Big Data

Are data scientists now available for just $30 an hour?

Image Credit: Casey Fleser/Flickr

Tapping the wisdom of a data scientist might not be cost-prohibitive after all.

Data scientist Vincent Granville came across analytics professionals who ask for $30 per hour on freelancer site Elance, according to a blog post he wrote earlier this week on the site Data Science Central.

Indeed, one Elancer called Andrew Collier, who identifies himself as a data scientist on his Elance profile, offers his services for as low as $25 an hour. He says he can do machine learning, modeling, data analysis, and visualization.

This could be a surprise for those who have heard how popular and sought after data scientists are today — and how they can earn six-digit salaries.

Pete Skomoroch, former principal data scientist at LinkedIn, finds the notion of data scientists working for such low wages dubious.

“While I empathize and I’m sure some people are having difficulty competing with offshore consultants, I think this story is an outlier that doesn’t match what I’m hearing from most data scientists on the market right now,” Skomoroch told me via email. “I know hundreds of data scientists inside and outside of Silicon Valley, and the story I hear from them is one of rapidly rising consulting rates and a barrage of recruiters in their inbox.”

He’s heard about rates of $300 or $400 per hour for top data consultants.

But free online courses, top-tier universities, and specialized programs offer training in data science, and they could be increasing the supply of data scientists and putting downward pressure on wages.

Some startups talk about automating certain parts of the work data scientists can do, but many data scientists point to shortcomings in such tools. So at least for now, companies across many industries are willing to bring aboard real, live, breathing data scientists.

It’s just that companies might not have to pay so much if they only need intermittent help from data scientists for certain kinds of tasks. Perhaps more low-level work could be outsourced for low fees.

Then again, you get what you pay for.

“If by data scientist, we mean ‘a person who can perform a data summary, aggregation, or modeling task that has been well-defined for them in advance’ then it is by no means a surprise that there are folks who can do this at a $30/hr price point,” John Foreman, chief data scientist at MailChimp, told me via email.

But if companies want highly technical engineers who can solve specific problems, or people who can take business problems and figure out how to solve them with data science, they might be willing to pay significantly more, Foreman wrote.

Still, rates as low as $30 per hour can’t be good for some data scientists seeking to make a living today.

“Those charging $150 to $250 per hour are having a difficult time finding new clients,” wrote Granville, who has done work for such companies as CNET, eBay, Visa, and Wells Fargo.

In his post, Granville provides tips that could help data scientists in the US bring in more money than just $30 an hour. He says that a US-based data scientist stands a better chance of getting work if they articulate the ability to meet in person, handle sensitive data, or work in the same time zone as a prospective customer.

But even when US-based data scientists offer advantages that their overseas peers can’t, some might no longer be able to command the eye-popping pay rates they could before, as more data scientists emerge.

Just don’t tell big data company Palantir, which pays the average intern more than $7,000 a month.


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