Is being a data scientist really the best job for work-life balance?

A few weeks ago Forbes posted an article which reported that, according to Glassdoor, data scientist is the best job for work-life balance in the whole wide world.

This intrigued me. Why is this the case? Why do data scientists find their jobs so fulfilling and so well balanced with their private lives? I couldn't help but smirk at the article's gushing quote from a Facebook data scientist:

“Not only is everyone incredibly sharp and very good at their jobs, but also, almost without exception, everyone is a pleasure to work and associate with. I'm given an incredible work/life balance.”

Now first of all I'd argue that rapport with one's colleagues does not a good work-life balance make. But if I can somehow see through my own natural cynicism there might be a valid point here. More on that in a second.

I know quite a few data scientists and I asked around as to why they thought their profession had come out on top. One response from a former colleague (yet ongoing friend) shone through. I quote him verbatim because he put it as well as I could:

Data scientists are more likely than other professions to say they have a good work-life balance because a large proportion of them are 'fallen' academics. The folks who decided after doing a doctorate that they didn't want to give their life to academia. They discover that in the real world (unlike pre-tenure academia) people don't work on evenings or weekends - and they rejoice at all this free time.

I don't have a PhD, but from what I can tell it is bloody hard work. To come either from a demanding PhD or post-doc into a world where demand for those skills outstrips supply must make for an interesting change. And the demand is certainly there. As the Forbes article points out, this leads to particularly favourable conditions for data scientists.

Also, let's not forget: data science is sexy.

So very sexy. Machine learning has never been so rock and roll, and it's not the domain of computer scientists any more. The field has been claimed by statisticians and scientists. And good on 'em. I think one of the reasons why data scientists find their work-life balance so agreeable is the diversity of backgrounds in the teams they find themselves in.

Take the preferred background for the data scientist role at Qubit:

A PhD with a large data-analysis and statistics component (e.g. Genetics, Machine Learning, High Energy Physics etc…)

If you're in a team with a geneticist, machine learning specialist and a high energy particle physicist you're never going to be bored. And between you you'll never be stumped by a new XKCD strip. My point here is that maybe the cringeworthy quote from the data scientist at facebook was right. There's a lot to be said for actually finding your colleagues interesting.

So maybe there are some good reasons for data scientists saying they have a good work-life balance. Maybe they like life outside academia, maybe they like working in a sexy field with cushy benefits, or maybe they just really get along with the other smart people they work with. When you think about it maybe it's not so surprising they're happy.

If you fancy being a data scientist, you can see all of the startups in London who are hiring for one here.