Research data science career levels

Building high-performing Research and Data Science teams with clear career paths

At Intercom, we obsess about our customers’ success. 

We study our customer’s wants, needs, and behaviors so we can deeply understand their problems and provide the right solutions. Research and data science play a major role in surfacing holistic insights about our customers and ensuring we’re building products that drive real value.

To ensure we build the fullest picture of our customers and their needs, we created a new function called RAD (research, analytics, and data science) about 18 months ago. RAD brings together our Product Research and Product Analytics (aka Data Science) teams into a single org with the mission of driving effective, evidence-based decisions.  

“We established a set of rituals and processes, and hired talented, passionate new folks”

We needed to build for high performance

Our insights are used to shape strategy and help the company focus on what matters most – building products that deliver value and positive impact to our customers and our business. 

Once we had created the unified function, we set about building a high-performing team. We developed a clear team mission, vision, and purpose, and created the right org structure and ways of working. We established a set of rituals and processes, and hired talented, passionate new folks. 

An essential step on our path to high performance was to create dedicated RAD career ladders. These helped us to:

  • Clarify roles and responsibilities across the team.
  • Align on clear expectations and competencies for team members. 
  • Promote career development and progression.
  • Assess and calibrate performance fairly.

By aligning the team on the behaviors and standards we expect from our teammates, and demonstrating what good looks like, we were able to build a more cohesive team – a team that can support each other, hold each other accountable, and work towards shared goals in an effective way. 

Team RAD’s career paths

While most career opportunities may mean stepping into a management position, at Intercom we believe that the manager path is a lateral career move, not a promotion. We consider management as its own separate craft. So working alongside RAD managers Nick, Louis, and Hayley, we created two distinct key career paths within team RAD: individual contributor (IC) and manager. 

“We prioritize mastery and communication above all, and we expect our researchers, data scientists, and managers to have opinions”

There are some qualities we expect to see across all of our RAD team members; we prioritize mastery and communication above all, and we expect our researchers, data scientists, and managers to have opinions. This may seem counterintuitive in a field that revolves around objectivity, but expert opinions are a crucial input to company strategy decisions – subjective decisions based on objective data. 

However, ICs and Managers are two very different roles, requiring different skills, responsibilities, and operations. This is reflected in the ladder and competencies we’ve specified for each path.

Team RAD’s Individual Contributor track

Individual contributors (ICs) are an essential part of any team. The IC track in RAD spans Associate, Mid-Level, Senior, Staff, Principal, and Senior Principal Data Scientist/Researcher, and performance is assessed based on the six major skill sets that we believe are crucial for Researchers and Data Scientists to be successful in Intercom and flourish in their careers.

Six essential skill sets of Individual Contributors:

  • Mastery
  • Partnerships and influence
  • Impact
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Feedback and collaboration


Become an expert in the core skills, competencies, and relevant tools necessary to achieve excellence in the distinct crafts of research or data science. 

Specific competencies: 

  • Tools and methods
  • Technical/analytical expertise
  • Programming
  • Research techniques

Partnerships and influence

Foster a deep knowledge of Intercom, our products, and our business functions. Develop trusted partnerships, build consensus and influence, and educate others.

Specific competencies:

  • Product and business knowledge and vision
  • Strong relationships and cross-functional partnerships


The ability to unblock oneself, demonstrate initiative, and be proactive. It factors in the size, scope, and value of the work, and requires a focus on tangible business, customer, and team impact. 

Specific competencies:

  • Ownership
  • Proactivity and self-direction
  • Scope, visibility, and effect


Lead by example, and continuously try to raise the bar for the whole team and company.

Specific competencies:

  • Applying team and company values
  • Mentorship
  • Knowledge sharing and brand
  • Hiring and onboarding


Share findings in an audience-appropriate manner and communicate broadly about our org and your work, both internally and externally. Advanced storytelling skills are at the core of this competency.

Feedback and collaboration

Includes things like interactions with others, contribution to the team, a focus on giving and receiving effective feedback, and acting as a role model for others. 

“Managers should be a role model for the team’s values and help take the RAD function to the next level”

Team RAD Management track

On the management path, spanning both management and senior management, the expectations are slightly different. They fall under five skill sets, each with their own associated competencies.

Five essential skill sets of Research and Data Science managers:

  • Leadership
  • People management
  • Business strategy
  • Product strategy
  • Execution and impact


Managers should be able to motivate, engage, and partner effectively with their direct team and the wider R&D org. They should be a role model for the team’s values and help take the RAD function to the next level.

Specific competencies: 

  • Driving motivation and engagement across the team.
  • Communicating effectively and helping colleagues and leaders to improve communication within the team and with the wider company.
  • Collaborating and building relationships with senior stakeholders across the business, as well as spotting opportunities for cross-functional partnerships. 
  • Upleveling the RAD function: Participating in RAD programs and projects, demonstrating thought leadership, and contributing to the strategy and direction of the org.
  • Building visibility as the go-to domain expert for the relevant area of expertise, both internally and externally.
  • Exemplifying and coaching team values, as well as helping leadership to model them.

People management

Build a high-performing team by hiring talented people and nurturing them to fulfill their potential.

Specific competencies:

  • Hiring and recruiting: Being a stakeholder in our hiring process and taking any opportunity to make it fairer and more welcoming for all candidates.
  • Providing consistent, constructive feedback to direct reports, and identifying areas for development as they arise.

Business strategy

RAD managers need to understand our company strategy and demonstrate strong commercial thinking. They help connect the dots between our customers, our products, and our business outcomes, and they help shape company strategy and commercial success with insights and evidence.

Specific competencies:

  • Understanding our company strategy and how it relates to their area of responsibility, and advocating for ways to directly influence our commercial success through research and data science.
  • Understanding the commercial levers of our business, evolving how we measure product performance, and helping to spot new opportunities for improving business performance.
  • Understanding the competitor landscape and industry trends for their area and coaching their team in these skills. 

Product strategy

Shape compelling product strategy based on insights, evidence, and outcomes. 

Specific competencies:

  • Building and evangelizing deep customer insight and understanding, and looking for opportunities to bring our R&D teams closer to our customers.
  • Understanding what successful strategy looks like and contributing to it with feedback and expertise. 
  • Spotting opportunities to improve processes and coach their teams.

“From the moment people join Intercom, we demonstrate what great looks like through clearly established standards”

Execution and impact

Support teams in delivering great data science and research work that drives tangible impact for our products, business, and customers.

Specific competencies:

  • Contributing functional knowledge, deep domain experience, and broad industry knowledge.
  • Understanding our R&D principles and process and how they feed into our overall product strategy. The influence of senior managers should be felt far beyond their own team or function. 
  • Defining impactful goals and continuously improving team planning and prioritization processes.
  • Guiding executional work: Facilitating the delivery of high-quality work, offering constructive feedback, and ensuring that the team’s work is shared with the rest of the company. 

Clear expectations maximize growth and impact

At Intercom, we hire talented, ambitious, and driven people who strive for excellence. We lay out our expectations clearly to help them deliver impact, do the best work of their careers, and develop in incredible ways. From the moment they join us, we demonstrate what great looks like through clearly established standards.

Team RAD is still in its early stages, and there’s a lot of room to shape the kind of team we become and the impact we have. Would you like to work as part of a team that’s essential to Intercom’s exciting future? We’re hiring – check out Team RAD’s open roles here.

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