Thinking twice: Data science or MBA?

The growing demand for business data roles and data-driven managers is pushing salaries to a point that one should consider a data science degree versus an MBA for management positions

There’s no doubt that data-driven decision-making has become increasingly popular and profitable. Big data helps organizations amass operational insights that assist them in making strategic decisions quickly and more effectively. However, the use of data science within the business management world is still an emerging concept, and there are significant opportunities for business students to become data science-savvy to advance their careers.

Across all industries, there is a shortage of data science talent. Specifically, companies lack the type of person who has the ability to help organizations integrate data and analytics into their existing operations. A recent McKinsey & Company survey found that approximately half of executives across geographies and industries reported greater difficulty recruiting analytical talent than filling any other kind of role. Furthermore, 40 percent of the surveyed executives stated retention is another big issue they face.

Data scientists are in high demand in the business environment, and it’s highly likely they will continue to be in the new digital age. Organizations are overflowing with data and demanding professionals who can gather and organize that data in a meaningful way as well as analyze it data to arrive at smart business solutions.

So should those headed to business schools consider a career in data science instead? While it is not a replacement for an MBA, having data science skills can help professionals complement their business degrees and MBAs with analytical skill sets. Let’s take a deeper look at how data science is becoming a new entry point to the business world and how a data science background can put business students far ahead of the rest.

The growing demand for data-driven managers

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” —Peter Drucker

There is growing demand for big data expertise and a recent KPMG survey uncovered that 36% of executives admitted that they lack big data specialists. McKinsey & Company also forecasted that 1.5 million more managers and analysts with analytical skills would be required by 2018

For business students without sufficient training in data science and analytics, the number of positions they are excluding themselves from is definitely on the rise. Many business schools are responding to these changes in the business landscape by adding big data courses to the curriculum to bring forth managers who can digest analytical data and make better business decisions.

Wharton, a once popular destination for Wall Street-bound MBAs, has now placed its bets on big data by expanding its business analytics offerings to help meet student and employer demand. As one Wharton Professor Adam Grant told The Wall Street Journal, “The strengthened focus on analytics helps train students in rigorous thinking and decision-making based on large data sets, rather than isolated scenarios students typically find in a case study.”

The emerging business data roles

Merely having a data scientist on the payroll isn’t enough for an analytical transformation in an organization. There is also a high demand for business translators or those who can serve as a link between analytical talent and practical applications and solutions to an organization’s challenges.

“The difference between a good Data Scientist and a GREAT Data Scientist is often not found in their technical ability or their amazing mathematical genius. Data Science exists to provide a service to business and business is run by people. If Data Scientists cannot comfortably communicate with their non-expert colleagues and bosses, then their effectiveness is greatly reduced. They need to communicate easily with people, to understand, to interpret, to translate.” Matt R. Corporate recruiter for

More and more organizations are on the hunt for these translators who not only possess data savviness but who can also deeply embed themselves into the organization’s decision-making processes. McKinsey & Company estimated the demand for translators will reach 2 to 4 million in the United States alone over the next decade. With the current number of US graduates in this field, undoubtedly there will be a deficit in translator talent, meaning wages for these data positions will have to rise. This in turn also makes it a lucrative option for students still deciding on their path in the business world.

But perhaps more than a demand for professionals who understand big data technologies, there is superior demand for managers who are simply data literate — or managers who know how to interpret and to apply the knowledge that big data offers and feel comfortable in making business decisions based on the information.

Demand is pushing salaries higher and higher

While average wages across the job market in the United States only slightly increased 2 percent, the average wages for data scientists are rapidly rising due to the scarcity of talent. According to a McKinsey & Company survey, average wages for data scientists in the United States grew by approximately 16 percent a year from 2012 to 2014.

Furthermore, there are many cutting-edge data-focused startups and their employees who have been acquired and received $5 million to $10 million per employee because of the shortage of talented data scientists.

Businesses are swimming in data related to customer behavior, competitors, and their operations. The need for managers who can comb through the data and uncover insights from which to profit is why data science positions are some of the most in-demand and highest paying jobs around. Business schools, as well as academic initiatives like data science bootcamps, are developing big data courses to address the talent shortage in data science worldwide. If you’re looking for the ultimate way to push yourself or your organization ahead, complementing your business degree with an understanding of data science can provide an incredible return on investment.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.