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Salary history and career path of a data scientist

While it is easy to find salary surveys for data scientists and related professions both at the junior and senior level, broken down per location and skills set, very few analyses show salary progress over the course of a 25 years career.

This is my home in Issaquah, purchased in 2005.

I decided to fill this gap by providing full details about my salary history and job titles / responsibilities, from the time I started my PhD in 1988 (computational statistics) until today. My career path might not be typical, nevertheless I believe this information will be valuable to many. I was born and educated in Belgium. By the time I was 30 years old, my net worth was negative. Twenty years later, I live in US, and things have dramatically changed...

  • 1988. I worked part-time in a high-tech company (in partnership with my university stats lab) and as a teaching associate, when I started my PhD in Belgium. I was paid €18,000 per year, and the tuition (for the PhD program) was free.
  • 1993. By the time I fnished my PhD, still attached to the same university, my salary was around €25,000.
  • 1994-95. Postdoc, at the stats lab, Cambridge university. My job title was research fellow, and I was paid £20,000 a year, which at that time was 15% below my previous salary.
  • 1996. Moved to United States (North Carolina) to complete my postdoc at the National Institute of Statistical Sciences. The salary was $45,000 a year, at least 30% above my salary at Cambridge (at that time, the difference between the British pound and US dollar was much smaller than it is today).
  • 1997. I moved to the industry, initially as a statistician for CNET in New Jersey (they own, an Internet company with a few hundred employees at that time. I started with $65,000 per year.
  • 1999. By this time, still at CNET, my salary, deemed too low, had been automatically boosted to $74,000.
  • 2000. I moved to San Francisco, worked for NBCi (acquired from CNET by NBC) as a Research Manager, earning $84,000 per year. Too low by San Francisco standards, but it was the time when Internet stocks were booming. I earned at least $100,000 in stock options exercises between 1999 and 2000.
  • 2001. I came back to CNET, but this time in San Francisco. I was now senior statistician, managing two employees in the BI group. My salary was $95,000 a year. Rents were crazy in San Francisco (ours for a 2 bedroom appartment in San Francisco SOMA went from $2,500 to $4,500/month), so we bought a house for $270,000 in the East Bay.
  • 2002-2005. My consulting years after the Internet bust: first with Visa ($55/hour, fraud detection project, the agency charged $175/hour to the client, but it was a great experience worth having in your resume). Then several months with Wells Fargo, at $45/hour. They really loved what I did for them.
  • 2005-2006. I started consulting with Infospace (click fraud detection, Washington state) at $90/hour, flying back and forth between San Francisco and Seattle. They eventually hired me (starting at $120,000 per year in 2005, then $125,000 in 2006), and I sold my house in the Bay Area for $520,000 (with a profit of $250,000 after expenses) and bought a $580,000 house in the Seattle area, in 2005.
  • 2007. Raised $6 million in VC money, created start-up called Authenticlick in Los Angeles, was Chief Science Officer. Salary started at $150,000 per year, went up to $175,000 per year. I sold a patent for $100,000. Declined an offer to join Adknowledge in Kansas City (salary was $250,000 per year) because of the location (Kansas City).
  • 2008-2009. Money stopped coming to Authenticlick. I joined competitor Adometry in Austin as Chief Scientist, still living near Seattle. Salary was $165,000 per year.
  • 2009-2010. Some consulting with eBay in San Jose ($85/hour) and Microsoft ($48/hour plus benefits, being employee).
  • 2010-2012. Chief Scientist at Looksmart (Ad network), $155,000 per year. Flying again back and forth between Seattle and San Francisco, but they paid all travel expenses including more than $40,000 in hotels.
  • 2013-2016. Co-Founder, Data Science Central. My revenue is a bit difficult to quantify, but it is now above $500,000 per year (in 2016). I still live around Seattle. My house is now worth $900,000 while the one I sold for $520,000 in the Bay Area (Pittsburg) in 2005 is now worth $300,000. I still do occasional consulting work (big data) for $100/hour, though I actually automate most of the work, thus my effective rate is well above $100/hour. Mostly, I use data science to grow my company. I also have my own independent, self-financed research lab, focused on automated and deep data science, and publishing on Data Scence Central.

This is my beach house in Anacortes, purchased in December 2015.

I actually created Datashaping, then Analyticbridge (which was acquired and became Data Science Central) back in 2000. Revenue was about $6,000 per year in 2001, about $12,000 in 2005, and $60,000 in 2010. I always invested in my company and have no retirement money (instead a 50% share in Data Science Central, worth a few million dollars). I expect to earn some money from the sales of my data science book, and maybe later from our certification and apprenticeship. I was born in a modest family in Belgium. By the time I arrived to United States (I was 32 years old), I had no money. I also saved at least $30,000 by not having health insurance whenever I could (when I was an independent consultant); my health expenditures have been less than $100/year on average, even today at 50 years old.

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Comment by Subbu Mahadevan on December 14, 2016 at 2:53am

Dr. you have a strong, rather very strong foundation upon which you built everything, and to top it, you have Ph.D and post-doc and tons of experience to boast and boost. I guess, this would be lacking in most and most and most of the candidates who are trying to jump on the data science (big data, machine learning etc.,) train. A person with no so good grasp on maths, discrete maths, algebra, stats, strong-stats, computer science(theory) background, programming and <etc.,> , I think, would not be able to even come close to your salary.. my question to you, sir, is -- what would you advice (i would sure buy your data science certification exam/offer, once I am convinced) a computer programmer/sw developer grown in C/C++/Java development background and not so good in maths/stats and wanting to learn data science (just to stay relevant in the job market in the next 10-20 years). Thanks.

Comment by anthony deloach on December 5, 2016 at 1:02pm

So, how do you combat age discrimination?

Comment by Jianhua/Jason Li on December 2, 2016 at 10:09am

Thanks for sharing Vincent. Very impressive and successful career!

Wish you the best!

Comment by Jose I Rey on November 29, 2016 at 10:11am
Meant to say "more money before the PhD/Postdoc" two comments above.
Comment by Marian B Spector on November 29, 2016 at 9:02am

Really appreciate the frankness of this piece.  Intriguing career trajectory.   Marian

Comment by Jose I Rey on November 29, 2016 at 8:36am
Great article with lots of good Data:). Thanks for sharing. Not that money is so important, but the lack of it is a drag: In my case I also made less money before the PhD/Postdoc and I am glad to be in an Industry job I like and out out of the postdoc hole.
Comment by Stanley Ismaillar on November 29, 2016 at 8:11am

Thanks for sharing Vincent. I will soon be 34 and I'm wondering where my life will be by the time I get to 50. I don't have a good background in Stats apart from from some introductory courses but I'm studying R and have SQL and some programming skills. I've been reading much about data science and I'm trying to follow this career path. I'll greatly appreciate an advice from you that can help me succeed in this career path.

Comment by Gita Mooney on November 29, 2016 at 8:09am

thank you for sharing.  wish i had chosen math in my college years in india.  Although I am learning now, older brain does not absorb as fast.

Comment by Chinaemerem Kanu on November 29, 2016 at 8:00am

Thank you Vincent for sharing you career experiences. It's inspirational. Kanu

Comment by Vincent Granville on November 28, 2016 at 10:28am

I have updated this article today (adding most recent numbers and pictures of my homes), as it was two years old. I might be an outlier, but you can say the same about other successful data science entrepreneurs, or about senior data scientists / architects working for top companies in the Bay Area (these professionals make the same amount of money when you include stock options.)

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