For students choosing careers, data science presents an opportunity to be in demand. Although students in the U.S. are studying data analytics at higher rates, a report from McKinsey projects that by next year the job market could be short as many as 250,000 data scientists.
That’s one of the reasons Adobe today launches its 12th Adobe Analytics Challenge, a competition that asks student teams to use data from a corporate partner to solve business challenges.
Teams that place in the Adobe challenge will receive $60,000 in cash prizes — $35,000 of which will go to the first place team alone. But Nate smith, a senior product marketing manager for Adobe who joined after winning the analytics challenge in 2009 as an MBA student, said there’s more to be gained than just money.
More from FORTUNE
“What’s really unique about this competition is that students get access to real world data,” he said.
His Analytics Challenge-t0-job offer path isn’t unusual, either. Adobe has hired more than 40 program participants since it launched in 2005. Their corporate partners, like Lenovo, Sony Playstation X, and Comcast, have used the participants list as a talent pool, too.
Smith competed in The Challenge when Overstock.com was the data partner. Following the financial crisis, the retailer was looking for ways to maximize their marketing budget by finding new customers and driving more sales without spending more money on advertising. His team analyzed the data and found that visitors to the site coming from Yahoo spent significantly more money than the average shopper. Overstock.com was able to use this insight to increase sales during the holiday season that year.
Data science is a relatively new field — it was formerly known as business intelligence or business analytics — at the intersection of social science, statistics, computer science, and design. Data scientists use business data to generate insights that help the company and its partners make data-driven decisions.
For example, a data scientist might be asked to help a department head at a cosmetics company decide how to efficiently spend their budgets on customer acquisition and retention by generating reports on newsletter open rates, customer buying habits and time spent on the company’s website. Essentially, they’re tasked with finding the revenue-generating signals among all the big data noise.
Average wages for jobs in data science over the last two years rose by 16% — much faster than the national rate: just over 2% — and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2024, data scientists and other computer and information researcher positions will have grown 11% over a 10-year period.
Students taking part in the Adobe analytics challenge get virtual training from Adobe to learn how to use its customer analytics program. Then the teams are set loose on the corporate partner’s data — this year, it’ll be MGM. The teams submit presentations (this year by October 16) which are screened for a semifinals round, where they present their insights to a panel of judges. Six teams are selected as finalists and flown out to Utah for in-person presentations, which will take place on November 3 this year.
Last year, the analytics challenge drew 1,500 students from more than 77 universities. That kind of reach matters a lot when it comes to spreading the data gospel, said Smith.
“We are seeing executives push and ask to understand analytics maturity throughout the business,” he said. He added that low data literacy across teams in an organization is a widespread problem.
Four in 10 companies that participated in the 2017 Gartner Magic Quadrant survey cites low numbers of users with adequate data science skills was the most common barrier to completing data science projects.
Some schools are asking how to make training for the challenge part of their curriculum and require students to enter the competition as part of their coursework.
“It gives you a level of confidence in real-world scenarios,” Smith said. “There’s so much opportunity there for students.”