lawcett.

The bottom line for companies is simple.

“There’s no shortage of data. If you’re not turning it into value, then someone else is,” Street said.

The application of data science is all but certain to persist into the future, and with the economy still about 10 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic levels, the years ahead remain uncertain. Learning analytics now, to help companies drive their future decision-making, would be a profitable bet for you.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.