Thanks to Edward Snowdon's revelations about the NSA's industrial-scale electronic snooping activities, so-called "big data" has gone from being a buzzword in IT and CIO circles to a big issue in the mainstream media.
At the same time, there has been a parallel increase in demand for people with specialist skills in gathering, analysing and understanding data, so much so that according to a 2011 McKinsey Institute report, the US alone faces a shortage of up to 190,000 people with data analysis skills by 2018.
But rocketing demand for data scientists represents a big opportunity for institutions that can train and develop them. Which is why the University of California at Berkeley's School of Information (I School) has launched a new Master of Information and Data Science program (MIDS) – or more snappily, "datascience@berkeley" – which catches the eye not only because of its $60,000 price tag, but also because it will be delivered entirely online.
"This new degree program is in response to a dramatically growing need for well-trained big data professionals who can organize, analyze and interpret the deluge of often messy and unorganized data available from the web, sensor networks, mobile devices and elsewhere," said AnnaLee Saxenian, the I School's Dean
"These new professionals need an assortment of skills ranging from math, programming, communication to management, statistics, engineering, and social sciences, not to mention a deep curiosity and an ability to translate technical jargon into everyday English," she added.
The delivery mechanism for the degree is being provided by 2U, an education technology company that provides online learning environments to enable universities to put their programs online. As one would expect for the premium price tag (about the same as for the equivalent physical degree), Berkeley claims that the program will offer a premium learning environment that is very different from the sort of mass-participation online courses that have been available until now. Classes of not more than 15-20 students will interact in real-time with professors and each other in live, face-to-face classes using 2U's online platform. Additional coursework will include lectures, interactive case studies and collaborative assignments.
The 27-unit program, which kicks off in January 2014, will cover areas such as a machine learning, data storage and retrieval to the privacy, security, and the ethics of data.
Dean Saxenian, author of "The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in a Global Economy" and other books about Silicon Valley said, "The online MIDS program is ideal for today's students, who are likely to have jobs working on globally distributed teams in roles such as data engineer, data architect, data and analytics officer, financial analyst, and director of health analytics."