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Data Scientist: Consider the Curriculum

September 18, 2012

Data science’s learning curve is formidable. To a great degree, you will need a degree, or something substantially like it, to prove you’re committed to this career. You will need to submit yourself to a structured curriculum to certify you’ve spent the time, money and midnight oil necessary for mastering this demanding discipline.

Data Scientist: Consider the CurriculumSure, there are run-of-the-mill degrees in data-science-related fields, and then there are uppercase, boldface, bragging-rights “DEGREES.” To some extent, it matters whether you get that old data-science sheepskin from a traditional university vs. an online school vs. a vendor-sponsored learning program. And it matters whether you only logged a year in the classroom vs. sacrificed a considerable portion of your life reaching for the golden ring of a Ph.D. And it certainly matters whether you simply skimmed the surface of old-school data science vs. pursued a deep specialization in a leading-edge advanced analytic discipline.

But what matters most to modern business isn’t that every data scientist has a big honking doctorate. What matters most is that a substantial body of personnel has a common grounding in core curriculum of skills, tools and approaches. Ideally, you want to build a team where diverse specialists with a shared foundation can collaborate productively.

Big data initiatives thrive if all data scientists have been trained and certified on a curriculum with the following foundation:

  • Paradigms and practices: Every data scientist should acquire a grounding in core concepts of data science, analytics and data management. They should gain a common understanding of the data science lifecycle, as well as the typical roles and responsibilities of data scientists in every phase. They should be instructed on the various role(s) of data scientists and how they work in teams and in conjunction with business domain experts and stakeholders. And they learn a standard approach for establishing, managing and operationalizing data science projects in the business.
  • Algorithms and modeling: Every data scientist should obtain a core understanding of linear algebra, basic statistics, linear and logistic regression, data mining, predictive modeling, cluster analysis, association rules, market basket analysis, decision trees, time-series analysis, forecasting, machine learning, Bayesian and Monte Carlo Statistics, matrix operations, sampling, text analytics, summarization, classification, primary components analysis, experimental design, unsupervised learning constrained optimization.
  • Tools and platforms: Every data scientist should master a core group of modeling, development and visualization tools used on your data science projects, as well as the platforms used for storage, execution, integration and governance of big data in your organization. Depending on your environment, and the extent to which data scientists work with both structured and unstructured data, this may involve some combination of data warehousing, Hadoop, stream computing, NoSQL and other platforms. It will probably also entail providing instruction in MapReduce, R and other new open-source development languages, in addition to SPSS, SAS and any other established tools.
  • Applications and outcomes: Every data scientist should learn the chief business applications of data science in your organization, as well as in how to work best with subject-domain experts. In many companies, data science focuses on marketing, customer service, next best offer, and other customer-centric applications. Often, these applications require that data scientists understand how to leverage customer data acquired from structured survey tools, sentiment analysis software, social media monitoring tools and other sources. It also essential that every data scientist gain an understanding of the key business outcomes–such as maximizing customer lifetime value–that should focus their modeling initiatives.

Classroom instruction is important, but a curriculum that is 100 percent devoted to reading books, taking tests and sitting through lectures is insufficient. Hands-on laboratory work is paramount for a truly well-rounded data scientist. Make sure that your data scientists acquire certifications and degrees that reflect them actually developing statistical models that use real data and address substantive business issues.

A business-oriented data-science curriculum should produce expert developers of statistical and predictive models. It should not degenerate into a program that produces analytics geeks with heads stuffed with theory but whose diplomas are only fit for hanging on the wall.


Join us for a big data tweetup!

If you’re at Information On Demand 2012, be sure to join us Monday, October 22, 5:30pm in the “Think BIG Social Lounge” for a tweetup: “It’s a big data world! What skills will you need?

The big data downpour is re-shaping the world of IT and analytics. Are you ready for it? This tweetup will be hosted by IBM Big Data Evangelist, James Kobielus, and Leon Katsnelson, Program Director of Big Data and Cloud Computing, for a chance to network with other attendees and IBM Subject Matter Experts leading the big data charge.

 

See James' other posts on data scientists