Fostering innovation, providing deep insights, and creating new services and opportunities, data professionals today are highly valued by businesses. Data scientists and data architects can create automated systems for gathering data in real time, refining it into actionable findings, and putting information to work in new ways that ultimately serve customers better and allow your business to grow. Here, we list the data-professional jobs that are most sought after in the Middle East today, how to hire for them, and what the roles typically pay.
Demand grows for data jobs in the Middle East
The rapid growth of data processing and technology such as machine learning have created a sharp rise in the demand for data professionals in both the public and private sector. LinkedIn, for example, found that tech hires in the Middle East increased by 61% in 2020, and data scientist was the UAE’s fastest-growing role in 2019 with a 46% increase in demand. The 2021 Coursera Global Skills Report identifies data visualisation as an area with the greatest growth potential for Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria, with a global market value projection of $5.17 billion by 2026.
Industries like financial services, healthcare, and entertainment are increasingly seeking data engineers with skills required like statistical modelling and data visualisation. However, finding staff equipped data skills can prove to be a challenge for business leaders. The Coursera report found that professionals in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Qatar excelled in business skills but lagged behind in the field of data science.
“It’s never been about just finding any candidate that fits the bill,” says Manpreet Kaur, senior consultant for data for Michael Page Middle East, which supports companies in finding high-quality data professionals. “We’ve come to understand the investment a business makes and the risk associated with a data hire, where the ROI or cost might be borne longer than other hires … On the flip side, good investments speak for themselves — we also appreciate the level of impact and the significant value that a data hire can offer a business.”
What to know before you hire
Building the right data team requires a strategic approach and in some cases, a shift in business mindset. “Data is the new kid on the recruitment block that every company in the Middle East is curious about. The rapidly-growing sector has created enough buzz for companies to desire shiny new data departments, but do they know what they want their newly-formed data capabilities to achieve? The important question for any business right now is how data can solve their real-time business problems. The answer to this will be unique to each business and so a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work,” Kaur says.
Preparation is also key, as some companies lack the necessary infrastructure to support a data team. “Today, most businesses in the Middle East tend to build their data capability out of a fear of missing out — for example, maybe a rival is investing heavily in their own data agenda — or perhaps out of compulsion, either to keep pace with the wider adoption of data in the region or even led by the government. Any business that is looking to invest in or build their data capability should do so with serious forethought and planning. Do they have the right technology or infrastructure in place?” asks Kaur. “Have they looked at building their data governance frameworks, and has the quality of data been assessed? Do we want to hire a data scientist and expect them to define the data quality rules?”
“Intellectual honesty amongst data leaders is essential here. Running a true assessment of where the business is with their data-readiness currently creates a stronger and more accurate foundation of what they need to be doing next, whether it’s related technology or talent. Retaining talent becomes a big challenge in a market like the Middle East. Data professionals may not be willing to invest time and effort in a business that isn’t ready for them. Good talent will be poached by companies with a healthier and more mature data culture. The honesty when designing the job description reveals much about the company’s data attitude while setting the tone for the rest of the hiring process.”
Here are the top five data roles in the Middle East today, with insights about their salaries from Glassdoor and Robert Walters.
300,000 – 420,000 AED (US$81,000-US$114,000)
“Investing in data engineers helps build a more scalable infrastructure to support all data department needs,” Kaur says. Focusing on creation and improvement, data engineers design and develop the foundational systems that allow data scientists and data analysts to do their job. They manage databases and pipelines, integrate new datasets when necessary, create APIs, and utilise new machine learning models that can interpret data. Many data engineers have a software programming background and can also write scripts as well monitor and improve existing systems. A background in data processes and database architecture is crucial, as well as programming skills and knowledge of SQL-based technology.
200,000-336,000 AED ($54,000-$91,000)
Organisations turn to data analysts to make informed decisions. This professional is responsible for interpreting vast amounts of data in order to discover trends, patterns, and insights about user behaviour. Daily responsibilities include mining and screening data, extracting insights, identifying areas for growth, and presenting organisational recommendations to management.
Unlike data scientists, a degree is not necessarily required, however candidates without a formal educational background in should have knowledge of their company’s specific industry in order to create a paradigm to reference when interpreting data. A statistics background and knowledge of computational frameworks is an asset, and experience working with programming languages like Java, Python, and R is a must.
230,000-500,000 AED ($62,000-$136,000)
This role is similar to a data analyst, however data scientists are expected to be able to address business problems with a deeper level of intricacy throughout the data science cycle. They determine what the most important questions or issues are that data could potentially solve. Whereas analysts describe the past and current insights from data, data scientists make predictions and recommendations to stakeholders with key metrics in mind. They are also responsible for training machine learning models to create more powerful and predictive algorithms. “With the means to extract meaning from data and the direct impact of solving real-time business problems, data scientists are likely to remain within the top 3 in-demand roles within the field of data,” says Kaur. “The question is, have organisations in the Middle East taken the right steps to really extract the right value from these professionals?”
Data scientists often have a Master’s degree or Ph.D. in fields like computer science, engineering, or statistics. They also have in-depth knowledge of programming and analytical tools, and proficiency in Python, the Hadoop platform, SQL, data visualisation, and machine learning/AI.
Data Protection / Data Security Manager
350,000-448,000 AED ($95,000-$121,000)
While not every IT team includes this role, this is a steadily growing area in the data field, as regulatory frameworks are in a state of flux and compliance is key. The candidates should have a strong knowledge of legal and governmental policy issues related to data privacy, be familiar with national and region-wide frameworks, and be able to identify new policy implications within the scope of their business. They also lead the design and implementation of data polices, conduct data mapping and compliance audits, advise the IT and data departments, and review records of data processing activities. Candidates should have knowledge of information security processes and five years of experience in data protection/date security roles. A background in IT, information security, or public policy is an advantage.
Data Lead/Data Architect
540,000-780,000 AED ($147,000-$212,000)
Any company that wants to design and implement a data strategy needs a team lead. The data architect, or data lead, is like a combination of two of the above roles — rather than having a background in software engineering and building data frameworks like a data engineer or having a background in statistics and analysis like a data scientist, the architect is expected to understand all of these fields and their related skills. They design the entire vision for a company’s data architecture and continuously refine and improve data management systems with new technical features, data models, and management systems. In this role, a degree in computer science or engineering is a must, but an advanced degree like an MBA or Master’s degree in data science is advantageous.
“The data leader is the strategic bridge between ambitious organisational goals, traditional technology, and modern science,” Kaur says. “Data leaders are crucial in order to direct a business towards truly implementing a data-driven culture; they are a dedicated leader that understands the impact of data and has the courage to build what’s needed to get there.”