Although analytics is a booming field, it is still relatively new in the grand scheme of things. Companies have been feeling their way along, determining how to staff teams and choose big data leaders as the field continues to grow. Recent research from Gartner shows the chief data officer (CDO) role is a new addition to executive leadership teams, with more than 80 percent of CDO positions being created in the last three years. Choosing big data leaders isn’t easy, so CIO magazine recently studied the paths that tech professionals are taking to this executive position. Here’s what they found.

The Linear Career Path

The linear path is, as you’d expect, a straight line moving upward through the ranks of analytics job functions. The linear path follows a natural progression from entry level to leadership. For example, a professional might start out in statistics, then move into machine learning, then analytics. The linear path is most commonly seen in tech professionals who stay with a single organization through the majority of their careers and hold a minimum of a master’s degree in the computer sciences.

The Nonlinear Career Path

Not every person who ends up in high-level analytics jobs follows a linear path. Many start out in a completely different discipline. They may have started out in functional IT roles or even began in roles completely outside of technology, like marketing, where they were exposed to analytics and decided to study the field more closely. These professionals tend to hold one or more advanced degrees in computer science, and are likely to hold an MBA, as well.

The Parachute Path

Sometimes, analytics leaders jump or “parachute” into analytics with absolutely no previous experience in the discipline. These people tend to come from technical backgrounds like IT or engineering and have experience in areas like cloud computing, information security, mobile networks and project management. Parachuters tend to hold doctoral degrees and may have degrees from a variety of disciplines.

What Do All Three Have in Common?

The study shows that people find their way into analytics leadership through a variety of paths, but they all share some important common traits. They all possess management and leadership qualities, they all see the value in analytics, they possess natural drive and curiosity to continue to grow and learn and they all have holistic views of their organizations.

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