Become a Data Analyst: Education and Career Roadmap

Explore the requirements to become a data analyst. Learn about the job description and duties, and review the step-by-step process to start a career as a data analyst.

Should I Become a Data Analyst?

Data analysts compile and analyze data for businesses in order to identify problems and suggest possible solutions. They might also design and build databases to house the information they need, ensure data accuracy and make recommendations to business managers about how to improve efficiency or quality based on their findings. Data analysts typically spend many hours sitting at a desk in front of a computer.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; some jobs may require a master's degree
Degree Field Information technology, statistics, or a related field
Key Skills Analytical and mathematical skills; knowledge of database types; familiarity with data warehousing and data manipulation; experience working with various computer programming languages
Salary $82,940 (2014 average salary for all operations research analysts)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Graduate from a Bachelor's Degree Program

Most employers seek candidates with a bachelor's degree in information technology or statistics. Bachelor programs in information technology may offer a concentration or minor in data management. Classes may cover topics in systems analysis and design, emerging technologies, business practices and trends, IT project management and database management systems. Programs in statistics focus more on mathematical analysis of information than on the information databases themselves. Classes in these programs may cover topics like applied regression analysis, statistical mathematics, discrete data analysis, probability, linear algebra and programming.

Success Tip:

  • Complete a minor in applied statistics or data analysis. Some bachelor's degree programs may not offer concentrations related to data analysis. However, schools may offer minors in data analysis or statistics. These minors may be available through a school's computer science, information technology or mathematics department. Having a minor in applied statistics or data analysis can make it easier to find a job as a data analyst after graduation.

Step 2: Gain Experience as a Data Analyst

Since most data analyst jobs require some experience, individuals should initially pursue entry-level positions, like as an statistical assistant or actuarial technician. Many of these jobs include informal on-the-job training with more experienced workers. An entry-level position will likely provide experience with analytical software like SAS or SigmaStat, financial analysis software like PolySystems Asset Delphi, or basic spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel. Aspiring data analysts should also seek out jobs that give them experience working with Structure Query Language, a programming language used in most data analysis jobs.

Step 3: Consider Pursuing a Master's Degree

Some employers may prefer to hire applicants with advanced degrees, so prospective data analysts may want to consider furthering their education in statistics, information analysis, or other related fields like management information systems (MIS). These programs offer courses and seminars in topics such as HTML coding, e-commerce, data warehousing, software testing, and software architecture. Some of these programs also require completion of an independently researched master's thesis on an information systems topic or a practicum, which could contribute to an aspiring data analyst's on-the-job experience.

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