IBM, universities partner on 'big data' skills training

Big data is currently the fastest growing category on jobs board Dice.com

IBM is hoping to help create the next generation of "big data" specialists through a series of partnerships with universities around the world, as well as influence the curriculum.

Nine new agreements announced Wednesday involve Georgetown University, George Washington University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Missouri and Northwestern University in the U.S. IBM is also beginning big data programs at Dublin City University, Mother Teresa Women's University in India, the National University of Singapore, and the Philippines' Commission on Higher Education.

They will result in a variety of programs, including a master of science degree in the business analytics track at George Washington University; an undergraduate course titled "Big Data Analytics" at the University of Missouri; and a center for business analytics at the National University of Singapore.

Big data refers to the massive amounts of structured and unstructured data being continuously generated by websites, social media, sensors, smart devices and other sources. A wide range of software, hardware and consulting companies have been bringing products and services to market that they say customers can use to derive valuable business insights from such information.

Participants in the academic programs will get access to a "wide spectrum of IBM Big Data and analytics software solutions," as well as case studies, guest lecture appearances by IBM "thought leaders" and case study projects, according to an IBM spokesman. Some 1,000 schools are now involved with IBM regarding big data, according to a statement.

Such programs have clear benefits for both sides, with potentially cash-strapped schools getting access to technology and other resources, while IBM helps seed the market for future big data consultants, data scientists and developers that know its technology.

In its announcement, IBM cited U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics that found there will be a 24 percent rise in demand for people with "data analytics skills" over the next eight years.

Big data is also the fastest-growing job category on tech jobs board Dice.com. There are some 1,500 job listings in the area on the site daily, a 127 percent rise compared to a year ago.

Employers are looking most often for people skilled in Hadoop, the programming framework for large-scale data processing, said Scot Melland, CEO of site owner Dice Holdings, in an interview Wednesday.

Big data is still a "relatively small category" among Dice.com's 84,000 job listings, Melland said. However, it's telling that other major categories have remained largely flat year-over-year. For example, ads for Java programmers rose just 2 percent in contrast to big data's triple-digit rise, he said.

While companies are managing to fill big data positions, there's a caveat. "They are finding the candidates but a lot of what they're doing is poaching candidates from other companies," Melland said. "One of the reasons I would expect IBM is making these partnerships to make sure there's enough engineers to meet the demand they're seeing."

Also Wednesday, IBM announced the winners of an awards program aimed at university professors. Fourteen were awarded US$10,000 for their work developing curricula "designed to develop the business and technical skills required for data-crunching jobs."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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