Become a Data Analyst: Education and Career Roadmap

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

Do I Want to Be a Data Analyst?

Data analysts compile and analyze data contained in a computer database or elsewhere to identify problems and 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. Many work hours might be spent sitting at a desk in front of a computer.

Job Requirements

Most employers seek data analysts who possess a bachelor's degree in information technology or statistics. The basic requirements and skills necessary to work as a data analyst, as based on information found on job postings found in November 2012 are:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree, though some jobs require a master's degree
Degree Field Information technology, computer science, management information systems or statistics
Certification None required
Experience Most employers prefer candidates with 2-5 years of experience
Key Skills Analytical and mathematical skills, knowledge of database types and use, familiarity with data warehousing and data manipulation
Computer Skills Experience working with computer programming languages and shell scripting, knowledge of Perl, able to perform SQL queries

Step 1: Graduate from a Bachelor's Degree Program

Most employers seek candidates with a bachelor's degree in information technology or statistics. However, other employers seek candidates who have completed bachelor's degree programs in management information systems or computer science.

Bachelor of Science in Information Technology programs usually require four years of study. Some of these programs offer concentrations or a minor in data management. These programs provide instruction in database systems, business practices and trends, data communications and networking and designing database systems. Classes may cover topics like systems analysis and design, emerging technologies, IT project management and database management systems.

Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts programs in statistics focus more on numerical and mathematical analysis of information than the computer aspects of databases. These two programs contain similar coursework, with the exception that Bachelor of Arts programs may include a foreign language requirement. Classes in these programs may cover topics like applied regression analysis, statistical mathematics, discrete data analysis, probability, linear algebra and programming. Some programs allow students to concentrate in fields like actuarial science, business or mathematics.

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. These minors usually require 15 credit hours of study in topics like probability and statistics for engineers and scientists, database concepts, experimental design, statistical data mining and computer applications of statistics. 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: Begin Gaining Experience as a Data Analyst

Since most data analyst jobs require some years of experience, individuals should initially pursue entry-level data analysis jobs such as being a statistical assistant or actuarial technician. Many of these jobs have informal on-the-job training with more experienced workers, so this can help with gaining the required experience needed for several of the data analyst careers out there. Working at a job like this can provide a lot of experience with specific technology of this field, such as 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 SQL, which is a structure query language used in most data analysis jobs.

Step 3: Consider Pursuing a Master's Degree

Since some data analyst jobs allow applicants to substitute education for employment experience, individuals may want to consider furthering their education in statistics, information analysis, or other related fields like management information systems (MIS). Many colleges and universities around the U.S. offer Master of Science (M.S.) degrees in MIS or even more specific concentrations like Business Intelligence and Data Analytics. These programs have 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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