Many of our customers invest in big data solutions to target their sales prospects better, explore advanced medical research, and make their internal processes more efficient. The biggest obstacle to getting these initiatives out of the gate is the shortage of big data skills within their own firms and across the industry.
To address this skills gap, EMC has developed a thorough data science and big data analytics curriculum for our customers. EMC was one of the first companies to offer data science education with rigorous, live instruction using free and open source tools. As of today, more than 10,000 customers, partners, and college students have attended the training.
I spoke with EMC’s David Dietrich, who leads this unique program to discuss his approach to data science education, which differs from more traditional product-oriented education. What I found most interesting is that in addition to David’s work at EMC, he has also helped design big data analytics curricula for Babson College and other universities. More recently, David has published a book, Data Science and Big Data Analytics, to help further develop data science skills and expertise in the industry.
1. Why is EMC pushing so hard to educate and develop data scientists?
As an information company, we’re extremely attuned to the value of big data, which is exploding in both the sheer amount and how organizations in virtually every field and industry are using it to solve critical problems. When EMC acquired our first big data company, Greenplum, several years ago, we quickly became aware that there was a shortage of people who had the data science and business skills to help companies utilize big data.
2. How is EMC taking a holistic approach to data science education?
We recognize that learning how to use big data technology alone does not ensure success. Senior management must make sure that appropriate people and processes are in place to drive the change and innovation necessary for valuable big data results to occur. To help companies on their journey, we offer courses for data scientists, who execute big data projects, and business executives who sponsor, run and manage them.
Our goal is to educate all levels of an organization so that data scientists and business people understand one another. That way, the organization is able to roll out big data projects with greater adoption and success. In addition to offering courses to our customers, we also work closely with universities and educational institutions to help them develop their own curriculum and programs.
3. Please describe some of the important skills for aspiring data scientists.
Working in strategy and analytics for the past 20 years, I’ve always been drawn to experimenting with data to solve problems, which is exactly is the mindset you need to tackle big data. Companies often ask me how to go about using massive amounts of structured and unstructured data to solve business problems. How do they know what to choose and ignore? How do they know what algorithms to apply? Our courses encourage a culture of experimentation that leads to answering these questions. We teach our students how to test an idea with data, measure it quantitatively, learn from it and iterate. This test and learn mindset is critical to becoming a talented data scientist and data-driven organization.
4. What are some of the challenges with evolving into a data-driven organization?
There can be a substantial divide between data scientists and business people who manage and work with them on big data projects. Many business people lack the technical background to understand how the algorithms apply to the problem and how to test ideas with data. And some data scientists may not understand the business context. We’re trying to educate each side so they can get a clearer picture and drive toward common goals. Once you bridge that gap, you can start driving real change, and solving old problems with big data or new information sources that were once unusable.
5. What should companies expect after they have successfully made the leap to big data?
We’re educating them in how to train and staff a big data team, as well as build processes to be effective and successful. With this approach, companies can more effectively define the business problem, acquire the right data sets, experiment, communicate the results, and finally, operationalize the new processes.