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September 10, 2012

The Path to Analytics Professionalism

Dr. Sridhar Pappu and Dr. Dakshinamurthy V Kolluru

An oft-quoted McKinsey study states that by 2018, the United States alone will face a shortage of nearly 200,000 analytic engineers and 1.5 million managers who can consume analytics.  No wonder then that analytics and big data are considered among the most employable skills of the decade paying top dollars.

The need of the hour to meet this huge gap in supply of trained engineers and managers is to have focused programs conducted by educational institutes.  As academia steps up to this challenge (here are six great examples), identifying the right programs for your needs becomes a challenge, with business schools, engineering departments and specific training institutes all creating programs tailored to meet various needs.

As one can imagine, there are some notable challenges for those seeking a solid approach to finding an analytics program. To best detail the issue, we will approach this from two different angles. First, it is necessary to identify key traits of qualified analytics programs and second, it is also worth pinning down the duration and other details based on one’s background and other requirements.  

This is a hefty task and as one can imagine, we cannot review specific programs as more are coming onto the scene daily. We will, however, provide you links to various programs at the end of the article to help you identify the ones most suited to your needs, budget and convenience (online or classroom), based on the pointers we give.

What must any analytics program contain?

Analytics is primarily used to solve business problems.  As such, unlike traditional computer science programs, analytics programs must emphasize a lot on business applications. Any analytics program without a substantial business perspective is not useful in any sense.  In fact, quite a few universities offer analytics programs through their business schools. 

However, we have a problem with this approach.  Analytics requires much more statistics, mathematics and programming than a typical business job.  Emphasizing less on this engineering component is just as bad as leaving the business component.  

In addition, a good analytics program must also make you comfortable with at least one analytics tool like SAS, SPSS, MATLAB or R.

I want to build a career in analytics and I am a newbie to this field:

You can establish a career in Big Data Analytics, if you are:

Undergrads and associate degree holders from virtually any field,

Programmers, Engineers or Marketing executives (MBAs) looking for a radical shift in career, or

Conversant with a single technique (say, logistic regression) or just implementing a tool (say, SAS) without much understanding of the underlying concepts.   

However, strong introductory math and programming background is mandatory in this field.

If you fall in this group, you must plan to spend approximately 500-600 hours of effort and anywhere between 6-18 month timeframe, based on how much of time per week you can spend.  

In the last 3-4 years, quite a few universities have started Masters programs in Analytics and Big Data, and more and more are joining the trend. The duration of these Masters programs is anywhere between 9-24 months and costs about $30,000 – $70,000 depending on the university.  If you can afford the time and the cost, these provide an excellent avenue for learning.

However, if you cannot afford either the time or the money, or if your prior academic and/or work experience makes it tough to compete for the limited seats available, you may also consider graduate certificate programs, which cost substantially less in terms of both time and money.  They typically run for 3-6 months and cost between $5000 and $10000.  Both universities and private institutions offer certificate programs. 

A frequently missed component in many of the programs is the project aspect.  Either they don’t require a project or work on an academic project.  If switching careers is the objective and you have a little or no prior experience working in the field, a real world project requiring an analytics solution to a business problem is a must.  The prospective employer is sure to give this more weight than the theoretical expertise you demonstrate.

If the programs prepare you for industry certifications like Cloudera Apache Hadoop Developer and/or EMC Data Scientist Associate, they will certainly help you stand apart from the others.

Analytics would be a great add-on skill in my current job:  

You may never want to take up a dedicated analytics career but feel that the ability to handle data (small or big) is a big plus in your current job.  Consultants of all types, programmers, specialists in other disciplines of science and engineering, faculty and policy makers fall in this category. 

An applied course that covers a few important Analytics/Big Data techniques is most likely sufficient to get you started. 

These courses typically are taught in 40-60 hours.  You must ensure that these courses provide a holistic approach and contain all three aspects (business, math and tools) for maximum effectiveness.  Quite a few schools are now allowing individuals to take courses through their professional development departments.  Private institutes also offer short term courses.  The fee varies anywhere between $350 and $5000.

Those of you who are highly self-driven and feel confident of learning by yourself may also consider free online video tutorials.

If you have an IT/programming background, courses focused on distributed computing, parallel computing, and on frameworks like Hadoop, etc. are better.  If you have a management/engineering/math background, courses focused on statistical and analytics techniques that help you handle data, and predict and classify based on data are better. 

NEXT — More Important Considerations for a Future in Data >

I have to manage/build a profit centre in analytics or work with a vendor for an analytics solution: 

The McKinsey report clearly identifies the huge shortfall expected in this group. 

You are in this group if your job is to manage, direct, consume and understand the analytics solutions delivered by your team(s). 

You should choose a program that gives you a thorough understanding of analytics solution frameworks, ecosystems and tools.  You must also understand the challenges of executing analytics projects.  You must learn the jargon (what do they mean when they say they have more False Positives than False Negatives!).  Most importantly you should be able to transform the results produced by your team into something that the clients will understand. Data visualization is perhaps the most important skill the managers and leads must have.

Typically short-term executive programs (4-5 day intensive courses) are most ideal for your purpose.  If you are searching for a program for yourself, a business school is your best hunting ground.  If you need to train a group of your managers, institutes can also offer tailored custom programs to suit your needs.  Based on the length and customization, these programs cost anywhere between $200-1000 per day.

I have to sell/market analytics products or services:

Most service providers struggle in this aspect.  Their sales and pre-sales teams find it difficult to convince potential customers of the value of an Analytics solution; customers who are analytically inclined but are not analytically mature or analytically competitive need to feel confident in the capabilities of the service provides they are dealing with.  

You are in this category if you or your team is tasked with the art of selling Analytics and Big Data solutions.

You should choose programs that teach various types of solutions to business problems spanning various industries. 

The programs should not only be able to teach you how Pharmaceutical, Retail, Telecom, Manufacturing, Banks and Insurance companies use analytics, but also how you can apply the knowledge gained in one industry to a different business problem in another.  Very importantly, you should be able to arrive at the ROI of analytics projects, so that you can price your offering better and not follow hourly pricing strategies normally employed for regular work.  Analytics is normally sold not to CIOs but to CMOs and CEOs.

Again a 3-5 day intensive executive program is what you are searching for.  Business schools or custom programs are ideal.  The costs range between $200 and $1000 per day

I am already in analytics and want to learn the cutting edge developments:

Depending on your passion and requirement, this may mean learning a single advanced technique (say, Genetic Algorithms) to a full-fledged PhD program.  Obviously, the latter requires several years of studying in a school. 

For the former, custom programs may be the only option.  Typically, business application takes a backseat here as you already start with a goal in mind.  The program must focus on the algorithms and their implementation.  A 2-3 day program focused on the specific algorithm(s) and costing about $200-$1000 per day is what you need.

The following table provides a quick summary of the above:




The program structure




Business component

Engineering component

Tool component

Switching to analytics career

6-18 months

Certificate programs ($5K-10K)

Masters ($30K-70K)




Analytics as an add-on skill

40-60 hours

Course $350-5000





4-5 days

$200-1000 per day





3-5 days

$200-1000 per day




Advanced techniques

2-3 days

$200-1000 per day





Hope this information helps you identify the best training programs. 

For your benefit, a sample list of these programs is provided here.  This is not a ranking and we are putting our institute, INSOFE, at the top.  It is just a list and not exhaustive.

About the Authors

Dr. Sridhar Pappu and Dr. Dakshinamurthy V Kolluru are from the International School of Engineering (INSOFE). INSOFE offers multiple e-learning and custom programs in Analytics and Big Data for global audience and a full-time certificate program in Hyderabad, India (