Considering the average cost of a four-year degree from a public college is nearly $96,000, data scientist are more likely to be able to quickly repay student loans, because they have the potential to earn six figures in an entry-level job.
Students can pass on four-year schools by choosing certifications which can cost less than $1,000.
Yet the industry remains short on talent.
There are half a million open technology jobs in the U.S. New tech jobs crop up 400% the rate of non-tech jobs, according to a recent Comparably report of more than 8,000 entry-level workers in the 10 most popular jobs in the tech industry.
The economics of today's tech world means recent college graduates or older professionals looking for a career shift no longer have "to settle for barely getting by in an entry-level job," according to the report.
The tech industry is embracing those who can fill the skills gap, one that was potentially self-inflicted. A recent study from the American Economic Association proposed that the skills gap was a result of the picky hiring practices used by employers during the last recession.
When the economy bounced back, employers were left with less talent to choose from. Now potential hires are sharpening their skills and pursuing entry-level work. The pay off is substantial.
There is an "insatiable demand" to learn and technology is attracting talent from all backgrounds, Jason Nazar, CEO of Comparably, told CIO Dive. "People with a propensity for picking up a new skill set and have the work ethic to do so, can excel in these roles."
Entry-level tech positions are defined by the first three years of a career and require some "basic tech knowledge."
Others promise to educate on the job, according to the report.
Some of the positions Comparably lists as entry-level may always be considered so "based on the breadth or depth of skills needed," said Seth Robinson, senior director for technology analysis at CompTIA, in an email to CIO Dive.
Data scientists are the most in-demand engineering roles and Comparably's top entry-level earners, average a salary of about $113,200.
Data scientists are "the backbone for development in businesses," regardless of industry, said Nazar.
A high concentration of data scientist jobs are in California, according to Burning Glass research, which contributes to the peak in salary. More than one-fourth of these jobs are in California, whereas New York has 9%, followed by 7% in Texas.
Highest paying entry-level tech jobs
Postings for data scientist jobs rose by 75% between 2015 and 2018 with expectations leaning on further growth. It is a role companies want to fill, especially those in high-tech, finance and manufacturing, according to Robinson.
Large-scale applications like e-commerce, logistics, virtual reality or other internet software requires the skills of data scientists. Their responsibilities are "what [power] virtually all our customer experiences today," said Nazar.
Product managers ranked second and are responsible for the stages of development, launch and product maintenance. The importance of product managers goes beyond the actual deployment process.
These teams are often depended on to articulate the importance of an investment by persuading a board to trust the process.
Other buzzword-worthy tech jobs like DevOps engineer came in sixth. The salary is reduced because while this is still an in-demand role, third party service providers are increasingly offering similar functionalities.
DevOps positions "have more entry-level potential," said Robinson with a "steeper learning curve" because many companies aren't developing data internally. Human labor is needed less when the reigns are given to cloud providers.
How talent is keeping up
The tech industry is willing to compensate the talent it desperately needs.
Network engineer or systems administrators are also very in-demand jobs, according to Burning Glass.
Though the salaries of the entry-level roles indicate their relevancy and importance to the industry, it does not necessarily represent the most in-demands positions, according to Robinson.
The U.S. tech workforce makes up 8% of the overall workers and contributes about $1.8 trillion to the U.S. economy, according to a CompTIA report.
Software and web developers represent the majority of tech jobs (1.5 million) but IT services and custom software services represent the bulk of jobs (2.6 million) within the tech industry.
More individuals are entering the tech field with a promise of healthy salaries and a job with longevity, whether that means pursuing a college education or a certificate.
Coding boot camps are used by aspiring software developers to sharpen their skills. "Self-paced training" with appropriate certification is a solution for those pursuing infrastructure, cybersecurity or data careers, said Robinson.
Certifications span industry sectors like cloud, cybersecurity and project management. For example, the highest paying non-security certificate is AWS Certified Solutions Architect-Associate with earners taking home nearly $117,800.
Computer science degrees are an almost catch all for tech jobs but one of the "great equalizers is that a lot are forgoing college altogether," said Nazar. Professionals are "self taught as far back as junior high and high school."