How to become a top data science consultant?

Analytics Consultant

Years after Harvard Business Review wrote about data science being the "hottest job of 21st century", a lot of young talent are now attracted to this lucrative career path. Besides, high-level managers of large companies are now making almost all their important decisions using data-driven methods and analytics tools. 

With the trends of data-driven decision making and automation, many large corporations are adopting various data science tools to generate actionable recommendations or automate their daily operations, as well. The primary function of the consulting industry is to provide external and qualified talent to their clients, mostly global corporations. These global corporations follow strategic roadmaps for the growth of their business, usually by increasing their revenue or effectively manage their costs. For these objectives, they need to adopt artificial intelligence & big data technologies in different areas of their business. 

On the other hand, many of these global corporations are not necessarily tech companies with a large data science team. Therefore, they need to outsource the development of data science use cases to consulting companies within long- or short-term engagements. The engagements of consulting companies and their clients are in the form of short- and long-term projects that can last from months to up to several years. Therefore, consulting companies meet the demand of their clients by recruiting and training the top data science talents and assign these talents to consulting projects. 

Consulting is a typical career path for junior data scientists who want to gain a wide range of project experience in different industries. Working in the consulting industry is usually a great option to build up knowledge of business in various domains for data scientists who get to work in many different projects with large clients. Through these projects, one can understand the mindset of corporate decision-makers and what the high-level management of big companies are looking for in data science solutions. One can even expect to have interaction with managing director level employees of the clients to deliver them their new fancy analytics dashboard. 

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A data scientist in a consulting company can take up many different roles depending on the capability or department they are working at. Consulting companies usually do two significant types of client-facing work; (a) working as a data scientist in delivery projects and (b) conducting business development & sales activities. The former is usually done by working together with either a software development of the business analytics team. The daily operations of a data scientist include understanding the client's needs, creating data pipelines, exploratory data analysis, creating dashboards, building predictive models, deploying models in enterprise software, and communicating the insights to stakeholders. For the latter usually a data scientist work on high-level problem solving, use case definition, writing proposals, and technical demonstrations to prospective clients.

Becoming a successful data science consultant requires a wide range of skills, including domain knowledge, business acumen, analytical thinking & problem-solving, team-work & project management, communication & presentation, machine learning, big data, and software development. The skills mentioned above also hold during a job interview for a data science consulting job. In a nutshell, you have to demonstrate that you are a qualified data scientist who can work with a wide range of technologies. Yet, you have to be able to think out-of-box, have a solid understanding of business and what companies are trying to achieve using data science. 

Consulting companies have their own culture as well. The workload is often intensive and requires an agile & result-oriented work style to be able to deliver the values on time. The consulting work also involves a lot of traveling and attending meetings with many different clients. The business trips can take up to 4 days a week, meaning that the consultants may be away from home typically from Monday to Thursday every week. The competition is also very high both with other companies and sometimes even inside the same company. So you have to be prepared for some corporate politics as well. Going with the right expectations inside consulting companies is the key to becoming successful in this type of career. In other words, you have to know what you are gaining during your time at a consulting company and what is the cost you are paying for it. 

Some people choose to study a master of business administration (MBA) before, during, or after breaking into the consulting industry. While considering an MBA is useful for your business acumen, nowadays, working in some large consulting companies is an equivalent experience to going to business school. Working in the consulting industry helps you to understand more about business and gain hands-on experience in different business processes, too. 

There are also opportunities for becoming a domain-specific consultant. For example, if you have done projects in marketing analytics and are interested in this capability, you can choose the expert path in marketing analytics. Working as a domain-specific consultant is usually done in some large consulting companies but mostly on senior management level, where they have subject-matter experts or capability leads. Another option is working as a freelance consultant or starting your consulting agency in the specific domain that you are an expert at.

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