Data visualization refers to the representation of information through charts, graphs, animations, and other visual aids. While working in a field closely related to data science, data visualization professionals typically focus on making complex data more accessible and understandable, rather than drawing findings from data themselves.
Given the importance of information in the modern professional world, and the fact that all industries benefit from more effective use of that information, the field of data visualization should experience extraordinary growth in the coming years. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for computer and information research scientists will increase by 16% between 2018 and 2028. In addition, information scientists earned a median salary of $118,370 in 2018, roughly $80,000 more than the median salary for all other occupations.
This page will provide you with an overview of careers in data visualization, including information on educational requirements, earning potential across industries, and how to find a job after graduation.
Skills Gained in a Data Visualization Program
To effectively translate and convey complex information as a data visualization professional, you'll need to develop a broad range of skills. On the one hand, you'll need at least a basic understanding of quantitative and qualitative analysis to map out the best approach to organizing and presenting research data. You'll also need to have strong design skills to create compelling charts, plots, and other graphics. Most data visualization programs offer instruction in statistics and design-oriented subjects like digital imaging and typography.
Before they can analyze data or create graphics, data visualization professionals need to know how to access the relevant information. To do so, they must hone database administration skills, including learning how to code with Structured Query Language (SQL). Students may also benefit from studying ethical and legal issues in data storage, especially if they plan to work in an industry like healthcare.
Many data visualization professionals work directly with raw data. As a result, they must use various analytical tools to draw findings from quantitative and qualitative information. A student hoping to embark on a data visualization career may take coursework in subjects like predictive analytics, data science research methodology, and stochastic methods.
Communication plays a key role in data visualization. For example, an infographic designer may need to interview research scientists to develop a better grasp of their methodology and conclusions. They may also need to explain design choices to colleagues, managers, and customers. Finally, visualization professionals often work on teams, and strong communication skills can help facilitate collaboration.
Visualization professionals who aspire to supervisory or managerial roles should consider supplementing their design and statistical coursework with classes in business administration. Learning how to manage personnel, create project goals, and effectively allocate resources may give them a competitive edge over other candidates when applying for these jobs.
Why Pursue a Career in Data Visualization?
Choosing a career in data visualization gives you the chance to bring the power of information to bear on a variety of challenges. For example, you may use your skills in data analysis and design to help medical practitioners better diagnose communicable diseases. You may also help businesses improve their efficiency and deliver products to customers at a lower cost, or, by working for the government, encourage citizens to practice healthy behavior through public outreach.
Working with data also offers the potential of exceptional compensation. According to the BLS, graphic designers earned a median salary of $50,370 in 2018, roughly $12,000 more than the median pay for all other occupations. Technical communicators, the professionals who design instructional manuals and how-to guides, earned a median salary of $71,850 that same year.
The field also provides ample opportunity for advancement, and specialized and supervisory roles in data science and visualization typically provide even higher pay. For example, computer and information research scientists earned a median salary of $118,370 in 2018. Computer and information systems managers, the individuals who lead project teams and departments, earned a median salary of $142,530.
Finally, the BLS projects continued growth in the demand for trained data professionals, as more and more companies expand their digital platforms and use data to shape organizational strategy.
How Much Do Data Visualization Graduates Make?
While jobs in data visualization can be quite lucrative, your overall earning potential depends on several factors. For example, large companies in urban areas typically offer higher salaries than smaller firms in more rural settings. You can also expect to make more by working at a private corporation than you would at a government agency or nonprofit organization.
The type of degree you earn and the amount of professional experience you have also play a large role in determining your compensation. The information below illustrates how median salaries for data visualization graduates tend to increase as they progress in their career.
How to Become a Computer and Information Research Scientist
Earn Your Degree
While you may qualify for some entry-level roles in data visualization with just an associate degree, most jobs require a bachelor's. For example, the majority of graphic designers hold a four-year degree, often from an institution accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
Generally, you'll also need a bachelor's degree to take on jobs such as multimedia artist or animator, computer systems analyst, or database administrator. While some students major in data visualization during college, others find their way into the field after studying a related discipline, such as marketing, computer science, or mathematics.
If you hope to develop expertise in both data science and visualization, you may consider earning a master's degree. Graduate programs offer more advanced instruction in subjects like statistical methods and information design, along with the opportunity to build a portfolio of work that can serve as a demonstration of your skills and knowledge to potential employers.
Finally, if you plan to teach or conduct research at a college or university, you will likely need a doctorate. While only a handful of doctoral programs in data visualization exist, you can often complete coursework in this area while pursuing a degree in data analytics or data science.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Become a Computer and Information Research Scientist?
Associate programs in design and data visualization typically consist of 60 credits, and full-time students can earn their degree in just two years. Bachelor's programs, by contrast, usually consist of 120 credits and require roughly four years of full-time study.
The time needed to earn an advanced degree can vary considerably. While most master's programs last just one or two years, full-time students may need 4-7 years to earn a doctoral degree.
Some online programs allow students to graduate faster by studying at their own pace. On these accelerated tracks, students advance through their coursework as soon as they demonstrate mastery of core concepts and skills, usually by taking an exam or submitting a portfolio of work. Although self-paced programs often appeal to working professionals and other students who want to earn their degree as quickly as possible, they do not offer the same structure and support as more traditional, cohort-based programs.
What Can You Do With a Data Visualization Degree?
Earning a degree in data visualization opens up a variety of professional opportunities. For example, you could work as a visualization designer for a public school district, helping teachers better understand how different instructional methods affect student learning. You may instead choose to work in the for-profit sector, providing insight to senior leaders as they decide whether to enter a new market. Some data visualization graduates work independently as consultants, offering their expertise to clients across multiple industries.
Your data visualization career path largely depends on the type of degree you earn. You can qualify for most jobs in information design with just a bachelor's, but managerial and senior research roles may require a master's degree. In addition, most colleges and universities require a doctorate for tenure-track faculty positions.
Finally, many students choose to earn a degree in data science or data analytics with a specialization or significant coursework in data visualization. This approach prepares you for many of the same career opportunities.
Careers for Associate Graduates
With an associate degree in data visualization or a closely related field, you can take on entry-level jobs such as web developer or graphic designer. You may enjoy better job prospects, however, if you also build a portfolio demonstrating your prior experience translating complex information into visual formats.
In addition to general education classes in English and the humanities, associate programs provide an introduction to data visualization topics like probability and statistics, data structures for analytics, and basic information design. Many state colleges and universities allow you to apply the credits you earned in an associate program toward a four-year degree.
- Technical Support Engineer
Technical support engineers help solve a variety of computer and technical issues. For example, they may troubleshoot a faulty network connection that prevents their colleagues from accessing the internet. An associate degree in data visualization may help support specialists provide their supervisors with a clearer picture of organizationwide technical needs.
Careers for Bachelor's Graduates
Earning a bachelor's degree in data visualization helps prepare you for many careers in information technology, including information security analyst and network systems administrator. The BLS projects that employment for information technology occupations will increase by 12% from 2018 to 2028.
Undergraduate programs at four-year colleges offer coursework in areas like infographics design, visual analytics, business intelligence, and digital media. Many schools also require or strongly encourage students to participate in an internship or field-based capstone project, allowing them to grow their professional network and build a portfolio of work.
- Computer Systems Analyst
Computer systems analysts design technology solutions that allow organizations to operate more effectively and efficiently. For example, they may analyze the costs and benefits of a computing infrastructure upgrade in order to advise management decision-making. While not always required, many analysts hold a bachelor's degree in computer or information science.
- Database Administrator
Database administrators provide secure and ready access to organizational information, such as customer orders or financial information. They may design databases using specialized programming languages, oversee user permissions, and conduct routine maintenance, such as installing patches to fix bugs. Most database administrators have a bachelor's in computer science, data visualization, or a related discipline.
Careers for Master's Graduates
For some specialized roles, such as visualizing healthcare data for use by doctors and medical researchers, you may need to earn a master's. Some companies may also prefer to hire managers and supervisors with a graduate degree.
Master's programs provide advanced instruction in subjects like visual cognition and perception, information visualization applications, and visual storytelling. They may also feature coursework in administrative topics like personnel management and budgeting.
In addition, students who hope to pursue careers in research or academia may also take classes in data analysis and methods to prepare for writing a thesis. Students who plan to take on more practice-oriented positions may instead showcase their design skills through a master's project.
- Network Architect
Computer network architects design and install the networks that allow computers and other devices to communicate and share data, such as intranets. Architects generally need a deep understanding of their organization's strategy and challenges in order to design systems that help the organization meet its goals. As a result, many companies seek out network architects who have completed graduate-level coursework in business administration.
- Information Systems Manager
Computer and information systems managers plan and direct computer-related activities at their firms. They often hire and train staff, develop departmental budgets, oversee large-scale projects, and collaborate with senior leadership on issues like information security and technology strategy. Many information managers have both a master's degree and multiple years of relevant experience.
Careers for Doctoral Graduates
If you hope to teach or conduct research at a college or university, you typically must first earn a doctorate. You may also consider pursuing a doctoral degree to take on senior leadership roles like chief information officer or chief technology officer.
Doctoral programs in data visualization usually begin with three years of full-time coursework in areas like human and computer interactions, scientific visualization, and optimization by vector space methods. After finishing these classes, doctoral students must pass a comprehensive examination before formally beginning work on their dissertation.
The dissertation process begins by submitting a research proposal to a faculty advisor. Doctoral candidates then conduct original research or analyze multiple sets of existing data. They then detail their research methodology and findings in a written document, usually 100-200 pages in length. To earn their degree, students must defend their dissertation before a faculty committee.
- Data Scientist
Data scientists write algorithms used to identify and analyze patterns in large datasets. For example, a data scientist working for a state transportation agency may study traffic patterns to inform the design of a new highway system. A Ph.D. in data visualization may help scientists develop better ways of sharing their findings with nonexpert audiences.
- Computer Scientist
Computer scientists tend to focus on the development of new technologies, such as the invention of a new piece of computer hardware or the design of software that helps analysts better manage data. While a master's degree may qualify you for certain roles, larger companies may prefer that the leaders of their research and development efforts hold a doctorate.
Where Can You Work as a Data Visualization Graduate?
Data visualization graduates work across the country in a wide variety of fields. For example, they may use their expertise in infographic design to help companies better understand the needs of their customers. They may also work for nonprofit and advocacy organizations, helping shape public policy by clearly presenting data to lawmakers.
After earning your degree, your professional opportunities will largely be determined by where you choose to live, the industry in which you work, and your level of experience.
Employment of data science and visualization professionals varies considerably from state to state. For example, roughly 7,300 computer and information research scientists worked in California in 2018, but only 30 worked in Nebraska.
Where you live also helps shape your earning potential. In 2018, research scientists in Washington earned a median salary of $143,080, mostly owing to the presence of large technology companies like Microsoft and Amazon.
While urban areas generally offer more jobs and higher salaries, smaller communities may boast lower overall costs of living. If you are considering relocating for work, remember also to consider factors like quality of life and educational opportunities for you and your family.
- Federal Executive Branch
Data professionals work for multiple federal agencies. For example, they may create visual aids to help staffers at the Department of Health and Human Services direct funding to state programs in substance abuse recovery.
Average Salary: $108,930
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services
Many data scientists support the development of new computers and devices. They often do so at large technology firms like Amazon, Apple, or Google, though others work at startup companies.
Average Salary: $132,690
- Scientific Research and Development Services
This industry encompasses basic research, applied research, and new product development. Data visualization professionals may work directly on research activities or act as intermediaries in conveying research findings to management.
Average Salary: $131,610
- Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools
Higher education institutions collect many forms of data, including information on student finances, course registration, and academic progress. Data visualization helps faculty and administrators more effectively use this data.
Average Salary: $96,910
- Software Publishers
Roughly 1,500 computer and information research scientists work for software publishing companies, informing the design of operating systems, applications, and specialized software. They may also collect, analyze, and present data on end-user satisfaction with existing software.
Average Salary: $144,260
How Do You Find a Job in Data Visualization?
Before beginning your search for a job in data visualization, make sure to update your resume, list of references, work portfolio, and any professional social networking profiles, like your page on LinkedIn. You should also create a spreadsheet to track job opportunities, important contact information, and next steps.
To find openings, use national search engines like Indeed and SimplyHired. Many of the data science professional organizations listed below also host industry-specific job boards and career centers. Remember to customize your application materials for each position, taking care to match your skills and experience with the responsibilities outlined in the job description.
As you apply for jobs, work on expanding your professional network. Attend events organized by your university's alumni office or your local chamber of commerce. Tell family, friends, and trusted colleagues that you are looking for a new role. You can also contact experienced data professionals to request informational interviews.
Finally, you may need to develop new skills or expertise to qualify for certain occupations. Look for certification programs available in your area or research online programs offered by graduate schools and professional organizations.
Professional Resources for Data Visualization Majors
ASIS&T works to bridge the gap between information science practice and research. The organization hosts regional and national events, publishes a scholarly journal and news bulletin, and organizes special-interest groups in areas like knowledge management and data visualization. ASIS&T also advertises job openings and hosts career advice articles.
The DSA represents and provides support to data science professionals around the globe. In addition to organizing an annual conference organized around topics like machine learning and predictive analytics, the association maintains an online library of academic articles, podcasts, webinars, and white papers. It also curates a weekly roundup of data science news.
The DAA advances the use of data to better understand and improve the digital world. The organization hosts a variety of events, including a research symposium, chapter events, and training workshops. The DAA also administers an online professional certification program for web analysts and provides free access to a series of continuing education resources.
Originally founded in the 1950s, CompTIA has grown to become one of the leading associations of information technology professionals, researchers, and students. The organization manages a mentorship program, gives awards to recognize exemplary service to the field, and maintains more than two dozen local chapters across the United States. Many of these chapters organize regular networking events.
A branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the IEEE Computer Society specifically represents computer and information science professionals. The society offers three levels of certification for software developers, a technology newsletter, and a digital library covering subjects such as stochastic constructs and data analytics for enterprise resilience. The IEEE Computer Society also hosts a national jobs board.