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Help Wanted: Black Belts in Data

Starting salaries for data scientists have gone north of $200,000
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A new species of techie is in demand these days—not only in Silicon Valley, but also in company headquarters around the world. “Data scientists are the new superheroes,” says Pascal Clement, the head of Amadeus Travel Intelligence in Madrid. The description isn’t exactly hyperbolic: The qualifications for the job include the strength to tunnel through mountains of information and the vision to discern patterns where others see none. Clement’s outfit is part of Amadeus IT Holding, the world’s largest manager of flight bookings for airlines, which has more than 40 data scientists on its payroll, including some with a background in astrophysics. The company recently launched Schedule Recovery, a product that tracks delays and automatically rebooks all affected passengers.

A study by McKinsey projects that “by 2018, the U.S. alone may face a 50 percent to 60 percent gap between supply and requisite demand of deep analytic talent.” The shortage is already being felt across a broad spectrum of industries, including aerospace, insurance, pharmaceuticals, and finance. When the consulting firm Accenture surveyed its clients on their big-data strategies in April 2014, more than 90 percent said they planned to hire more employees with expertise in data science—most within a year. However, 41 percent of the more than 1,000 respondents cited a lack of talent as a chief obstacle. “It will get worse before it gets better,” says Narendra Mulani, senior managing director at Accenture Analytics.