Careers in Data Analytics

June is “Information Technology” month at University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Office of Career Services. Throughout the month, we are highlighting the University’s information technology experts to examine career and industry trends, and to provide students and alumni a chance to learn about different career paths within this industry.

Elena Gortcheva headshotRecently, UMUC Data Analytics and Database System Technology Graduate School Program Chair Dr. Elena Gortchevar answered questions about career trends and opportunities in the data analytics field. Dr. Elena Gortcheva’s research interests focus on data mining and intelligent systems, and she teaches courses in data mining and big data analytics. She joined UMUC in 2003 after a 15-year computer engineering career in academia as a professor/researcher and industry consultant. Dr. Gortcheva holds a Master of Science in Electronic Engineering and earned her PhD in computer engineering from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The results of her research are published in more than 50 articles, presented at several scientific conferences and led to different commercialization projects.

Dr. Gortcheva is active in data professional organizations such as Data Management International (DAMA), Data Management Forum (DMF), Oracle Academy, Worldwide Analytics Knowledge Exchange (WAKE), IBM Academic Initiative. She successfully has implemented her professional experience into the curricula development for UMUC’s Master of Science in Data Analytics and Database System Technology.

 Q. How important is it for data analysts to not only master the core competencies in their field, but possess the soft skills such as communication and leadership to effectively work within their organizations to help assess current and future organizational demands?

A. Extremely important! Aspiring data analysts will have to work effectively in a team with both operational managers and information technologists. They must clearly and fluently translate their technical findings to a non-technical team, such as the Marketing or Sales departments. Data analyst must prepare clear reports with recommendations to the upper management. Also data analysts need to be effective leaders, communicators and project managers.

UMUC’s curriculum was designed on what emerged as the workforce needs of the industry and reflects the need of strong communications skills. All master degree students must take a Decisive Communication and Leadership course to gain experience in producing both written and oral communications, enhancing presentation skills, using collaboration tools, and other business software.

Q. What career paths could one pursue working in data analytics?

A. According to the 2011 McKinsey report by 2018 there will be 190,000 unfilled data analytics experts’ positions in the U.S. UMUC’s Master of Science in Data Analytics program is designed on developing technical and analytical skills for early to mid-career professionals in the today data driven world. The career paths traditionally are of data analyst or data scientist in any domain area such as financial data analysis, health care, marketing, insurances, cyber security, biological, medical and scientific applications among others. Our students work with public data in their area of interests ranging from health care, and biotechnology to financial industry and government getting prepared for a career in different industry.

Q. What inspired you to pursue a career path in data analytics? What education path did you pursue? How did you begin your career?

A. My education background is in computer engineering, an area that has evolved to different specializations in the last 30 years. My research and professional interest has been toward creating intelligent systems that use sensorial information to recognize the environment and data mining techniques to make decisions. With the amount of data growing, a new field of data science emerged, integrating computer science, math, statistics, and business. I was prepared, ready and eager to jump into this new “train.” I’m a strong proponent of the active use of emerging technology and innovation in education, and am inspired when students make that connection between technology and the problem to be solved. I embraced the data analytics field not only as data professional but as instructor and program chair in charge of the curricula development.

Q. How have some of your career experiences shaped you into the professional you are today?

A. My graduate students are working professionals, highly motivated, and seeking opportunities to advance in their careers. As an instructor of more than twenty five years, and as the program chair, I have come to understand their motivations and am committed to providing them with the highest quality education to help them achieve their goals. To equip them with the knowledge, core competencies and skills required for effective functioning as data professionals, I have established attributes in my teaching style to grow independent learners and to provide an environment conducive to learning – one which supports collaboration and teamwork, student-centricity, personalization, and fun.

Q. What personality and character traits must data analysis professionals possess?

A. The first and foremost trait is to have a passion for the field. Data analyst must be smart, involved, and aware and possess intellectual curiosity in the world beyond their professional involvement. The ideal candidate will possess strong quantitative skills as well as a solid foundation in descriptive and inferential statistics. Data analyst should be comfortable learning to use new computer software as well as working with a diverse group of people from operational managers to information technologists.

Q. What advice would you give UMUC students entering data analytics?

A. You have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with a variety of analytical tools available and learn how to apply all analytical power – industry knowledge, contextual understanding, and skepticism of existing assumptions – to uncover hidden solutions to business challenges and to allow their organizations to build and sustain a long-term competitive advantage. UMUC’s curriculum covers advanced software tools and programming language as well the foundations and application of data mining, predictive modeling, and visual analytics using large data sets. You should plan and dedicate plentiful of time to learn and acquire practical analytics skills demanded by industry. The Master of Science in Data Analytics will give you technical and management competencies to design and implement descriptive and predictive analytics solutions for getting insights from institutional data and articulate recommendations to the leadership on the appropriate course of direction for a given problem.

 UMUC’s faculty are active data professional experts working in industry and/or higher education. They teach the subject matter providing rich real world experience and you should take advantage to prepare better for a career in data analytics.

Q. For UMUC students and alumni already working in data analytics, what advice would you give them on how to keep advancing within the industry?

A. You have chosen the demanding career of a data professional. This career is part of a rapidly changing industry, so be prepared to be lifelong learner. Attend industry events, webinars, joining associations, and networking with others in the field.

Q. Any final thoughts or recommendations you want to share with data analytics UMUC students and alumni?

A. Our expert faculty could be excellent mentors to get you started in the field. Also if you are alumni or active from some time in the data analytics field, don’t hesitate to help and mentor the new professionals entering in the field.

For more information on career opportunities and resources available to UMUC students and alumni from the Office of Career Services, click here.

Jennifer Tomasovic is the Director of Communications for Career Services and Alumni Relations at University of Maryland University College. She has spent her 15 year career crafting communications strategies and messages using both marketing and public relations tactics enhancing the brand and reputation for both the clients and organizations she has represented.