Decoding Data Roles: The Difference Between Data Analysts, Scientists And Engineers

GT
Grant Thornton India

Contributor

Grant Thornton India
To establish a strong commitment to using data effectively, companies need a mix of people to handle the collection, organisation and analysis of data.
India Technology
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To establish a strong commitment to using data effectively, companies need a mix of people to handle the collection, organisation and analysis of data. The entire process, from gathering raw data to turning it into useful insights, is quite extensive and can get confusing - given its large volume. Companies inexperienced in handling data may unintentionally craft job listings that assign responsibilities to a job title in a way that goes against common expectations. On the flip side, job seekers may also find themselves in a predicament by pursuing opportunities that do not align with their skills or interests.

Thus, understanding the roles within data teams takes centre stage – primarily, machine learning (ML) engineers, data scientists, data analysts and data engineers. While these four are not the only data roles available, they are the most prominent ones and are the focus of most questions about distinguishing roles in data.

ML engineers:

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The role of ML engineers revolves around designing, developing and deploying ML models to solve specific problems or enhance decision-making processes. They work closely with stakeholders to understand business problems and define clear objectives that can be addressed using ML tools. Following are some of their main functions:

  1. Model deployment: ML engineers design and create ML models tailored to solve specific problems or tasks. This involves selecting appropriate algorithms, optimising parameters and ensuring the model's accuracy. They serve as the architects of intelligent systems. They design and deploy models as per their firm's requirements, ensuring that algorithms run seamlessly in real-world applications.
  2. Machine learning operations (ML Ops): ML Ops involves the deployment, monitoring and maintenance of ML models in production environments. ML engineers work on various aspects of ML Ops, including data infrastructure management, addressing scalability issues, version control systems to manage different versions of ML models and associated code, etc. In the context of ML Ops, these engineers streamline the entire lifecycle of ML activities. Additionally, they ensure that data pipelines are robust, enhancing the efficiency of model deployment and reducing the model's time-to-market.

Data scientists:

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Data scientists engage in exploratory data analysis (EDA) to understand the patterns, relationships and trends within the data. They also do feature engineering by creating new features or modifying existing ones to enhance the performance of ML models and data model evaluation. Following are some of their key responsibilities:

  1. Statistical and ML modelling: Data scientists blend statistical acumen with ML techniques. They create mathematical models that extract meaningful patterns from complex datasets. They also train these models using available data, after which they assess the model performance and validate their efficacy using various statistical metrics. They also interpret the results, identifying the most relevant features and understanding how the model makes predictions and if it aligns with resolving the problem statement or not.
  2. Inferences: Data scientists draw valuable inferences from data, providing actionable insights to guide business decisions. They also formulate hypotheses about the data and use statistical tests to evaluate the significance of observed patterns or differences. Data scientists then communicate their findings of complex mathematical analysis to non-technical/business stakeholders using clear and simple language. Visualisations, reports and presentations are often employed to convey complex results in a comprehensible manner to make the insights actionable.
  3. Experimentation: Experimentation is at the heart of data science. Data scientists work closely with ML engineers to experiment with various data models, innovative methodologies and new cutting-edge techniques, ensuring they align with the organisation's goals and solve the pain points. The iterative process involves constant feedback, trying out various options often derived from the deployment experience guided by ML engineers.

Data analysts:

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Data analysts collect and clean data, conduct exploratory analyses and create visualisations to provide insights for decision-making. They use statistical methods, business intelligence tools and interpretation skills to present findings in reports and collaborate with stakeholders. The main difference between data engineers or ML engineers and data analysts is that the work of a data analyst starts after the data is collected, while data engineers or ML engineers often pick up incomplete and 'messy' sets of data to arrange, streamline, organise and work with. Following are some of the responsibilities of a data analyst:

  1. Business insights: Data analysts are storytellers who decipher the language of data for business stakeholders. Collaborating with data scientists, they translate complex models and analyses into actionable insights, facilitating informed decision-making. They also validate the accuracy and reliability of data. They also play a pivotal role in establishing data quality standards and implementing processes to maintain data integrity.
  2. Metrics and reporting: Data analysts focus on defining and monitoring key performance indicators. Their collaboration with data engineers ensures that the metrics tracked are derived from accurate and up-to-date data sources, underlining the importance of a seamless data pipeline and data traceability.
  3. Data visualisation and storytelling: The art of data-based storytelling is mastered by data analysts. They collaborate with ML engineers and data scientists to create visual narratives that make complex insights accessible to a broader audience, fostering a data-driven culture within organisations.

Data engineers:

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Traditionally, companies hire data engineers when they want to work with data at the foundational level. Data engineers play a crucial role in collecting, organising and maintaining data, making them essential to the principal steps of handling organisational as well as external data. Their role includes:

  1. Design data pipelines: Data engineers are the architects of data infrastructure. They collaborate with ML engineers to design robust pipelines that feed data models with high-quality data, ensuring the success of models and their deployment.
  2. Optimise databases and metadata: Databases form the backbone of data models, storage and retrieval. Data engineers ensure that the databases are optimised for storage, metadata is efficiently designed, and retrieval of data needed for model training and inferences is quick and less resource-intensive.
  3. Develop data tools: Data engineers develop and maintain the tools necessary for seamless data extraction, wrangling and processing. Collaboration with data analysts ensures that the tools are user-friendly, enabling analysts to extract insights efficiently.

ML engineers, data scientists, data analysts and data engineers, each with their unique responsibilities, come together to create a holistic data ecosystem. Their collaboration in the process not only ensures the smooth functioning of individual roles but also fosters innovation, making the data landscape a seamless, well-oiled machine. As organisations increasingly acknowledge the pivotal role of data, the symbiotic relationships among these roles will inevitably progress, expanding on what can be accomplished through the strategic utilisation of information. As the data ecosystem evolves further and there are more technological innovations (including artificial intelligence), the lines between these roles may get blurred but the constituent skills surely will be skills worth investing in in the future.

Originally published 06 Mar 2024.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.



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