It is no longer enough to apply for a data-driven job armed with an engineering degree and the ability to program. Over the past few years, big data has expanded outside of IT and business analytics and into departments as diverse as marketing, manufacturing, product development and sales.
As demand for data expertise grows across industries, the bar for what makes an acceptable, or better yet excellent, hire rises at pace. Competition is fierce, particularly among high-growth startups that tout big paychecks, pre-IPO stock options and premium perks. The most coveted data jobs require not only hard skills -- like coding in Python or knowing how to stand up a Hadoop cluster -- but critical soft skills such as how you present your findings to your company colleagues.
Working in the database industry for the past four years, I have spent numerous hours with candidates vying for an opportunity to join the big-data movement. Building the next great database company requires more than hiring a competent team of engineers with diverse backgrounds, skills and experiences. You have to find people who dare to innovate and embrace unorthodox approaches to work.
After interviewing a range of professionals working in the big data arena, I have found four mantras that distinguish top candidates in the process:
1. Subscribe to a multi-model mindset, not a monolithic one.
We no longer live in a one-solution world. The best solutions are often a mix of ideas and strategies, coalesced from diverse sources. Modern challenges require a distributed approach, which mirrors the distributed nature of the technology platforms emerging today.
2. Have a thesis about data and its positive impact on the world.
Know why you want to work in big data. Your future colleagues want to hear a compelling narrative about the ways in which you believe data is shaping the world, and why it matters. Use concrete examples to bolster your thesis and highlight any work you have done with data previously.
3. Hit the circuit; get the t-shirt.
Making strong interpersonal connections has always been important in business, so hanging out behind your screen all day will not cut it. Make it a point to meet tons of people in the data field. Go to conferences, meetups and other gatherings and actively, as well as respectfully, engage on social-media channels. One of the strongest indicators for success within a technology company is if you were referred in by an existing team member, so it is worth expanding your network.
4. Get your hands dirty.
Download a new software package or try a new tool regularly. New technologies are readily available online on GitHub and many vendors offer free community editions of their software. Build things. Break things. Fix things. Repeat. Post on your Github account, so your online profile is noticed too. This is a great way to show you are a self-motivated, creative problem solver with an active toolkit at your disposal.
As you enter the big data world, it is important to stay in tune with what makes you unique. When in doubt, keep your high-level goals in mind and push yourself to learn new things, meet people outside of your regular band of cohorts and embrace the twists and turns of an evolving industry. You will be a standout in no time.