A year ago, data science was undeniably among the hottest tech careers. Even as recently as this past April, analytics salaries were holding steady. However, as in so many other areas, the pandemic changed everything.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, tech jobs seemed largely unaffected by the crisis. But that shifted throughout the late spring and summer. A July report from job site Indeed.com warned that technology job postings were not only below their 2019 levels, they were actually much lower than overall job postings. "On July 24, the overall job postings trend was 21% below its 2019 level," the site said. "But tech jobs were hit harder, settling at 36% below last year’s level for weeks and showing no signs of bouncing back."
And according to Indeed, data science job listings have fallen even more sharply than tech jobs in general. In fact, as of July they were 43% below their 2019 levels.
Why the sudden drop off in data science jobs?
Even before the pandemic began, analysts said that employers were shifting away from the "data scientist" title toward more specific descriptors. For example, a data science position focused on security might be called "cybersecurity analyst," rather than "data scientist." Or a data science position focused on using machine learning to create new products might be called an "AI product manager."
But this specialization trend doesn't tell the whole story. The overall number of data science jobs with any title has also fallen.
A report in the MIT Sloan Management Review explained that data science models were completely inadequate at predicting what was happening in 2020. Because no one has experienced a year quite like 2020 in recent memory, no one had data that could help predict what would happen. As a result, the report said, organizations pushed pause on their advanced analytics efforts and turned their attention to basic reporting that could at least tell them what was going on. The report authors wrote:
"Every analytics manager we spoke with described the same basic reaction as the pandemic began to disrupt their operations: Regardless of whether the pandemic caused the demand for their company’s products and services to plummet (as it did for, say, apparel) or to spike dramatically (for instance, toilet paper), there was an almost instantaneous shift away from more advanced analytics focused on prediction and optimization to descriptive analytics such as reports and data visualization."
Does that mean data science jobs are going away for good?
Probably not. Most people who study career trends for a living seem to believe that data science jobs will eventually rebound and become even more essential than ever. While it might be slightly more difficult than it was in the past to find a data science job during the next few months or even a year, salaries still seem to be rising, which is a good sign for those in the field.
The following slides take a closer look at 10 different job titles associated with data science. In addition to offering a description of each, they also include average salary data and the number of job postings on Indeed.com for each job title at the time of writing. It's worth noting that the salary numbers come from three different sources that use three different methodologies, which accounts for the differences among them. The Indeed salary averages come from job postings, the Glassdoor numbers come from site users who self-report, and the Robert Half figures come from surveys and other sources.
Cynthia Harvey is a freelance writer and editor based in the Detroit area. She has been covering the technology industry for more than fifteen years. View Full Bio