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Q&A: What's needed to get a big data job?

Big data will change training in all corporate units, says Michael Rappa, who created the first U.S. post graduate program in data analytics

October 24, 2012 12:37 PM ET

Computerworld - The torrents of data produced by social networks, sensors, supply chains and every imaginable device are creating new jobs. Gartner estimated this week that big data will create 1.9 million new jobs in the U.S. through 2015.

Michael Rappa saw this emerging trend and in 2007 became the founding director of the Institute for Advanced Analytics at North Carolina State University, which created a Master of Science in Analytics program, the first academic program devoted to data analytics. Rappa continues as the Insitute's director. Universities around the U.S. are now establishing similar advanced degree programs.

In an interview this week, Rappa, who previously taught at MIT, explains what constitutes a big data job and the types of training people will need to get them.

What constitute a big data job? I'm not sure anyone can give a precise answer at this point. It would be misleading to describe big data positions simply in terms of a set of tools or programming languages.

It's not uncommon for employers to come to the Institute looking for big data talent without a written job description. But they know they need our graduates.

Those that do come with a job description in hand, describe a disparate array of positions up and down and across the organization. The common thread is the need for data savvy professionals who can draw meaningful insights from the flood of data pouring into the organization. The emerging role of "data scientist" aims to define such a person, but convergence on a single definition (especially from the point of educating one) may be premature.

Gartner predicts that the need to control 'big data' will create 1.9 million direct IT jobs in the U.S. through 2015, but there is only enough talent available to fill one third of them. What's your view of this forecast and assessment? Gartner is no doubt careful in formulating their estimate. It's a three-year horizon, so the groundwork on where we'll be in 2015 is being planned today.

It's not hard to get to a large number, in terms of jobs. It's the [prediction of a] shortfall in filling those jobs that will surprise people. Is the educational community failing us [as Gartner Research Director Peter Sondergaard suggests]? I tend to agree. We need to do more to align educational offerings with the rapidly evolving needs of the marketplace.

While we've shown we can deliver big data talent with our MSA degree -- we doubled enrollment this year to 80 -- we should be doing more and faster. If there were 10 institutes like mine each turning out 200 graduates a year -- still it would only represent about 1% of the number of students enrolled in MBA programs nationwide.

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