Big Data

IBM Collaboration supports big data curriculum
June 12, 2014

WPI recently announced a new collaboration with IBM to support and enhance big data curriculum using a mix of interdisciplinary know-how along with computing skills.

WPI is one of 28 business schools and universities nationwide that will work with IBM on this new initiative to give students experience and training to be ready to launch into a rapidly expanding job market. According to IBM, “4.4 million jobs will be created worldwide to support big data by 2015.”

Industries across the board are calling for people who not only know how to gather information from data being produced with different technologies, but can analyze the data and “read” what it means for businesses right now and how it will help guide them.

Using IBM’s resources and support, students studying data science will have better access to the tools that will help them understand how to interpret the massive volumes of data being produced all over the world. Working with universities helps bring a talented pool of candidates to industries calling for more data scientists and workers.

“This allows us in principle to do large-scale big data projects,” says Elke Rundensteiner, director of data science at WPI. “Data science curricula should be very applied, and it’s driven by the need of the industry to have data scientists.”

Big data isn’t just pure numbers. “In fact, it may not be numbers at all,” says Rundensteiner. “It could be textual data like a tweet or images like weather.”

IBM is working with more than 5,000 universities worldwide and over 20 percent of those are working with big data analytics areas

“It helps drive better business decisions and is important across many different industries,” says Robert Bry, skills leader and architect, IBM Academic Initiative. Students will learn not just how to gather the data they need but also how to analyze the data so they can transfer it into real-life choices. “Business leaders need to understand and analyze data,” Bry says. If they can do that effectively, they become leaders who are able to make better informed choices and decisions that will have wide-reaching impacts on various industries.

IBM’s collaboration will help WPI faculty line up projects with the students in the degree programs, says Rundensteiner. The partnership goes beyond typical classroom work and will bring in guest speakers with IBM’s strategy and analytics expertise and will support project work that might otherwise not be as in-depth. Rundensteiner says WPI plans to increase similar partnerships across industries to benefit the data science curriculum and is assembling a WPI data science advisory board.

The need for skilled data scientists is great. “IBM is working with more than 5,000 universities worldwide and over 20 percent of those are working with big data analytics areas,” says Jim Spohrer, director of global university programs at IBM. “That speaks to the demand out there. The amount of data being generated in the work is growing exponentially.”

But, he says, the data won’t help any industry without qualified and skilled professionals who know how to collect it and what to do with it. “To unlock the value of the data, you need people with skills,” Spohrer says. “They need to use the tools that allow them to extract data. You can’t do that manually with so much data.”

WPI students will have access to state-of-the-art hardware, software, and other technologies that will help them with real time “use cases,” or sample data sets and business studies that will help them tie the curriculum with the real-world skills. Having these data sets, which involve enormous amounts of information, is helpful to students who wouldn’t have access to such detailed and vast information otherwise.

The data sets align with WPI’s reliance on project-based work to enhance learning through both course work and research projects. “These will help them solve realistic problems so when they leave WPI they are ready to jump in,” says Rundensteiner.

Students in all disciplines will begin seeing the need for big data skills, says Spohrer. “Every job will be transformed by big data,” he says. “And the tools are getting more sophisticated.”