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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.

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.

  • 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 download.com), 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. Co-Founder, Data Science Central. My revenue is a bit difficult to quantify, but it is above $400,000 per year. I still live around Seattle. My house is now worth $720,000 while the one I sold for $520,000 in the Bay Area (Pittsburg) in 2005 is now worth $290,000. 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.

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 Nicole Boyle on March 20, 2014 at 9:31am

Thank you for the candid and thorough overview! This is very helpful for someone like me (epidemiologist looking to transition into data science).

Comment by Lucky Balaraman on March 16, 2014 at 10:45pm

Remarkably frank and generously shared. One hopes that when all is said and done, you are leading a happy and contented life.

Comment by Mark L. Stone on March 2, 2014 at 7:13am

Vincent, with regard to the $59/hour online consultants, I am curious as to how good they are, and what kind of value you get for the money.

Comment by Vincent Granville on March 1, 2014 at 11:04pm

Hi Mark - my hourly rate is a bit high compared with what consultants located in India charge. I've seen $59/hour advertised by Indian consultants, see http://statistics.com/consulting/

Even though I am located in US, we are in a global market where clients are looking for competitive pricing. Note that I don't do much consulting anymore, precisely because I can make more money much easier doing other stuff.

Many clients are not interested in hiring an expensive expert, they are looking to find the cheapest guy who can solve their problems. Indeed, if you go on Elance.com, you'll find plenty of people advertising their services for a fee below $30/hour.

Comment by Mark L. Stone on February 25, 2014 at 6:53am

If experienced top-flight data scientists are so rare, and so in demand, you'd never know that from those absurdly low consulting rates (even allowing a spread earned by middlemen).  The reality doesn't seem to match the hype regarding the data science profession. Without equity participation, a data scientist is bupkus.

Comment by Leandro Fernandes on February 22, 2014 at 3:20am
Thanks for sharing. Very valuable information.
Comment by Vallaud Thierry on February 20, 2014 at 10:31am

Vincent do you want to mary me ? Hi Hi

Data Scientist Salary in France are around 110 000 € per year for a senior. I began at 12 000€ per year in 1988 as data analyst in radio group.

Comment by Tony DiLoreto on February 20, 2014 at 2:26am
Really good information to know - thanks for sharing. The only suggestion I would have would be to transform all values into today's dollars for easy comparison.
Comment by Rukshan Siriwardhane on February 20, 2014 at 1:16am

Actually this information is valuable. Thank you.

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