What Is a Data Scientist?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated April 2, 2021 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated April 2, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you have an interest in solving complex problems and identifying patterns, consider applying your skills as a data scientist. Whether you want to focus on medical research, public health, software development or a number of other industries, working in data science could lead to a rewarding career. In this article, we discuss what a data scientist does and how to get this job.

What does a data scientist do?

Data scientists analyze large data sets and write applications that parse data and identify patterns. They determine what they need to learn from the data and create algorithms that organize and manage the information. They collaborate with computer scientists and information technology (IT) professionals to collect large amounts of data, solve complex problems and identify business trends. They typically use computer programming languages like Ruby, Python and SQL.

Data scientist average salary

Most data scientists work full time. Their earning potential depends on their experience level, industry, employer and location. The common salary for data scientists in the U.S. is $121,853 per year. Some salaries range from $39,000 to $250,000 per year.

Related: 15 Computer Science Jobs That Pay Well

Data scientist requirements

Employers usually require data scientists to have a combination of post-secondary education, professional certifications, on-the-job training and specialized skills:

  • Education

  • Training

  • Certifications

  • Skills


Due to the advanced requirements of their jobs, data scientists typically need a graduate degree before pursuing a position in their field. Most begin by earning a bachelor's degree, which generally takes four years to complete. Next, they earn a master's degree, which usually takes two to three years to complete. The most common majors for data scientists include:

  • Computer science: This program teaches students how to create computing systems and infrastructures, math and logic basics, database management and computer programming languages. Most computer science programs require classes on computer architecture, programming languages, data structures and software engineering.

  • Computer engineering: This major helps students master network architecture, cybersecurity and systems engineering. Classes generally include computer programming, embedded systems, microprocessors and application development.

  • Information systems: This degree teaches candidates how to design and manage computer systems and also helps students build a foundation in business and leadership. Typical coursework includes data modeling, database design, information security and business architecture.

Related: Data Scientist Resume Samples


Data scientists typically master the basic skills and concepts they need to do their jobs while earning degrees and certifications. However, these professionals generally complete short on-the-job training programs to learn their employers' workflows, policies and procedures. The length of the program depends on the employer and is usually paid. They can also pursue internships while in college or after graduation to receive more training.


Many employers require data scientists to have a professional certification that proves their competence in certain areas. The most common data science certifications include:

  • Azure Data Scientist Associate: This Microsoft certification shows that candidates can use Microsoft Azure's machine learning tools to develop data-based models that can solve complex business problems. Candidates have to pass an exam to earn this credential.

  • Certified Data Architect: This IBM credential shows that candidates can translate business needs into data-driven solutions using IBM applications. Candidates need to know Hadoop and BigSQL programming languages and must pass an exam to earn the credential.

  • Certified Data Scientist: This SAS certification indicates that data scientists know how to use SAS technology to manipulate big data. To earn this certification, candidates must have both the SAS Certified Big Data Professional and the SAS Certified Advanced Analytics Professional credentials, which require passing a total of five exams.

  • Senior or Principal Data Scientist: Issued by the Data Science Council of America, these certifications prove that candidates have extensive experience with analytics and data engineering. The senior certification requires six years of professional experience and a 100-minute exam, while the principal credential requires 10 years of experience and a 100-minute exam.


To excel in this role, data scientists need the following skills:

  • Analytical skills: To identify problems, research strategies and recommend effective solutions, data scientists need strong analytical thinking skills.

  • Attention to detail: Because even minor mistakes can completely derail a large project, data scientists must pay close attention to small details.

  • Creativity: To pursue new ways of thinking and to design innovative solutions, data scientists must exercise their creativity constantly.

  • Logical thinking: Since computer systems and software applications depend on logic, data scientists must have excellent logical thinking skills.

  • Programming languages: To develop algorithms and create applications, data scientists use programming languages like Python, Ruby and SQL.

Related: Computer Skills: Definitions and Examples

Where can a data scientist work?

Data scientists usually work in office settings, where they use computers to do their jobs. Some work remotely and collaborate with colleagues via online chat and video applications. They rely on specialized programs to process data and build algorithms, and they need internet access to collaborate with teams.

How to become a data scientist

To become a data scientist, follow these four steps:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree

  2. Get a master's degree

  3. Complete a professional certification

  4. Develop essential skills

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

First, complete an undergraduate degree and major in computer science or computer engineering to develop a foundation in data science, programming and system architecture. Most bachelor's degree programs take four years to complete.

2. Get a master's degree

Next, earn a master's degree in computer science or information systems to gain advanced skills in data modeling, database design, business and leadership. Most master's degree programs take two to three years to complete.

3. Complete a professional certification

To prove your competence in specialized areas, get a professional certification. Use prospective employers' requirements as a guideline or pursue one of the most common certifications from SAS, IBM, Microsoft or Data Science Council of America.

4. Develop essential skills

Before applying for an entry-level position, make sure you have basic skills like logic and analytical thinking. Consider taking an online course to improve soft or technical skills.

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