Op-Ed: Why Data Science Should Matter to USVI Millennials and Gen Z-ers

A young woman coding on her laptop at the beach. (Submitted photo)

Young adulthood is usually a time of uncertainty. Most of us want our lives to matter, and many of us aren’t sure how that will pan out when we’re in our late teens or even our twenties. It can seem like an even harder task to figure it all out when you come from a small place like the U.S. Virgin Islands. It seems like everyone your age wants to leave to avoid the discomforts of island life, chase “bigger and better” opportunities on the U.S. mainland, and only return to vacation. Maybe you think that’s what you should be doing too. And you can, but you don’t have to.

Here’s the thing: small communities are big opportunities for innovative ideas. And one of the ways you can make a huge impact is through a career in data science.

How Data Science is Changing the World

Impact is about problem solving, and data science isn’t just helping us solve global problems; it’s helping us solve them with historic efficiency.

Data science is a combination of technology and statistics that allows us to analyze large data sets and then derive key insights that make the data useful with predictions about the future and variable outcomes.

Problem solving via data science is taking place in a wide range of industries. For the pharmaceutical industry, data science can be useful in predicting how successful a drug will be based on biological factors. In banking and finance, data science can help institutions detect fraud or determine which customers are more likely to repay their loans. Data science can also help energy companies predict failure in their machines or how the weather could result in a power outage. Those insights can then help the energy companies take preventative measures, reduce maintenance costs, and serve consumers better.

There are so many other fascinating use cases of data science in sports, entertainment, social media, and e-commerce. Here are a few more examples that we thought were really interesting:

  • You can predict a basketball team’s chances of winning in the NBA Finals using insights from FiveThirtyEight, a website dedicated to data analysis.
  • In 2013, Spotify predicted the winners of four out of six Grammy Award categories based on its users’ streaming habits.
  • Right now, you can access insights on how the coronavirus pandemic impacted streaming habits in 2020 via Spotify’s newsroom.
  • Thanks to data science in social media, Facebook uses facial recognition tools to suggest that you tag yourself in pictures you may have never seen before.
  • Both Facebook and LinkedIn can suggest “People You May Know” using data science algorithms.
  • The reason Amazon can personalize recommendations for products that may interest you is data science. Data analysis of your purchase history and users who bought similar products is responsible for the recommendations that may tempt you to keep filling up your e-cart.

How Data Science Can Change Your Life

Just like what we’ve seen on a global scale, data science can be applied to any industry in the USVI. Data scientists have the power to develop algorithms and models that can help us make better decisions in how we curb frequent blackouts, manage our oil refinery processes, manage disaster recovery, protect our dying coral reefs, or how we manage diseases and viral outbreaks like that of the COVID-19 pandemic.

You could be one of those data scientists.

The thing is: people who can solve complex problems are valuable. That’s why they tend to be high-income earners.

So, we’ve already established that data science helps us to solve complex problems globally and locally. But guess what? There aren’t a lot of people in the USVI pursuing this field of study.

In 2019, only about 1 percent of the USVI workforce were working in careers related to data science (math and technology), according to occupation employment statistics from the Virgin Islands Department of Labor. Those jobs were among the higher paying jobs with a mean salary of $60,060. According to Glassdoor reports, the national average salary for a data scientist is $113,309. And in the U.S. Virgin Islands, risk analysts with data science experience can earn up to $175,000 a year. In other words, a career in data science can significantly improve your quality of life by increasing your ability to get high-paying jobs.

Another benefit of a career in this field is that it presents many opportunities for remote work. That means that you have the potential to do work that contributes to your home in the Virgin Islands or to the global community while living anywhere. Working out of St. Croix, our analysts at Cane Bay Partners use data science to help fintech companies from all over the world to improve their financial products and manage their resources better.

Although you could technically live anywhere while working in data science, you may want to consider the impact you could have on the local economy by choosing to stay in the Virgin Islands. With a high-paying job, your disposable income is likely to be higher than that of the average resident. When you spend that money here in the territory, you are contributing to the economic development in your home.

How to Know if Data Science is for You

While a career in data science has many advantages, it’s only a good choice if it’s a path that really interests you. Take some time to evaluate your strengths as an individual and what you’re most passionate about before making any big decisions.

Below are six characteristics of great data scientists.

  • Data scientists are deeply curious. They enjoy the challenge of figuring out how the systems of the world work.
  • Data scientists are rational in nature. They know that sometimes we make decisions based on what we hope to be true rather than what is true. They’re more interested in how accurate data can help us make the best decisions.
  • Good data scientists are consistent researchers. They are motivated to understand the best practices of data science itself and to understand their target industry so they can develop useful analytics.
  • Great data scientists are innovative. Not only are they analyzing data, they’re also curious about how they can use the data to develop new and executable ways to solve problems.
  • Data scientists are detail-oriented as developing effective algorithms and programming are essential parts of the job.
  • Data scientists also have incredible resolve. When one model doesn’t work, they must be willing to try another and another and another until they find the right one.

Start Learning Data Science

If those characteristics describe you, why not start taking steps towards a career in data science right away?

To master data science, you’ll need a solid understanding of programming and math concepts. You’ll need to be familiar with the Python and R programming languages, statistics, linear algebra, and calculus. Machine learning techniques and database manipulation will be useful too.

There is no one-size-fits-all path to how you learn the key concepts within these subjects. What’s most important is that you learn them. So, whatever route you take, learn to code and learn how statistical analysis works. The end goal is to make real-world data meaningful enough to drive decisions.

If you’re wondering what to study in college, there are undergraduate and master’s programs dedicated solely to data science. In fact, Cane Bay Partners made contributions to a data science minor program at the University of the Virgin Islands. And that’s an option, but data scientists can come from varying educational backgrounds. Many come from backgrounds in statistics, computer science, social sciences, economics, math, engineering, physics, or a combination.

But maybe college isn’t an option right now. The good news is that there are tons of books and online courses that can help you get a head start. Some are free.

You can start with the Class Central search engine for a compilation of both paid and free online courses from international instructors and top universities including Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, Davis, and University of California, San Diego. You might consider The Open Source Data Science Masters as another good option if you’re looking for a structured curriculum.

And if peer learning works for you, there are many who’ve taken nontraditional routes to data science careers and are sharing their experiences via blogs. You can find helpful material from writers such as Ken Jee, Santiago Víquez, and Harrison Jansma who’ve curated guides for data science enthusiasts.

But no matter how you decide to map out your learning, most professionals agree that it’s important to seek out real-world projects as you learn. Pick interesting problems and try to apply your data science training to help you solve them. For example, our data scientists at Cane Bay Partners contribute to financial inclusion for people who are underbanked. And there are other researchers in the Virgin Islands who use data science tools to understand more about astronomy or our fragile coral reefs.

What issues are you most passionate about? Where would you like to make the most impact?

The answers to those questions should be your motivation and compass throughout your learning.

Wrapping It Up

Opportunities can sometimes seem scarce in small communities like the U.S. Virgin Islands, especially when you’re a young adult getting ready to start your career. But the beauty of a career in data science is that it empowers you to create new opportunities and improve the quality of life for the people in your local community and even abroad. Data science helps us solve problems in varying industries. But if it’s a field that truly interests you, it also has the potential to personally impact you with a sense of purpose and with a career that can improve your quality of life.

Key Takeaways

  • Small communities like the Virgin Islands are big opportunities for innovative ideas.
  • A career in data science is one way to make an impact through innovation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • On a global scale, data science is transforming industries such as healthcare, finance, sports, entertainment, social media, energy, and city planning. It has the potential to do the same in the USVI.
  • Data scientists make an average of $113,309 in the United States. Earning that type of income has the potential to significantly improve your quality of life.
  • If U.S. Virgin Islanders with skills in data science choose jobs based in the Virgin Islands or remote jobs that allow them to live in the Virgin Islands, they can positively contribute to economic development by letting the dollars they earn stay here.

Editor’s note: David Johnson is one of the founders of Cane Bay Partners, a leading fintech consulting firm that provides solutions for companies that offer financial services. Its competitive advantage lies in its team of risk analysts, scorecard developers, technology and marketing professionals, and general business management consultants who work diligently to come up with innovative ideas.