How to Become a Data Analyst

Big data and business analytics revenues are expected to reach about $1.9 billion in 2019, according to IT-Online. This represents a 12% increase from 2018 and highlights the large role that big data has begun to play in the global economy. The intersection of business and technology has never been more important, and it’s changing the way many are approaching their careers. One position that has become in demand is a data analyst.

What Is a Data Analyst?

As big data has become more relevant to various industries — health care, business, government and education, to name a few — there’s been an increased need for competent professionals to interact with these data sets. The average person may see data sets as large groups of random numbers and characters, but a data analyst can draw meaningful conclusions from them.

What Does a Data Analyst Do?

Problem-solving is one of the most important aspects of a data analyst’s role. Data modeling can enable data analysts to identify previously undetected trends in their collected data and thus use their quantitative reasoning skills to offer suggestions and glean further insights from the data. Data analysts process data differently depending on the industry. For instance, data analysts working for financial firms may work with sales figures, whereas those working in health care may be more concerned with patient outcomes and drug efficacy figures.

Data analysts must be adept at creating data collection systems. By implementing efficient systems, these data professionals can generate comprehensive reports for further action by management. The source of the data must be high quality to ensure fact-based outcomes, and data analysts must possess professional skills and expertise in analysis techniques for data collection. The capacity to present quantitative findings comprehensively and intelligibly is imperative for data analysts, as their colleagues may be less familiar with the technical aspects of data interpretation.

According to Trilogy Education, the five most in-demand skills for this position are data analysis, SQL, data management, business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing. Data analysis pertains to drawing significant conclusions from a data set. SQL is a programming language that enables data analysts to pull information from databases. Data management refers to structuring databases using efficient methods. BI is applying data-driven solutions to business problems. Data warehousing is combining data into one location to run analytics. These data and statistics tools are important for those interested in becoming a data analyst and will enable them to sort and analyze data effectively.

Steps to Become a Data Analyst

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

A degree in math, statistics, computer science or a similar field is an effective way to prepare for a data analyst career. These fields will expose students to the types of skills they’ll use daily. The degree will show employers their competency in the field, and that they’re ready for hands-on experience.

Step 2: Gain Relevant Job Experience

Aspiring data analysts should search for jobs that will enable them to work directly with data sets to draw conclusions. Since many of these jobs require work experience, getting an internship or on-the-job training, while or after completing a bachelor’s degree, can be invaluable for gaining the skills necessary to function in a full-time role. Students who want to become a data analyst should ensure that the responsibilities included in their internship or on-the-job training pertain to the technical role that data analysts perform in a given organization.

Step 3: Receive a Master’s Degree

A Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) can benefit those who want to stand out as candidates for more senior roles and responsibilities. By specializing in a data analysis field, master’s graduates will receive an invaluable toolkit to succeed in higher-level jobs. This degree grants both an academic and a real-world understanding of the many roles a data analyst must play and can sharpen their skills to meet the demands of a fast-paced field through their coursework.

Salaries of a Data Analyst

At the time of writing, according to ZipRecruiter, a data analyst’s average annual salary is $65,739. Data analysts in the 25th percentile earn $45,500, while those in the 75th percentile earn $78,000. Many factors — such as employment location, years of experience in the field and education level — affect the pay range.

Future Growth for Data Analysts

Due to many companies reporting difficulties finding highly skilled professionals in this field, data analysts are likely to have excellent job prospects. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of computer and information research scientists, including data analysts, is projected to grow 19% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.

Becoming a Data Analyst: Next Steps

If you’re interested in learning more about how to become a data analyst, it may be worthwhile to inquire about the University of Maryland’s online Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA). By studying the computer programs that data analysts use, students are exposed to the necessary skills and techniques these positions require. Maryland Smith’s online MSBA offers courses in data mining, database management systems and strategy analytics and is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Learn more about how you can develop the technical skills to succeed in this rewarding career.


Recommended Readings

Is Business Analytics a Good Career?

Learn Why a Master’s in Business Analytics Is Worth It

Master’s in Business Analytics Salary: Enhance Your Earning Potential



Forbes, “The Five Most In-Demand Skills for Data Analysis Jobs”

Houston Chronicle, “Data Analyst Job Duties”

IT-Online, Steady Growth for Big Data, Business Analytics

ZipRecruiter, Average Salary of Data Analyst Jobs

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer and Information Research Scientists