Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Growing the Next Generation of Data Scientists with the Help of Industry

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Growing the Next Generation of Data Scientists with the Help of Industry

Article excerpt

Data, more than ever before, are the lifeblood of every organization. From media companies to retail stores, data allow organizations to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Whether used in market research or in cost reduction efforts, organizations must leverage data to be competitive, and for the most part they now enjoy access to all the data anyone could ever need.

What most organizations today don't have ready access to are data scientists who are trained to turn all of their data into actionable insights.

Gartner predicts that by 2015, about 4.4 million data science jobs will be available, and only a third of them will be filled. Is there a shortage of people with the requisite combination of programming, data management skills, and statistical and mathematical ability? Yes.

Can we in academia develop more of those people? Absolutely. But we are going to need the help of industry to accomplish that.

As universities nationwide define and create new undergraduates and graduate data science programs, industry can help to make our programs more interesting and relevant for students. We will also benefit from greater access to industry data sets and the latest big data technologies.

Data science, by its nature, is abstract, making it difficult to attract initial student interest. But in the real world, data science is applied in many concrete, exciting ways that we can bring into our classrooms. The perceived gap between academia and industry is why I took a sabbatical this past year to work with Avalon Consulting, a big data consultancy headquartered near Dallas.

The experience has proved invaluable. However, most, if not all, of what I learned came through hands-on experience in developing solutions.

To make data science concepts more interesting and tangible for students, we should provide them with similar hands-on opportunities.

To that end, companies should organize contests for students that allow them to work on actual problems with real industry data sets (similar to the Netflix Prize). …

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