Data careers are NOT one-size fits all! Tips for uncovering your ideal role in the data space

Thriving as a data professional is about more than just making good money! It’s about FULFILLMENT & IMPACT. In this article, I will help you discover the BEST data role for you given your unique skill sets, personality & goals.

By Lillian Pierson, P.E., Mentor to World-Class Data Leaders and Entrepreneurs, CEO of Data-Mania

Since Harvard Business Review named Data Scientist the “sexiest job of the 21st century” back in 2012, it seems like everyone and their mom has been rushing out to develop their data science skills.

And for good reason! The demand for data scientists only continues to increase, and the salaries far exceed the national average in the US, with the median national salary for data scientists in the United States coming out to $129,000, according to the 2021 Robert Half Technology Salary Guide.

But looking past the online hype, should you REALLY pursue a role as a data scientist? 

Through mentoring data professionals, I’ve noticed a ton of people jump into data science without doing thorough research on whether it’s truly the role for them. They end up doing SO much work to get skilled up, only to land a data science position and find out they’re MISERABLE on the job. 

I know because I was one of those people.

I learned data science skills back in 2012 only to realize coding up and building data solutions was not going to give me the fulfillment and happiness I was searching for.

When it came down to it, data science implementation just wasn’t a fit. I started to realize that I needed to do something where I could see a visceral positive impact from my work.

So what did I do instead?

I moved from the U.S. to Thailand to bootstrap my own data business, Data-Mania. And let me tell you, has it ever been FUN!


Before you put in years of time and effort pursuing data science, let’s explore some different options. There are SO many career opportunities in the wonderful world of data.

In order to do a thorough analysis of what role would be best for you, we’ll take into account five different factors:

  • Current Skillsets
  • Career Goals
  • Personality
  • Priorities
  • Passions

By the end of this article, you’ll have a solid grasp on how to uncover your ultimate data dream job!


Current Skillsets

First, let’s analyze your current skills. I find most data professionals tend to have serious chops in one main area. Those main skillsets tend to be: 

  • Data Analytics Skills
  • Data Science Skills
  • Data Engineering
  • Data Leadership

If you’re analytics-oriented, you're great at data visualization, data storytelling, dashboard design - maybe you build dashboards and visualizations in Tableau or Power BI. You’re also able to use SQL to query and retrieve data.

If you’re data science-oriented, then you have programming experience, and Python and R. You have a deep understanding of machine learning, predictive modeling, statistics, and SQL. 

If you’re data engineering-oriented, you’ll have skills in ETL scripting and data warehousing. And as you get more advanced, you'll be working in distributed computing environments, building data pipelines, maintaining data systems, and working with NoSQL. You'll also know how to code in languages like C, c++, C sharp, Java, Scala, and engineer systems that utilize both NoSQL and SQL databases.

If you’re data leadership-oriented, then you excel at leading projects and teams. You’d be suited for a role like Project Manager, Product Manager or Stakeholder Management. Your superpowers lie in the realm of technical project management and data strategy! 

Career Goals

Now it’s time to think about your big-picture career goals. When you look to the future, where do you want to be in your data career?

Do you want to be in the spotlight leading profitable data projects?

Do you want to be behind-the-scenes coding and building data solutions but have more autonomy?

Or do you want to build your own product and work for yourself - and not have to answer to anyone?

Because that's definitely a possibility too! 


Let’s chat about personality type. Specifically, are you introverted or an extroverted?

If you're introverted, you'll be happier doing data implementation and coding work. You’ll LOVE getting to dive deep into the details and without the distraction of having to manage clients and team members.

If you’re extroverted, then you’ll be at your best in a data leadership type role. You’ll be able to use your people skills to manage teams and projects, rather than actually coding up solutions yourself! 


When we talk about priorities, I’m talking about what season of your career you’re in. 

Depending on your season you may have different priorities and needs. The way I like to think about this is through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that all humans have a desire for self-actualization, but in order for us to prioritize inner fulfillment we need to have our most basic needs taken care of first.

Source: Simply Psychology --


The needs are:

  • Physiological needs
  • Safety needs
  • Love and belonging needs
  • Esteem needs
  • Self-actualization needs

What’s important is that they’re taken care of in that order.

So what the heck does this have to do with your data career, you ask? 

Well, in the beginning of our career, fresh out of school with many of us carrying student loan debt, we’re usually looking to take care of our most basic needs (physiological and safety). Our priority is putting a roof over our heads and getting to a steady financial place.

But once we progress in our career, our needs change. We begin to want the recognition, the accolades, the promotions - in other words, our esteem needs. Finally, once we’ve gotten the money and the praise, we often find ourselves searching for MORE. This is the stage of seeking true fulfillment and greater impact as a data professional. 

Ask yourself: what are you craving most from your data career right now? Is it money? Is it freedom and accolades? Are you looking to make an impact?

For example, data implementation work is often the quickest route to securing a healthy income. Becoming a data entrepreneur or leader might take a bit more work upfront, but the long term fulfillment may be greater!


Think about what you’re MOST passionate about when it comes to data.

Most people in my community are drawn to one of four areas:

  1. Coding
  2. Consulting with the business
  3. Managing projects, products and programs
  4. Visioning and improvising.

Ask yourself - what is the most fun for you? What gives you the most energy?

If it’s coding, you’ll definitely want to look into a data implementation role. But if that's managing programs, and projects and products or consulting with the business, then consider a data leadership role. And if innovation is more your jam, then you may have an entrepreneurial bone!

The world is your oyster with a data skillset. There’s no need to limit yourself to data science simply because it’s one of the most talked-about tech careers. By diving deeper into your personality, passions, goals, and skillsets, you’ll be able to land a job that not only pays well but brings you true fulfillment in the long run. 

If you’ve enjoyed learning about the different data career paths you can pursue, you’d LOVE my free Data Superhero Quiz! You’ll uncover your inner Data Superhero type and get personalized data career recommendations that directly align with your unique combination of data skills, personality and passions.

Take The Quiz Here

Bio: Lillian Pierson, P.E. helps data professionals transform into world-class data leaders and entrepreneurs. To date she’s educated over 1 Million data professionals on AI. She’s also been delivering strategic plans since 2008, for organizations as large as the US Navy, National Geographic, and Saudi Aramco.