What’s in a name?

18 August 2017

Ed Thewlis, MD, DataShed

Ed Thewlis, MD, DataShed

The world of data is relatively new and we’re all working out how to find our way in this increasingly important and complex area of business and technology. However, one area which is making this more difficult than it needs to be is what to call the people who manage it.

There is a desire to gravitate towards the ‘rockstar’ job titles that are used by the likes of Google, Facebook and other massive data organisations, where job titles such as ‘data scientist’ and ‘data engineer’, are appropriate. 

In an effort to emulate these organisations, other companies have now begun re-labelling perfectly valid job titles. This is causing significant challenges for the data industry. Not only do businesses need to find people who can help them make sense of their data, and then start to use it to drive better understanding of customers and the marketplace, now they also need to decipher the random allocation of job titles, as well.

For instance, taking a ‘management information analyst’ who was building simple reports as recently as two years ago and calling them a ‘data scientist’ is madness, as they typically lack the necessary skills to perform the role. A data scientist needs to be able to operate at a strategic level within an organisation, utilising all the data available to them and applied statistics to model and predict outcomes and events, and then building propositions to help shape the future of the business.

Similarly, calling a ‘database administrator’ a ‘data engineer’ generates further issues. Someone who is experienced in making sure that core business systems are working and optimised does not necessarily have the necessary skills of a data engineer. The latter is someone, who must be able to understand the operations of a business through the data it holds, write complex data pipelines in a variety of languages, and produce modelling so that analysts and data scientists (note the distinction) can utilise it.

For someone who works in the data industry every day, it’s confusing; for businesses seeking to start making use of their data, it must be absolutely baffling. 

It’s time to start revisiting some of the less fashionable job titles like ‘management information analyst’, ‘ETL engineer’ and ‘credit risk analyst’, and do away with the sexier-sounding but much less meaningful ‘rockstar’ ones once and for all.