Analytics Insight Interview

I was recently asked by Analytics Insight to provide some responses to interview questions about the state of the industry and Valpo’s data science programs. I thought the readers of this blog might be interested in my responses. They also interviewed several other program directors which collectively provide a nice snap-shot of the data science and analytics programs that are going on across the country.

My responses are below, and match the full Valpo article found here:

The entire e-newsletter is available through this link, with interviews from:

Purdue – Krannert School of Management – Director Karthik Kannan
St. Mary’s College – Director Kristin Kuter
University of Iowa – College of Business – Dept. Head Barrett W. Thomas
University of San Francisco – Director David Uminsky

The industry is seeing a rising importance of Big Data Analytics and AI. How do you see these emerging technologies impact the business sector?

Just as previous manufacturing technologies have impacted the type of work that the average employee must do, I expect that AI and Analytics will also drive major innovations in work-flow and process. Previously we saw first factory line workers improving the throughput, and often quality, of hand-made goods. Later improvements in machine automation moved workers into supervisory and trouble-shooting roles of the machine processes. I think there will now be another level of abstraction/distance between the produced good(s) and the oversight workers with AI.

How is Valparaiso University’s Analytics and Data Science Program contributing to the growth and transformation of analytics and big data education?

Dr. Schmitt, the Director of Data Science Programs at Valparaiso recently received a TRIPODS+EDU grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to investigate student difficulties in learning data science. Valpo is a prime site for doing this sort of education-focused research. We hope to continue to expand that work in the near future.

See the NSF News announcement:

See the Valparaiso University Press Release:

What is the edge Valparaiso University’s Analytics and Data Science Program has over other institutes in the industry?

Valpo’s programs have two features that I believe make it standout from its competitors, which are intimately tied together. First, students begin working with external clients and real, decision-level data as early as their second semester (that is, freshman year). Second, Valpo has extensive ties with non-profits and government agencies, due to its religious affiliations and history of social impact (1st in the Nation for Contribution to Public Good by the Washington Monthly). Together this means that every year a student studies at Valpo, their classwork and time can contribute to changing the world into a better place.

Kindly brief us about your role at Valparaiso University’s Analytics and Data Science Program and your journey in this highly promising sector.

I took over directing the Analytics and Modeling (AMOD) program in 2014, one year after I was originally hired at Valpo. For me, this was incredibly exciting as the ideas central to the program, applied mathematics with simulation, modelling, and statistical analysis were the core of my scientific background and research areas. Since then I have taken a lead role in shaping both the existing graduate program (AMOD) and forming a new undergraduate major, Data Science. My primary role within both programs is to help shape the student experience to develop analytical talent from recruitment to employment. I help with a variety of recruitment activities, advise all students enrolled in the programs, teach several of the key courses, and help many find internships or jobs after graduation.

What would you advice to aspiring big data and analytics candidates?

Learn Python. Seriously, I’m passionate that Python will over time become the core language for data science and analytics. Mostly because it’s simply got a far, far wider user-base than other languages (maybe not in this specific field, but overall).

This is followed closely by: Learn GIT – and not just the desktop version!

What are some of the challenges faced by the industry today?

I think the biggest challenges faced by the broader field and industry is fragmentation and lack of vision across disciplinary boundaries. Turf wars between mathematics, statistics, computer science, business, or whoever, aren’t really going to serve the further development of the field. Moreover, I think lack of willingness to see the value of other’s approaches to issues can blind researchers and practitioners to major issues. Central among these is lack of mathematical/statistical support for conclusions, reproducibility of results, and inherent bias in any data or analysis.

Please share some major achievements of Valparaiso University’s Analytics and Data Science Program under your leadership

Under my leadership Valparaiso University has established a full undergraduate major in Data Science and developed two new undergraduate courses (for Valpo) with two more coming next year. The enrolment in the graduate program (AMOD) has also increased by over 300%. We have also received a National Science Foundation grant for education research through the TRIPODS+X mechanism, one of only 4 educational grants.

Can you throw light on the latest employment trends in big data and analytics industry?

Sadly, I’m probably a bit out of touch here. I keep hearing about companies from nearly every sector wanting analytics skills, but the challenge is that each segment requires very very different training to be on the edge of trends. Much of my focus is on identifying, and then providing to students the skills that will allow them to ride today and tomorrow’s trends with equal skill.


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