Moody back at RowdMap, has an office in Maine and is one of the employers Landry spoke to. “These are difficult positions to fill,” he said. “We tend to build toward openings by understanding what the talent pool will look like in the future partly through relationships with local universities like UNE. We’re always recruiting.” He said that with offices in smaller markets such as Louisville, Kentucky and Portland, Maine, RowdMap has to be more active than companies in larger markets. “But we don’t see this as a disadvantage,” he said. “We end up with better candidates in the long run. In a small company they can be part of a project start to finish. We don’t have a lot of turnover.”
While Health Catalyst has over 400 employees and is located in Salt Lake City, Just reports that his company is also challenged in hiring. The health analytics market is getting crowded with new companies starting up all the time. In response, his company has turned internally to build organization-wide competencies and cross train employees. “Our data scientists are teaching our data architects and clinical team members the science behind the algorithms.” In this way he explained, his clinical teams can help often skeptical physicians understand what is behind the information their analytics tools are giving them.
Defining Big Data Roles and Skills
While the jobs are out there, Landry admitted that she struggles articulating to her students what the jobs are. “These jobs don’t tie up into a simple one-liner job title, and all companies use a different word to describe the same job. I think it’s confusing job seekers,” she said. She explained that while one company might advertise for a Data Analyst, another may be recruiting for an Associate in Informatics, both with the same job responsibilities.
And on the flip side, while she is seeing a lot of interest in big data related training and degree programs, she’s having the same issues communicating what her degree program is about as the employers are with jobs. “This field of study is so new that it’s difficult to put your finger on the pulse,” she said. “It’s not like nursing programs with the all same accreditation and curriculum regardless of where you go. A Master of Informatics degree is going to look different at each institution.”
And that might be OK, according to Moody, because the skills he’s looking for are broad and varied. “We are a smaller organization, so we don’t have overly specialized jobs. Our training is tailored to the individual, but relies heavily on hands-on and increasingly difficult assignments.” He said he finds that people with a breadth of skills do a lot better in big data type roles than those with a contained career path. “I find it less interesting when someone has a computer science background and moved from entry level to management as a java developer for example.” Rather, Moody is looking for someone with varied experience. “While we used to be tied to certain tools, we are now more platform and tool agnostic.”
Just points out that because the field is moving so quickly, formal technical training is less important than real world experience. “We need people that can take the analytics, determine what is clinically relevant, and walk through that with the clinical teams. “In a job interview, I’m not going to ask about training, I’m going to ask for stories about deploying and using analytics to change business operations and clinical practice.”
“we need people that can take the analytics, determine what is clinically relevant, and walk through that with the clinical teams“
Both Moody and Just acknowledge that technical experience is needed, but both argue that soft skills such as critical thinking and presentation style are equally, if not more important.
A former hospital director of informatics herself, Landry agrees. “While people may be great technological minds, they can lack the ability to communicate effectively.” So that is where she explained her program focuses most heavily. “You can teach someone to crunch numbers on the job. But if they don’t have the self-motivation and the social skills, they aren’t going to be very successful in this field.”
Breaking Into Big Data
So what do Landry, Moody and Just suggest someone do if they want to get into the big data field?
First off, all three suggest the person get acquainted with several database and visualization tools, and agree that SQL is the big daddy of big data. “If you can learn SQL, you can learn R, SAS, or Tableau, but it’s harder in the reverse,” advocated Moody. “When I look at a resume, I’m also looking for someone who has picked up and mastered multiple tools and platforms so that I know they can pick up the next tool that comes along.”
And along with a baseline technical background, all suggest those interested in the field get at least some healthcare exposure. “I had a student who worked in office management for a large electronic health record company,” described Landry. “He wanted to move over into the clinical side and so he got some training and worked weekends as an ER tech.”