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7/23/2013
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Data Science Certification Program Emerges

What skills should a big data expert possess? International group of analytics experts says its Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) program provides rigorous standard.

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Much like the definition of big data, the job description for data scientist is definitely a work in progress. What skills are required? Well, in addition to possessing a strong math and computer science background, including the ability to devise algorithmic solutions to complex problems, data scientists need to be good communicators -- people capable of grasping business issues and explaining data-driven insights to executives and managers.

Fair enough. But how does an organization know that the data scientist it's just hired has all of these skills? The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), a 10,000-member international organization of analytics professionals, believes its recently launched Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) program provides the rigorous certification needed in the burgeoning big data field.

"We realized that there were a lot of people putting themselves out there as analytics practitioners, but no real defining body on what that meant," INFORMS president Anne Robinson told InformationWeek in a phone interview.

[ Looking to retool your skillset to land a job in data science? Check out Big Data Career Switch: 4 Key Points. ]

The CAP program is only a few months old. In fact, INFORMS announced the first recipients of its analytics certification in April, and there are just 44 CAP designates thus far. The program is growing quickly, however.

"We have more 250 people right now in queue for the various exams happening over the next six months," said Robinson, director of supply chain strategy and analytics at Verizon Wireless.

Although CAP kicked off this year, the legwork leading up to the program has been several years in the making.

"We wanted to make sure that we had a full understanding of what the community was looking for," said Robinson, who added that INFORMS members are uniquely qualified to manage the data scientist certification program.

"We've been trying to tell people (about) the value of increasing the power of using math and data to make better business decisions," she added.

The CAP exam covers the entire analytics process: from the formation of business and analytics problems through the unique challenges of big data, to methodology and model selection, and finally through deployment and lifecycle management. (You'll find more details on the CAP exam here.)

As a result, CAP designates must have a solid understanding of the end-to-end analytics process, Robinson noted, including "everything from understanding and framing the problem and the analytics, making sure you have the right data, getting the right stakeholders involved and ensuring that the data is clean."

INFORMS sees the CAP program as a way to give added "credibility" to the data science profession, and hopes businesses and other organizations will soon require data scientist applicants to pass the CAP exam as a prerequisite to employment.

In Robinson's case, CAP could help her fill two data scientist positions that are currently open at Verizon Wireless, neither of which requires CAP certification at this time.

"We (would) certainly prefer CAP," said Robinson, who added that she'd like to see other companies hire CAP designates to "ensure they're bringing in rigorous analytics talent."

In addition to assessing test-takers' technical prowess, the CAP exam analyzes their "soft" skills, such as the ability to determine the underlying cause of data-related business problems, find solutions quickly and communicate their findings effectively with executives.

"In my own hiring style, I let my team test the mathematical rigor of the candidates," said Robinson. "And I ask (the candidates) to explain mathematical concepts in an executive way, particularly if it's a graduate student that I'm hiring."

The most recent CAP exam took place July 13 in McLean, Va. The next dates are October 3 in Boston and October 5 in Minneapolis.

The big data market is not just about technologies and platforms -- it's about creating new opportunities and solving problems. The Big Data Conference provides three days of comprehensive content for business and technology professionals seeking to capitalize on the boom in data volume, variety and velocity. The Big Data Conference happens in Chicago, Oct. 21-23.

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