Demand for skilled data scientists continues to be sky-high, withIBM recently predicted that there will be a 28% increase in the number of employed data scientists in the next two years.
Businesses in all industries are beginning to capitalise on the vast increase in data and the new big data technologies becoming available for analysing and gaining value from it.
This makes it a great prospect for anyone looking for a well-paid career in an exciting and cutting-edge field.
But it isn’t just those following a traditional academic path – such by studying for one of the best US data science masters degree courses I covered in a recent article – who can benefit.
There are also a large number of free online courses and tutorials which a motivated individual could use as a springboard into a rewarding and lucrative career.
Who could benefit from a free online data science course?
Employers are waking up to the fact that employees with the ability to use data and analytics to solve business problems are increasingly valuable, whatever their background or position in an organisation.
A lot of this is because of the proliferation of self-service infrastructure and tools designed to automate many of the technical but repetitive tasks involved with data cleaning, preparation and analytics. This means workers are increasingly able to carry out complex data-driven operations such as predictive modelling and automation without getting their hands dirty coding complex algorithms from scratch.
However, someone with an understanding of the principles will often be in a better position to use these tools productively than someone without! So, if you are looking to enhance your own CV with analytics skills you could do far worse than look at some of these courses. It’s worth noting however that while you can educate yourself with these courses without spending a penny, some of them charge for certification when you’ve finished.
Coursera – Data Science Specialization
Coursera provides one of the longest-established online data science educations, through John Hopkins University. It isn’t completely free – if you can afford it, you are expected to pay a course and certification fee – but this is waived for students who don’t have the financial resources available.
Comprised of 10 courses, the specialisation covers statistical programming in R, cluster analysis, natural language processing and practical applications of machine learning. To complete the program, students create a data product which can be used to solve a real-world problem.
Coursera – Data-Driven Decision Making
Also from Coursera, this course is provided by PwC so unsurprisingly focuses more on business applications than theory. It covers the spectrum of tools and techniques which are being adopted by businesses today to tackle data challenges, and the different roles that data specialists can fill in modern organisations. Students are also tutored on selecting the best tools and frameworks for solving problems with data. The four-week course concludes with a task involving deploying a data solution in a simulated business environment.
EdX – Data Science Essentials
This course is provided by Microsoft and forms part of their Professional Program Certificate in Data Science, although it can also be taken as a stand-alone course through EdX. Students are expected to have an “introductory” knowledge of R or Python – the two most popular languages for data science programming at the moment. Subjects covered include probability and statistics, data exploration, visualisation, and an introduction to machine learning, using the Microsoft Azure framework. Although all of the course material is free, students can pay ($90 in this case) for an official certificate on completion.
Udacity – Intro to Machine Learning
Machine learning is undoubtedly one of the hot topics in data science right now, and this course aims to give a full overview, from theory to practical application. As well as an introduction to selecting data sources and choosing which algorithms best fit a particular problem the course also forms a part of Udacity’s paid-for “nanodegree” in data analysis.
IBM provides a number of free online courses through its portal formerly known as Big Data University and now rebranded as Cognitive Class. This program covers data science 101, methodology, hands-on applications, programming in R and open source tools. Collectively they should take around 20 hours to complete although those with prior experience of computer science will probably progress more quickly, whereas complete beginners may take a little bit longer.
California Institute of Technology – Learning from Data
This course focuses on machine learning and is delivered as a series of video lectures along with homework assignments and a final exam. As well as an overview of how computers “learn”, it goes into depth with the mathematics (students are expected to have a working knowledge of matrices and calculus, so this one isn’t for complete maths newbies).
Dataquest – Become a Data Scientist
Dataquest is an independent online training provider rather than being affiliated with a university like most of the others here. It offers free access to much of its course materials although you can also pay for premium services which include tutored projects. It offers three paths – data analyst, data scientist and data engineer, and with endorsements from Uber, Amazon and Spotify it looks like a good way to get a feel for whether or not you will enjoy studying data science, without spending money.
KDNuggets – Data Mining Course
KDNuggets is a well-known business and data science website and it has compiled its own free data mining syllabus. There are modules on machine learning, statistical concepts such as decision trees, regression, clustering and classification (see my data science glossary for an introduction to these terms) as well as an introduction to practical implementations of the technology.
Rather than being offered by an organisation or institution, this course is comprised of a collection of open-source materials and resources, available freely online. Subjects covered include natural language processing of the Twitter API using Python, Hadoop MapReduce, SQL and noSQL databases and data visualisation. It also includes a grounding in the algebra and statistics needed to understand the fundamentals of data science. Of course there is no certification but the program can be completed at your own speed and works great as a gateway to the wealth of information on data science available online.
Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and advisor to companies and governments. He has worked with and advised many of the world's best-known organisations. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 10 Business Influencers in the world (in fact, No 5 - just behind Bill Gates and Richard Branson). He writes on the topics of intelligent business performance for various publications including Forbes, HuffPost, and LinkedIn Pulse. His blogs and SlideShare presentation have millions of readers.