Are data scientists overpaid?

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.