Dear CertMag is a regular feature that addresses common questions about certification and related IT issues. Have a question? Send an e-mail to editor (at) certmag (dot) com.
Dear CertMag: I like what I'm hearing about big data. I've worked in database management for a couple of years, and I'd like to use that experience to get into a data scientist role. I'd like to really throw myself at this. Would an IT boot camp be a good way to go? Also, my one hesitation here is that data science seems like an endeavor in which programming and artificial intelligence will quickly replace humans. Or do I have too limited a view?
— Buck, Austin, Texas
I, too, love the world of big data, not only because it is such an amazing place where we are watching computer science be extended, but because it is an incredible lens through which to view the capabilities of “cloud” and “virtualization” technologies we have seen undertake amazing expansion, development and refinement the last few years.
It’s hard to talk about what “big data” is, because so many firms throw around the term to include many different things. So let’s talk about acquiring the skills necessary to work with information processing and analysis systems that are required to respond to a question in less time than it takes to ask it.
Boot camps are an interesting conundrum, as they seek to provide maximum learning opportunity while helping us minimize the time we are taking away from our spouses, our kids, our work — whatever we are interrupting — to obtain the new information. Yet, the candidates that flock to these programs may not always be the best ones to make use of the knowledge!
My advice would be to consider a boot camp in the context of a larger plan to get yourself into the job you want to get into. Start by honestly assessing your skills: Check out resumes for information scientists, information technicians, data administrators, information architects online. What are the terms you see coming up over and over in the jobs that you could see yourself wanting to apply to.
Ask yourself honestly: Which of these do my experience really support today? To put a point on it, thrown into a cube, with hostile co-workers that aren’t helping me, to which of these jobs could I apply my experience and work for a few months without getting fired?
Use that to figure out where to start. The fundamentals are ... well ... fundamental. They are building blocks to get you started. Don’t spend your money on expensive training without ensuring that you are 100 percent comfortable you have the basics covered. YouTube videos, Coursera courses on data science, the Khan Academy introduction to information theory, basics of database administration — these resources are all out there to help you get started down this road.
Once you have made the investments of your time to ensure that you are up to date with many of the underlying concepts and technologies, that’s the time to consider whether a boot camp makes sense for you personally. Are you the kind of person who can “drink in” information fast enough and intensely enough to get enough out of the experience? Or can you better continue to put in time at night, weekends, and as you get the opportunity to build a self-directed learning path?
Your personal learning style, resources, and need for an instructor should really guide your decision about whether a particular learning offering — whether a boot camp or a traditional classroom offering are worth your dollars.
I strongly believe that “big data” is here to stay. I would go a step further and say that, in a year or two, we will look back and what we call “big data” today will just be tomorrow’s “data.” The skills you pick up along the way in the next few years will not be wasted, rather they will be your building block tomorrow for where you want to continue to grow as a professional.