MARGARET LIM
August 2, 2016

Microsoft degree in data science

Skills

Microsoft degree in data science

Alison Cunard: A professional degree that combines 'online learning with hands-on labs and workshops'

The ‘sexiest job of the 21st century’ does not have many takers, and Microsoft has come up with a solution to close the skills gap.

The term was coined by the Harvard Business Review to describe how the role of the data scientist is becoming one of the hottest and fastest growing jobs in the world.

These are the ‘Quants’ – as the finance sector began calling them – who excel at analysing data, particularly large amounts of data, to help a business gain competitive advantage.

The Seattle-based software giant has announced a Microsoft Professional Degree program, the first of its kind to offer employer-endorsed, university-calibre curriculum for professionals at any stage of their career.

The initial degree offering is in data science, and all courseware will be available on edX.org, the non-profit online learning destination founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The program will provide technology professionals with real-world knowledge and hands-on experience to grow their skills.

According to Microsoft, the data science degree was selected as the pilot program because it responds directly to market need. There is enormous opportunity for people in this field.

First, there are insufficient graduates to fill the positions. Local universities currently offer data analytics-related subjects embedded within business intelligence, statistics, computing, mathematics, and programming modules, with just a handful of institutions offering dedicated data science degrees – although this is quickly changing.

Secondly, technology is changing so fast that corporate internal training and on-the-job experience are unable to help employees keep up. To be successful in this field, employees need functional skills (like statistics, principles, etc ) and technical skills (T-SQL, Excel, R, Python, etc), which are rarely a part of traditional academic programs.

The Microsoft degree program will appeal to people in the early stages of their career and an enhancement for mid-career professionals looking to sharpen their focus in the high-tech job market.

The courses are available to students worldwide as long as a learner has access to edX.org.

“The breadth and versatility of the edX platform allow us to expand our reach and deliver the Microsoft Professional Degree program, combining online learning with hands-on labs and workshops, allowing students to gain relevant and marketable skills,” said Alison Cunard, general manager, Microsoft Learning Experiences.

Microsoft expects that there may be some countries that do not allow the use of the term “degree” as it may be out of compliance with their local educational qualification framework. In those cases, it will work with the local jurisdiction to identify an appropriate credential to award to graduates of the program.

It maintains, however, that Microsoft Professional Degree is consistent with the definition of a ‘professional degree’ in that it prepares someone for a particular profession by emphasizing skills and practical analysis over theory and research.

Since May 2016, over 200 pioneering partner and 650 Microsoft employees have been participating in a closed preview to evaluate and validate the data science curriculum.

Traditionally online courses have a low completion rate. By focusing on improving learner outcomes and creating a credential that will help students build the skills necessary to land a job or advance their career, Microsoft hopes to buck the trend.

The best measure of success, it says, is whether or not people who achieve this credential are able to grow their careers or land a job in the field.

To this end, the company will be working with graduates to track longitudinal career data and to adjust the curriculum based on their real-world experiences.

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