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9/17/2013
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IBM's Big Data Education Outreach

In the last decade, IBM has partnered with more than 1,000 universities to increase the world's pool of computer science graduates. Latest focus: Big data.

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The scarcity of data scientists is a problem for platform and tools vendors like IBM.

Even with impressive improvements in data visualization tools such as dashboards, IBM's customers need employees able to set up these systems, correctly interpret their output and discuss it with business-side colleagues.

IBM and other technology companies themselves need new workers, trained in the latest data-science concepts and techniques. Like many of its customers, IBM is having trouble hiring enough data scientists.

For both of these reasons, IBM has been working closely with colleges and universities. Its educational partnerships now number more than 1,000 globally.

IBM offers "no-charge access to our solutions, case studies and curriculum consultation," Meredith Stowell, IBM's manager of academic initiative and skills, told InformationWeekin a phone interview. The program, launched in 2004, also offers the schools its employees as lecturers.

[ Three types of data scientist jobs depend on business and education joining forces. Read Big Data Education Hinges On Business, University Partnerships.

Earlier this month, IBM expandedits Academic Initiative by adding nine new schools to its 1000-plus roster of institutions around the world.

Although attention has focused on big data and analytics in the last few years, Stowell was quick to mention that IBM also supports other academic studies, such as software engineering and mobile and cloud computing.

What's interesting about the current attention on big data is how it has brought IBM into other parts of the campus.

"Typically, we worked with computer science programs, but with the advent of analytics and big data, we're getting into the business school," she said.

Back in 2010, for example, IBM and DePaul University joined forces to create the industry's first masters of science degree in predictive analytics, as part of the newly-created DePaul Center for Data Mining and Predictive Analytics. The applied research center is a joint venture involving faculty from the DePaul's School of Computing and the Department of Marketing.

Recently, the speed of these educational partnerships has increased, pointing to pent-up demand in the marketplace.

Take the University of Missouri, which launched its big-data course this month, in the fall term. According to Stowell, IBM started talking to MU engineering's computer science department about the course in January. Adjunct Susan Zeng, a data architect with IBM in Columbia and a Mizzou engineering alumnus, is teaching the course.

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