The art of big data
01/31/2016 by Paul Briand
PORTSMOUTH – There is STEM, the education initiative that includes an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math. And there is growing interest in STEAM, including the art of design principles and creative solutions in the mix.
Now enter the data scientist, an emerging field of study that could play a greater role as businesses deal with big data.
To Mary Rudis, an associated professor of math at Great Bay Community College, the data scientist has all the components of science, technology, engineering and math, with an artistic bent thrown in for good measure.
“It has all of the STEM and encompasses the A as an artist being able to visualize the data and make charts, graphs, dashboards,” Rudis said. “Are you communicating the data correctly? There’s an art to that.”
Rudis and Great Bay Community College recently held a workshop on data science career trends at its Pease International Tradeport campus. The workshop gave the two dozen participants an opportunity to hear from experts on the evolving field of data science, which requires skills to acquire, reformat, visualize and analyze data to utilize in reports and solve problems.
The experts included Jeremiah Johnson, program coordinator and assistant professor of data science with the "Analytics B.S.," an analytics program at the University of New Hampshire-Manchester, Oliver Keyes, research analyst at Wikimedia Foundation, and Bob Rudis, security data scientist at Verizon Enterprise Solutions.
According to Rudis, the term data science has been around for about a dozen years, and it shouldn’t be confused with data analytics.
“Data science is a broader approach to data analysis,” Rudis said.
This broader approach, according to Rudis, requires a broader field of study that includes computer science and software knowledge, as well as research and experimentation.
“You’re more involved in the overall process of acquiring the data,” Rudis said.
She noted the data may not just reside in a database where it can be manipulated. An experiment might be required to create the data in the first place. A data scientist, said Rudis, would run the experiment, gather the data, interpret the data, and then issue a final report in a way that could be understood by the people to whom the report is delivered. Often, the data scientist must run a team of researchers, so skills at managing people are also necessary.
That unique skill set is hard to come by, said Rudis, added that type of person is often called “a unicorn.”
“That person doesn’t really exist,” she said. “You would have to work a lifetime to achieve that level of expertise.”
According to Rudis, there are a variety of business needs for a data scientist.
Cyber security and protecting data, such as the personal information held by credit card companies, is an example, as is marketing, which can have huge databases of information. “Now what do you do with it,” said Rudis.
The growing need for data interpretation has produced what Rudis described as “a hunger” from business for data scientists, which is why GBCC got into the business of teaching it and making it a credentialed part of a student’s major.
Usually, data science is taught on the graduate school level, according to Rudis.
“I made it my goal to be the first in the country to make it part of the undergraduate level,” she said. “I focus on the math skills, the statistics and making it a practical approach.”
You might major in business or major in environmental science and make data science a “stackable credential,” as part of a two-year degree, Rudis said.
In teaching data science, she’s found different students with different professional interests taking the course. One student is interested in quality assurance as a career, another is interested in the sustainability of the ocean’s fisheries. She has business and economics students, and has had discussions with other professors on the role data science plays in careers in environmental science and bio-technology.
As a math professor educated in math theory, Rudis admits the field of data science makes her feel like she needs to be back in school “to understand some of the overlapping concepts from other academic principles.”
As she teaches a course filled with STEAM at the college level, Rudis hopes grade school and high school STEM programs remember to include the T.
“We’re really good at the S, the E and the M but not so good at the T,” she said. “We need to help people understand the need for these skills and as that they have some sense of what human-computer interaction is all about.”
Young people are exposed to technology all the time – through their phones, tablets and computers. But Rudis believes the knowledge of their devices doesn’t go deep enough.
“We need to help them become good troubleshooters with their devices,” she said. “If there is a problem do they even know what to do?”