The rising stature of statisticians, who can earn $125,000 at top companies in their first year after getting a doctorate, is a byproduct of the recent explosion of digital data. In field after field, computing and the Web are creating new realms of data to explore — sensor signals, surveillance tapes, social network chatter, public records and more. And the digital data surge only promises to accelerate, rising fivefold by 2012, according to a projection by IDC, a research firm.
The demand for statisticians is consistent with a larger trend toward competing on analytics in enterprise. This trend has also given impetus to the need for other experts, especially in computer programming.
Though at the fore, statisticians are only a small part of an army of experts using modern statistical techniques for data analysis. Computing and numerical skills, experts say, matter far more than degrees. So the new data sleuths come from backgrounds like economics, computer science and mathematics.
Over the past several decades, firms have invested heavily into data management technology, including server and data-warehousing systems. These investments have created massive amounts of raw data that are begging to be analyzed by people trained and skilled in descriptive and inferential statistics, stochastic modeling, linear and non-linear forecasting, and so forth. The creation of so much raw data in recent years makes statistical analysis of that data a vital value-adding activity that enables competing on analytics.
“I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians,” said Hal Varian, chief economist at Google. “And I’m not kidding.”