Data science careers – more than coding

Delighted to have a guest blog post from one of our Geography alumni, Gemma Cassells who is now our Sector Lead- Public sector as part of Edinburgh’s Data Driven Innovation Programme  

Data is everywhere, but it doesn’t always look like Big Data, with lines of code or spreadsheets that go on for miles. Everyone uses and generates data every day. If we’re going to do something useful with it, we need people who can interpret, visualise and explain data in new ways. Data only means something when we use it to look at the things we think we understand in a new way. This means data isn’t just for data scientists (although they are definitely important). There are huge opportunities for people who have an understanding of data science, and can work with data scientists to provide context and interpretations on what the data actually means.

My own experience with trying to use data to change the world (lofty goal, I know!) started with my PhD, using satellites to map deforestation in Malawi, to understand how people were using forests to develop new ways to help some of the poorest people in the world. If my work was going to be useful for Malawi, it needed to work with the technical constraints of the local forestry officers, with their computers, internet connections and power cuts. Working out how to get the right people the right skills and equipment to access the data was just as crucial as creating the methodology for processing satellite images. Having a broader perspective on how data could be used, and seeing it as part of a whole system meant it had a better chance of making a lasting impact. I have taken these lessons with me into local government, first looking at how to tackle climate change in Highlands, and then to look at a range of new ‘smart’ solutions Edinburgh could use to make the city better.

The Data Driven Innovation Initiative, part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, recognises the importance of data for transforming the city region, and our wider world. It is estimated that there is a shortage of approximately 13,000 people with data skills each year in the Scottish workforce. These opportunities are not just for programmers or statisticians, and may not even have data science in the job description – my last two jobs in local government didn’t, but understanding how data was created and used effectively gave me a broader perspective for assessing new opportunities. I have worked with artists and philosophers to interpret data in new ways, and help communities tell their story with data. Adding a data science component to your education will enhance your career opportunities, and help you stand out in the competitive graduate job market.

Curious to find out more?

For more information on the DDI programme

Check out our Data Science resources

Come along to our Careers in Data Science talk with Procter & Gamble, PWC and Wood Mackenzie at our Careers Fair on Tuesday 9th October at 1pm in McEwan Hall. No need to book.


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