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Analytics and data jobs: What employers are looking for

IT managers at Ecolab share the skills they're looking for when recruiting developers and analysts for their data-driven operation.

Where are IT jobs going in the cloud era? Why are so many schools and software vendors offering data science certifications? How can IT professionals stay relevant and thrive as traditional maintenance and administration tasks are automated?

These are questions we've tackled in our conversations with ZDNet editorial experts and IT implementers in the field here at Cloud Strategies for Smarter IT.

You'll find some interesting stories about IT managers whose jobs evolved from server administration to data analytics in our coverage of G&J Pepsi-Cola Bottlers. Here, we'll focus on developers whose day-to-day activities have changed dramatically as data repositories and server instances moved from on-premises infrastructure to the cloud.

What's in a name?

"We've heard the term data scientist, that's been around for a while, but now there are also data stewards," said Andrew Brust, big data analyst expert and contributor to ZDNet, in a conversation with Cloud Strategies for Smarter IT. "We also now have data engineers, which I think is a much more honest version of what data scientist was trying to encompass as a term."

The common denominator of all these titles is the ability to find actionable insight in massive data stores, then figure out how to adjust services or equipment to capitalize on that insight.

That's exactly what happens at Ecolab, a global provider of water, hygiene, and energy technologies and services. Ecolab monitors industrial and municipal water systems using a vast network of sensors and probes. A team of some 60 developers work on mining this data for performance insights and trendspotting, working to help customers reduce water usage while ensuring safe and efficient operations.

"We're looking for people that understand data science and data engineering because, for us, the culmination of all this data we're collecting is the analytics and insights that we produce from it," said Kevin Doyle, Vice President of Global Digital Solutions at Ecolab. "We need the people that can start to decipher it and find the opportunities within the data. We're [also] looking for people that can engage with customers and understand what their needs are, so that we can tailor solutions and talk to them from a technology standpoint about things that are impactful to them.

"The skills I'm looking for on my team would include, certainly, the development capabilities. We want good developers. The cloud creates a lot of ability for us to move agilely in the development path. I like to see people that do work under an agile environment, so they know what it means to rapidly prototype and try things," Doyle continued. "People don't want to see us PowerPointing them to death with solutions anymore. They want to see real solutions, what technology can deliver, and it can deliver rapidly."

A data democracy

One important idea that came up in numerous conversations is that analytics isn't just about mathematicians and statisticians; anyone who has a good grasp of operations and customer needs can contribute in this emerging field.

"Innovation in the data space can come from anywhere. It can come from our development professionals. It can come from our marketing organization, our business organization. Even our field sales folks provide that input," said Craig Senese, Director of Analytics and Development at Ecolab. "We try and gather as much of that as we can as we move into these analytics projects, because you have different levels of expertise and different points of view on how these things should proceed."

"We look for people that have skills in uniquely solving problems, leveraging technology," Doyle added. "How do I use IOT or cloud and big data to [find] different ways to do things and different models to do the things that we're doing today?"

Agile learning

Developers should focus on the ability to "understand the data and do predictive analytics - those kinds of things will be useful for developers," said Bhavik Shah, Application Development Manager at Ecolab. He also talked about working in a Microsoft Azure cloud environment. "Azure is not different than what we used to do, but understanding how Azure works will help the developer to make sure that they are ready for cloud computing. Cloud computing, big data, those kinds of things are what all developers should start learning about."

"You really need to keep learning in this field and it's not just the technologies -- the products are in much more frequent release cycles," Brust pointed out. "Even the armchair folks have to keep on their toes."

Mary Jo Foley, ZDNet's resident Microsoft expert, added: "Once you feel like you've mastered what is happening in IoT, what is happening in big data, it changes almost weekly. It's really important to go to conferences, network with people. Make sure you take courses that are available online. Get the data science credential from Microsoft if you're interested in being in machine learning and big data. You have to stay educated more than you ever have had to before. Because more of the traditional IT role is moving to the cloud these days, so it doesn't hurt to have more skills in your toolbelt."

Check out the Ecolab team and hear from them firsthand here.

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