What every Data Scientist needs to learn from Business Leaders
You've learned so much to become a Data Scientist. Now, it's time to kick it up to the next level with advanced soft skills -- because these are important to the business for which you empower to make better decisions. Learning from the business leaders you support will help you develop a broader set of enhanced skills that will boost your Data Science quality and output.
By Rhea Moutafis, Pursuing PhD on Dark Matter physics.
Data Scientists are accustomed to teaching business leaders about their craft. And business leaders are accustomed to learning loads of stuff from many different fields.
But what about the opposite way around? Somehow Data Scientists are treated like they’re magic gurus who can talk to data and extract something business-y. There’s only one catch: the fact that most Data Scientists know nothing about business.
At the moment, the job market for Data Scientists is pretty awesome. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t continuously enhance your skills. Without further ado, here are seven key competencies of business leaders that every Data Scientist should acquire.
You’re a scientist. If you’re like me, you love roaming around in datasets, without a focused question, and let the data speak to you.
But here’s the thing: you might be wasting your time.
Be honest with yourself. How often do you decide to explore something, and find nothing? How much of your day do you spend investigating things that aren’t useful to your client?
If you’re like me, a lot of your time doesn’t lead to actual results. In fact, I often spend most of my time exploring things and learning new stuff. And when I don’t watch out, I spend too much time generating no output whatsoever.
Business leaders are always thinking about becoming more efficient. Their top priority is trying to understand how to maximize their output with a minimum of effort.
Of course, you need to look at your data with a fresh eye and an open-ended mindset. But don’t let that lead to less output.
I like to schedule a time every day where I can freely roam around in the data. The rest of the day is dedicated to the goals of the project. This way, I’m prioritizing goals while keeping open to new findings that I would have otherwise missed.
2. Project Management
Think of the last five scientists that you’ve collaborated with. How many of them are great in project management? And how many of them suck at it?
There are certainly scientists who do a great job of organizing their projects, planning the next steps and controlling their success. But there’s also a huge proportion of Data Scientists who could do with some classes on it.
And since you’re working on projects all the time, it’s a skill worth investing in even if you believe that you’re already good at it.
The good news is, you don’t need to get an MBA or devour a pile of online classes. You can learn a lot about project management by observing those people who do it for a living — business leaders.
You probably see business leaders on a daily basis anyway. Why not learn from the best?
3. Interpersonal Skills
I’m the kind of person who’s happiest in front of their laptop. If I have to talk to people, that gets me stressed, which is not unusual for a scientist.
But like me, you probably need to deal with people every day. And if you screw up a conversation, that could ruin perspectives for the future. So you want to get it right.
How do you make people feel good when you’re around? How do you make them happy? How do you make them do what you want them to do?
Business leaders are — well — leaders. Making people do stuff is their job description.
Watch how business leaders treat the people around them. How do they treat people who are in a lower, higher, or the same level of the hierarchy? How do they treat you? How do they meet expectations?
Great leaders are great coaches. They teach their team where to go and what to do. They augment their team’s skills and make them have a higher impact.
They do it because they know one thing: lift others up, and you’ll be lifted up yourself.
In Data Science, that’s a little harder. But if you’ve ever coached an intern, or helped a student, you know how much you learn in the process. Not only are you enhancing someone else’s skills — but your own, too.
Not only are you increasing your scope of technical skills and getting a fresh view of your work by somebody else. You’re building on your interpersonal skills, too.
And by teaching people, you’re making sure that your knowledge lasts beyond your lifetime.
5. Decision Making
If you think that you don’t have many decisions to make, think again. From the perspective of a business person, the very purpose of Data Science is to help to make decisions.
Data helps you decide whether it’s more lucrative to invest in country A or country B, or produce more of product X or product Y. You’re literally the one telling business leaders how to decide.
That being said, it will help you bring a lot more value to your client if you know their skillset. If you’re employed as an aid to decision making, but that’s exactly what you suck at — then you’re a mediocre Data Scientist at best. Therefore, it should be your utmost duty to learn more about decision making.
6. Business Presentation
Again, this is a regular activity for most business leaders. While you don’t have a business to present, you have two other things which you can and should present: your work results, and yourself.
Presenting your work results in an amazing way will ensure that your client loves you. Presenting yourself will open doors for new opportunities.
You loved the slides that a business leader showed? Use their hacks on the next keynote you’re giving.
The way your boss presented their vision really inspired you? Try to convey a really inspiring message the next time you present your results.
If you’re more the risk-averse type, fear not: trying new methods doesn’t mean you have anything to lose! If you’re honest to yourself, your current methods probably suck, so almost any change is going to be beneficial.
If you’re like me, you’d like to negotiate about a higher salary, but you don’t really know how. You’ve read all the advice but still don’t feel comfortable about knocking on your manager’s door.
Again, this is a thing that business leaders are doing all the time. They’re constantly navigating conflicts of interest — be it between the leaders and the staff, between short-term profit and long-term quality, and so much more.
A good leader ensures the best possible outcome for the business by convincing the other parties that it is the best solution for them, too. In a similar way, you can ensure the best possible outcome for yourself by convincing the people around you that that’s best for them, too.
Observing the business leaders you know while they negotiate might just get you that pay-raise that you deserve.
Learn from business to supercharge your science
You’re a great scientist. But you can always do more.
Observing the business leaders in your circle will kickstart you to another level in your career. Try it!
Original. Reposted with permission.
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