Creating a Pipeline of Data Scientists is Key to San Antonio’s Future

Lorenzo Gomez, Chairman of Geekdom, David Mongeau, Founding Director of the UTSA School of Data Science and Entrepreneur Graham Weston at San Antonio Startup Week

By LAURA LOREK, Publisher of Silicon Hills News

Like the California gold miners of yesteryear, San Antonio leaders are betting big on a new type of mining to bring the city good fortunes.

It’s data mining.

The world is awash in big data and businesses, government, and the military all want to hire data scientists to make sense of it all, so they can make better decisions.

And the University of Texas at San Antonio’s School of Data Science, under construction in downtown San Antonio, wants to supply the world with data scientists.

It’s also a highly lucrative field. The average data scientist’s salary is $100,560, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And top data scientists with advanced degrees can fetch as much as $350,000 to $450,000, said David Mongeau, founding director of the UTSA School of Data Science.

The demand for data

scientists is much greater than the supply, Mongeau said.

UTSA’s School of Data Science is one of three data science schools in the country with the others at the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina. The University of California at Berkeley also has the Berkeley Institute for Data Science. That’s where Mongeau previously worked as executive director until last July.

“What attracted me here was the sheer ambition and demography of this city, and the people in this city, and the aspiration and ideas of how data science can contribute so much socially and economically to people who represent the future of America,” Mongeau said.

Mongeau spoke Monday afternoon on a panel titled  “Data Doesn’t’ Lie: The Future of Downtown SA” with Entrepreneur Graham Weston and Lorenzo Gomez, chairman of Geekdom at the Dry Goods Building at 107 N. Flores. The discussion was part of the sixth annual San Antonio Startup Week.

UTSA’s School of Data Science is the first stage of UTSA’s development of its downtown campus. The 167,150 square foot building at 506 E. Dolorosa is a $90 million project that is slated for completion next year. UTSA also plans to expand its business school downtown. Eventually, plans call for as many as 10,000 students downtown.

“I think that we can build the largest school of data science in the country,” said Weston, who donated $15 million to UTSA for the project.

San Antonio will see large numbers of kids going from being the first generation in their families to go to college to then go on to being high earners in the technology industry, Weston said.

“We can produce 500 graduates a year out of the school of data science that will create some of the best jobs,” he said. “But it will also create a pipeline of talent to bring great opportunities and jobs to San Antonio.”

There is an undersupply of people in the fields of data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, Weston said.

“The world will be reshaped by the world of big data and the world of data scientists,” Weston said.

UTSA, with 40,000 students, has grown dramatically in the past few decades. UTSA’s commitment to downtown is going to be the biggest thing that ever happened to the city, Weston said.

“If we produce thousands of these jobs, companies will be locating here to access our pipeline of talent,” Weston said.

The idea is to bring more opportunities to San Antonio’s under-served populations, Mongeau said. He is hiring a staff member to do K-12 school outreach in San Antonio. It is critical for students to have strong math skills at the K-12 level, otherwise, it is hard to get into data science at the college level, he said.

“Math is the showstopper for many students in data science,” Mongeau said.

Right now, every graduate of UTSA’s data science program has been hired immediately upon graduation, Weston said.

“90 percent of the recent graduates have moved away,” Weston said. To build a great city, we need them to stay.”

Part of the UTSA School of Data Science’s mission is to cultivate entrepreneurs, Mongeau said. To foster that, UTSA is hosting the first Tim and Melissa Draper Data Science Business Plan Competition in the spring, he said.

In addition, the UTSA School of Data Science will collaborate with Geekdom to have Geekdom members at the school and some people from the school in Geekdom offices, Mongeau said.

“San Antonio has so much more potential for startups and entrepreneurship than we have tapped into so far,” Weston said.

One of the key things to grow San Antonio’s economy is to create companies here to create the jobs of tomorrow, Weston said.

“We hope to recruit some companies but ultimately we have to create our own,” he said.

There are ideas that will come out of the school of data science that will create a whole new dimension of opportunities in the startup community, Weston said.

“This is one of those areas that I think is an easy sell,” he said. “If someone has the aptitude to be in this field there is no question it is going to be a good field for years to come.”

It’s a straight shot to a great, exciting future, Weston said.

UTSA is like Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in the 1980s, Mongeau said. Carnegie Mellon was a regional university with aspirations of being a nationally recognized one, he said. It achieved that with the support of the local government, business leaders, and academic leaders, Mongeau said. He went to undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon in the 1980s and saw the transformation firsthand. UTSA’s School of Data Science also has the support of the city, business, and academic leaders, he said.

“I think we now have universities that allow us to dream bigger,” Weston said. “I think that our biggest obstacle is thinking too small…Let’s not settle. Let’s commit to having this city be one of the best in science and technology and great jobs.”