Are data scientists overpaid?

Are data scientists overpaid?

Summary: The role shows up on a new "top 10 overpaid jobs" list. Joy.


So here I am, browsing the web on this fine -- actually, snowy; the spring weather is topsy-turvy here in the northeastern United States -- Monday afternoon when I spot the following headline: "The 10 Most Overpaid Jobs."

Absolute click bait, no doubt -- but I'll indulge; I'm feeling daring. (God knows "reporter" won't appear on it, so hey, why not see how the other half lives?)

Among the usual suspects (patent attorney, $170K) and new economy surprises (brand strategist, $91K) is a role that's near and dear to business technology types that read ZDNet, yet so new (in name, anyway) that we're surprised it made the list: data scientist.

That's right: as we debate who or what a data scientist is and whether companies need them, U.S. News & World Report -- that bastion of relevance -- has already decided that they're overpaid, at $133,000 per year, based on data obtained by PayScale.


"Big data is the next big thing, and these quantitative experts -- typically with doctorates in math or similar fields -- earn big bucks for developing the models and algorithms that will help corporations gain a marketing or competitive edge," the authors write. "What's in it for the ordinary people whose data is being scrutinized is less clear."

Hmm. Here's what "overpaid" means to USN&WR:

To identify the most overpaid workers, U.S. News analyzed data provided by compensation experts at PayScale to highlight occupations characterized by relatively high pay for relatively easy work. This is admittedly an inexact science with subjective criteria. "Overpaid" means different things to different people, and many workers represented on our list have perfectly legitimate jobs requiring skill, talent and training.

What we tried to suss out are occupations that have been largely exempt from the do-more-with-less ethos so many workers are familiar with, and might even be considered enviable jobs. To help generate our list, PayScale sorted data on thousands of occupations to isolate those in which median pay is well above the norm. The final list includes jobs held by people who report relatively low levels of stress (a proxy for how demanding the work is) and who feel their job doesn't necessarily make the world a better place.

It's that last line that really surprises me. Low stress? Big data? Did I miss the memo?

In addition to the data scientist, "consulting software engineer" ($123K) and "interaction designer" ($116K) also made the list. Both of these are usually found at web-based technology companies, or at least contracted by them.

Do you agree with this assessment? There is plenty of hype around big data, certainly, and there are many products and services on offer already that claim to analyze huge amounts of data at a rapid clip. On the other hand, data scientists tend to be masterfully educated and skilled in cross-disciplinary thought -- which certainly helps in translating to a higher paycheck.

Overpaid, underpaid or an all-around ridiculous statement? Data scientists out there, tell us what you think.

Topics: Big Data, Tech Industry

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • Outside of unions and minimum wage

    there is no such thing as overpaid. You'll get paid exactly what someone thinks you are worth. No more, no less.
  • Over paid? Heck NO

    For all the years of College and all the practical experience required to effectively compete in this field, $150,000 is more like it! Over paid, heck no because a truly experience Data Scientist can companies millions in Fraud Detection, Product Management and Placement, New Products (CPG), Targeting for New Customers and I could go on for days! I'm on LinkedIn as datanerd13 and Twitter as @data_nerd - Yes, Virginia we are real and expensive but VERY MUCH worth it!
  • Data Scientist

    These use to be called number crunchers. But now we don't only do numbers. And no, I don't think a data scientist necessarily has PHD's, or even MS/BS etc..... after their names. The real data scientists are the people who do big data, day in and day out. The right 50 characters of information for the right person, only gives you one sale. The same for six billion customers, gives you a market.

    So how much they are paid is a function of numbers. Do they return value for their input? If so, pay them well or they will work for your competitor. rlc
  • Fake data scientists overpaid, real ones underpaid

    Read my two articles "Fake Data Science" and "Horizontal vs. Vertical Data Scientist". Many real data scientists are actually unemployed and can't find a job. The number of applicants per job ad ranges from 20 to 500 - you can check these numbers yourself on LinkedIn. You can read "debunking lack of analytic talent" for more info.

    In my case, I generate leads for marketers. A good quality lead is worth $40. The costs associated with producing one lead is, in my case, $10. It requires data science to efficiently generate a large number of highly relevant leads, purchasing the right traffic, organic growth optimization etc. If I can't generate at least 10,000 leads a year, nobody will buy due to low volume. If my leads don't convert in actual revenue and produce ROI for the client, nobody will buy.

    Also, thanks to data science, I can sell leads for a lower price than competitors. Am I overpaid if I can deliver the leads with a higher margin? No, I'm just smarter than competition. At the end of the year, my revenue after cost is far above $133k, yet I don't feel overpaid, and my clients don't feel that our service is expensive - if they did they would stop working with us.
    Vincent Granville
  • The people who built the ZDNET profanity filter are overpaid

    Very poor quality control
  • Most people are fairly paid

    Most people are fairly paid because the market sets their salaries. This includes unions and minimum wage because unions negotiate with management for appropriate compensation and minimum wages are set by society as a whole through our elected representatives, not by the people receiving minimum wage. The people who are overpaid are those who have subverted the free market to set their own wages. Here are a few:
    CEOs and Board of Directors set their own wages. Board of Directors set their own compensation. CEO A sitting on the Board of Directors B helps to decide on compensation of CEO B. Next month, CEO B sitting on Board of Directors A helps to decide on compensation of CEO A. Think United Auto Workers central setting wages for United Auto Workers Ford local.
    Doctors – American Medical Association controls supply by limiting number of doctors graduated and by setting certification criteria for foreign doctors. AMA also publishes “suggested” fee schedule. Think IT professionals creating a professional organization, limiting people who can work in IT, and publishing “suggested” salaries.