BigData100: Identifying data stars of the future

How the new world of Big Data is starting to offer real career opportunities for savvy individuals ready to take on the challenge

“Look, I’m just a normal person, right…”says Tamara Gaffney, Principle Analyst at Adobe Systems who has been named as one of DataIQ’s Big Data 100.

This was last night’s swanky media event at Kensington Roof Gardens where we happened to strike up chat over a glass of champagne. Gaffney, who is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, had decided to combine a business trip to London with attending the event.  

However, what makes Gaffney’s story interesting - if perhaps not unique in today’s data climate - is despite the job title she is not a numbers person. “See me try to work out a tip!” she says with feeling “I have a team of five people who do [the numbers].”

Her skill, which originated from advertising, is to tell a story. And her ascent into the media spotlight has been a rapid one. First she was selected for internal recognition by Adobe. Then, in August 2014 she was profiled by Fortune Magazine as one of the top 20 Big Data stars of the US. After that she was picked up by DataIQ work her work in Europe.  

This is the promise of Big Data because, in truth, everyone is finding it hard to navigate this world. It is a paradigm shift for businesses in terms of skills, logistics and, of course, mind-set. As Julia Porter, director of consumer revenues at the Guardian, who was named overall winner at the event explained in her a speech, this trickles through every aspect of an organisation. The challenge as she put it is: how do you get “everyone” on a data course?

Yet, naturally enough, it also opens up serious opportunities for career advancement. As David Reed, Editor of DataIQ said, events like this give people excellent exposure and recognition. During his speech he urged people to get on the website and “nominate themselves” for next year.

This might all be a mighty fine PR push for individuals and media outlets alike, but it is also true that Big Data has baffled many businesses for too long. Now an industry is starting to solidify and it is encompassing a huge array of varied skills including, safe data collection, strong technical abilities, analytical talent… and old fashioned story telling.

It won’t be long before the data industry becomes as rigid and prescriptive as all those other more established professional areas out there. But for the time being it is still a bit of a free for all, providing a raft of varied chances for advancement. And as always, it will be the luckiest and the most savvy career professionals who get in there and corner the interesting openings.

The impressive thing is just how quick this transition has been. Only a few years’ back data was derided as the dullest thing in the world.