Tech skills of tomorrow: Data

By Jordan Morrow

The tech landscape is changing fast.

With a seemingly endless number of programs, languages and frameworks at your disposal, it can be difficult to know what tool is a flash in the pan, and what has the power to shape the future of your technology organization. But it doesn’t have to be a mystery.

We asked four experts in software development, data, machine learning and cloud computing about which hard and soft skills companies will need to thrive in the 2020s. Here’s what to pay attention to and invest in as you map out your tech strategy for the next year (and the next decade).

Over the past five to 10 years, we’ve seen unprecedented gains in the sheer amount of data being produced on a daily basis. And organizations of all sizes are trying to capitalize on it.

As software, tools and algorithms get more advanced at not only producing data but also at gathering, governing and analyzing it, the skills needed to succeed are going to evolve. It doesn’t take a long search on Google or Indeed to see that data, analytics, storytelling and business intelligence skills are in high demand. The ability to utilize data effectively makes employees indispensable for organizations.

As individuals build their personal prowess in data skills, they will help not only their own personal careers, but embolden and empower organizations to truly succeed with data and analytical strategies.

The state of data science

Data science skills are in hot demand, and will continue to be. But there’s an issue with only focusing on data science: a majority of people are not going to school to become data scientists or statisticians. We need to give just as much importance to skills in the broader realm of data literacy, which includes the ability to read, analyze and communicate with data.

One particular aspect of data literacy that’s gaining steam is the role of data storyteller. The data storyteller (sometimes called a data translator or data interpreter) is the person who can bridge the gap between the data and business sides of a company. This role has become more common with the growing realization that the data and analytics world needs people with skills in the arts and humanities.

There is also a large opportunity right now for individuals with the skills to take the data an organization produces, translate it back to the organization’s goals and make a strong decision with the information. This field of data-informed decision-making — combined with data literacy skills — encompasses a unified approach to data, allowing the human and scientific elements to work in tandem.

What’s hot in data

There are many companies and industries that are already tapping into the data revolution and finding success.

One major industry making great steps to evolve and embrace data is healthcare. The healthcare industry by nature generates a lot of data, so the ability of that workforce to have data literacy skills that allows them to provide effective

treatment can literally mean life and death. For example, when hospitals are looking at bed turnover rates, utilizing data is a great way to follow trends and put in place solutions for improvement. Another way data can be used is when testing and treating sepsis. Studying trends, symptoms and outcomes through data helps doctors and hospitals improve solutions.

Much of physical retail has taken a blow from the digital revolution, but some organizations are transforming and succeeding by embracing data head-on. Forward-thinking retailers are transforming their business by using data and information to improve processes, from online grocery shopping and door-side delivery to inventory management.

What you need to succeed in data in the future

I hope I’m not the first one to tell you this, but we’re not going back to the days of the VCR or dial-up internet any time soon, so we need to embrace the future. Here are three things we need to do to succeed in the future of data:

Be a very curious person

There’s power in simply asking questions of the data and information in front of you, and good questions are the catalyst to analytic success.

Develop the ability to effectively communicate with data

How many of us have ever had conversations at work with individuals in other departments and been met with a blank stare? If you have, there’s a good chance it was during a conversation around data. But here’s the thing: The onus is actually on you to make sure you are understood, and that takes a wide range of soft skills. Data is a science, but sometimes we forget that it’s also an art, so practice and refine your craft.

Embrace the data revolution

The world of data is not slowing down. We aren’t suddenly going to stop producing and collecting data. If we want to make clear-eyed business decisions and make products that are going to impact customers in meaningful ways, we have to embrace the fact that data is often messy and then put in the work to sift through it, understand it, and use it.

Not everyone is going to be (or even needs to be) a data scientist. But we all need to be data literate.

For organizations to succeed in data, it won’t take a mass hiring of PhDs to get you out in front, but rather upskilling your existing workforce to have a good combination of soft and hard skills. Data professionals do need hard skills, like Tableau, Qlik, Domo or other BI tools for data visualization. But the soft skills — the ability to communicate effectively, ask good questions of data and make well-supported decisions — are the secret sauce for data success.

About the author

Jordan Morrow is the Global Head of Data Literacy at Qlik, for whom he has worked the past 2+ years. Jordan started his career with American Express right out of the University of Utah, starting his career shortly before graduating. He started in the Accounting and Finance world, before transitioning to his passion: data. Jordan transferred to manage and lead the Business Intelligence Team over the American Express US Consumer Card portfolio, the largest portfolio of cards in the American Express arsenal.