How Data Scientists Can Successfully Make the Jump to Management
The year is 2016 and people in San Francisco are wearing shirts that say “data is the new bacon.” Data science is a fast-growing field and companies are beginning to spin up data science teams as they race to ride tech’s next big wave.
The year is 2023 and people are no longer comparing data to breakfast food. Data science is a firmly established field and some of its earliest practitioners are now managing their own teams and departments — and they have advice for the next generation that wants to make the shift to management.
Unlike with software engineering, data science has yet to reach critical mass. Companies are still building out their departments and creating career ladders. This lack of scale also means there aren’t many senior leaders available to share experiences from their career journeys. This makes advice from people like Asha Urs, senior manager of deposits, pricing and analytics at Discover, so valuable.
Urs has led data science teams for more than a decade and shared her insights with Built In Chicago into the essential skills data scientists need to make the move to management along with the unforeseen challenges she faced along the way.
Discover is a financial services company offering credit cards, banking solutions and loans.
What steps did you take in your career in order to set yourself up for a managerial promotion? How did mentors and managers play a role in this process?
The steps I took along my career path included being open to opportunities that were not in my comfort zone, adapting to new technologies, being able to adjust to new and challenging circumstances, having passion for my work and finding perseverance even when setbacks occurred. I also felt comfortable taking on a manager role because I had been mentoring others, and taking on the responsibility of managing a team felt like a natural next step.
My managers and mentors have always encouraged me to think outside the box and effectively challenged me to “do the right thing.” Anytime I hit a roadblock, I was encouraged by the support I received from my managers at Discover. This support propelled me to move forward and make the right choices.
I had been mentoring others, and taking on the responsibility of managing a team felt like a natural next step.”
What’s something you wish you knew before becoming a manager? What were one or two unforeseen managerial challenges?
Being a manager is a responsibility, but being a leader is more than just that. It is a manager’s responsibility to ensure their team delivers superior work quality, but a leader motivates their team to do their best. I wish I knew how much of an additional responsibility it was to be able to successfully lead a team.
One of the unforeseen challenges I have faced as a manager is adapting to the different work styles of each team member — and yet I have seen the positive side of this and have learned to leverage the strengths of my team members.
What advice would you give to a data scientist who is looking to make a career jump to the managerial track?
One important aspect of making the jump to the managerial track is wearing different hats. You must be detail oriented and at the same time keep the big picture in mind. Data scientists tend to get mired in the details. Being relatable to your team members and being there for them when they need you for support is also important. I would suggest data scientists who are keen on becoming managers be willing to foster a positive work environment, enable out-of-the-box thinking, have adequate space for creativity and be good listeners.