Data analytics is a booming field. It involves a process of inspecting data, cleaning it up and then using that information to support conclusions and make business decisions. The field is growing in part because of our increasing reliance on Big Data – huge data sets that help reveal patterns and trends that can be used to make business decisions. Technology is evolving at a pace that requires those in the field to constantly adapt to changes in procedure. The preferred computer program or computer languages change with relative frequency as better, more accurate or flexible ones are made available. Data analysts need the ability to learn new things quickly and sometimes learn on the job.

Many industries, including logistics, manufacturing, finance and even professional sports, employ data analysts, so career options are plentiful and varied.

Data Analyst Skills and Job Requirements

The following data analyst skills are among the most desirable in a new hire:

  • Mathematical ability: Mathematics is a critical skill for any data analyst and a strong competency in math will be essential for any prospective candidate. Data analysts spend much of their time crunching numbers, so experience with math and statistical analysis computer programs like SigmaXL and SAS is vital. Linear algebra, statistics and advanced calculus are all subjects that help prepare for a job in data analytics.
  • Knowledge of programming languages, such as SQL, Oracle and Python: Which programming language is used by the majority of companies changes frequently but a few, like SQL, Oracle and Python, provide a solid base for experience. Be prepared to learn new languages on the job and to evolve as technology does. It is much less expensive for a company to train an existing employee on new programming skills than it is to hire a new programmer, and professional development is expected in this career.
  • Problem-solving skills: It may seem generic to any position in any field, but being able to push through problems is crucial in this career. Data analysis is about unraveling issues for a company based on the data, and usually this requires developing new strategies for examining that data. It’s not enough to approach the data in a tried-and-true method using standard algorithms – data analysts must be innovative and often write unique programs or algorithms for their analysis. A sports analyst may do a predictive analysis of a player’s upcoming season using stats from previous ones. The analyst needs to be nimble throughout the season and consider the players continuing performance, any injuries and other factors that may affect the accuracy of the predictions.
  • Accuracy and attention to detail: Knowing programming languages and being able to set up parameters for data extraction is only a portion of the job. Big data isn’t just about size – it’s about speed, too. Large sets of data are inundating companies at a speed unseen in previous years. With so much coming in, and at such a high rate, it would be easy for important data sets to fall through the cracks. Data analysts are the failsafe companies employ to ensure they get the most out of their data. Spotting trends, assigning value and predicting outcomes are expected duties for data analysts, and all of those duties rely on a keen eye.
  • Written and verbal communication skills: Once data analysts have curated results and strategies for a company, those findings need to be communicated effectively to others. Data designed to help the company with business decisions won’t help anything unless other people can understand it. Sometimes data analysts work with copywriters and designers to create reports for their findings, but often it is up to the analyst to draft the results.

Most candidates for entry-level jobs will need a bachelor’s degree in math, statistics, computer science, information management, finance or economics. To advance in the career, most people will need to study analytics on the master’s level.

Career Outlook and Pay

Pay varies widely depending on position and employer. For example, a computer systems analyst’s median annual salary in 2017 was $88,270. Management analysts earned an average of $82,450. Specific high-end industries pay more for trained and qualified analysts. Industries like finance and pharmaceuticals are just some of the high-end industries that hire analysts – high-end meaning they offer large salaries and are generally well-regarded. Sports teams hire people with data analyst skills to comb through statistics to make decisions about players and plays. The book and movie “Moneyball” told the true story of how a data analyst turned around a failing Oakland A’s baseball season.

From 2016-2026, the job market for computer systems analysts is expected to grow by 9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For management analysts, this figure goes up to 13 percent. Data analysts are used in many different growing fields including software development, telecommunication, social media, institutes of higher learning, manufacturers and the government.

Learn Data Analyst Skills Today

Notre Dame of Maryland University can help you pursue a career in the in-demand field of data science. The University offers a fully online Master of Science in Analytics that can help you become an asset in your current role or prepare you for the jobs of the future. NDMU has strong networks with regional businesses and 75 percent of graduates are directly applying their research projects to their jobs.