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New Education Opportunities for Data Scientists

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2013 has been rich in announcements for new programs, degrees and grants for aspiring data scientists and Big Data practitioners.

Back in November, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced a five-year, $37.8 million project to help popularize data science and big data for tomorrow’s scientists, and create a framework for collaboration between leading universities in this field, namely New York University, University of Washington, and University of California, Berkeley. Funding for this project comes from the Moore Foundation and the Sloan Foundation. This partnership is trying to “change the culture of universities to create a data science culture”, says Joshua Greenberg, director of the Sloan Foundation’s Digital Information Technology program, in a statement that highlights the main ambition behind this project.

The universities involved in this initiative had already launched their own Data Science programs earlier in 2013: Berkeley with itsonline Master’s degree in Data Science announced in July, NYU unveiled a newMaster’s degree in Data Science as part of itsCenter for Data Science in March which began in September. With popular Big Data projects such as Spark developed by research teams in this group, there are many expectations for the future graduates of these degrees in an industry starving for this kind of talent.

One of the highlights of 2013 has been the popularization of the MOOCs – online courses involving a large student population from different backgrounds - and there were many opportunities for data scientists to learn. Aspiring data scientists could get an introduction to the field on MOOC platform Coursera with a course from university of Washington’s director of research Bill Howe. The topics covered included everything a data scientist needs to know from relational databases, NoSQL, machine learning, MapReduce and Hadoop to more abstract fields like data visualization. With a rate of completion of more than 15% - when the typical MOOC has a completion rate of less than 10% - and an overwhelmingly positive response in the course forums, this course aligns well with the high-demand for data scientists today, and is due for a repeat this year.

Other online universities have also jumped on the bandwagon regarding data science. For example, Udacity has partnered with Big Data startup Cloudera in November to offer an online data science training centered around Big Data. The first course in this track is an introduction to Hadoop and MapReduce, taught by Cloudera instructors and centered on hands-on knowledge about writing Hadoop MapReduce jobs and using HDFS. Cloudera already has a lot of credibility built around Hadoop, with its popular Hadoop distributions and the open-source project Impala, so there is a lot to expect from this training. Interested individuals can already sign up for the free courseware, even if the full course is scheduled to start in January 2014.

With these new opportunities, there has been a lot of buzz around the field of data science. Take Hilary Mason, a famous data scientist in NYC who also co-founded HackNY, who twitted in November that “Data science is a growing area”. At Strata 2013 in NYC there was a session with Yann LeCun, director of the data science program at NYU, going in depth on the recent data science opportunities and how they are making data science one of the sexiest jobs of the 21st century.

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