Anaconda Bolsters Data Literacy with Moves Into Education
With 35 million active users, Anaconda is among the most widely used data science software packages in the world. Good luck finding a Python-loving data scientist who is not familiar with it. But now the company behind the ubiquitous package is formally expanding into data science education and literacy with a series of new products and events, which will be bolstered with today’s announcement of its acquisition of EduBlocks.
There are already more than 10 million students using Anaconda’s eponymous package of Python and R tools for data science, according to Jessica Reeves, COO of the Austin, Texas company.
“We have been lucky enough that students, professors, and early learners generally do come to Anaconda and download our tools,” Reeves says. “And that was with zero concentrated effort from us.”
About a year ago, the company’s leadership decided it was time to make a bigger effort to court the educational sector. That’s when Anaconda started its education department, which has made a string of announcements over the past 12 months.
It started in May 2022 when Anaconda launched PyScript, an open source framework that allows users to program in Python directly from the comfort of a Web browser. Since inexperienced users can get up and running so quickly (no navigating complex repos), it eliminates many barriers traditionally associated with data science work in a full-blown integrated development environment (IDE).
PyScript has been a success, Reeves says. Recently bolstered the framework with PyScript.com, which allows users to create and launch full-blown data products directly in the Web browser, further simplifying the development process.
Anaconda followed the initial launch of PyScript in the fall of 2022 with the debut of Anaconda Learning. Anaconda Learning is a self-paced, on-demand training portal that helps people build foundational skills in data science, AI, and ML using Anaconda and its world of Python and R tools.
More than a dozen courses are offered as part of Anaconda Learning, and the company gives students who complete the courses a certificate that may help them land a job or move to the next stage of their learning.
Anaconda is taking its educational tent on the road this spring with its Data Science Expo series. The company held its first event on April 22 at a local charter school in Austin called Not Your Ordinary School (NYOS). About 50 students across 15 teams participated in the event, which featured three competitions, including AI/ML data science projects, data visualization and storytelling, and a live coding challenge.
The first event was a big success, Reeves says. “We gave them different themes that we thought would resonate with them as high school students,” she says. “So that was sports, society, climate, and art and cinema.”
To prepare them for the Data Science Expo, Anaconda also supplied the students with data and a free subscription to Anaconda Learning. The company also made data science mentors available to students so they could get direction from experienced professionals, as well as hands-on experience with data science.
Science fairs are not as prevalent as they used to be, and many school districts have pulled back on advanced mathematics classes in middle schools. For the folks at Anaconda, the Data Science Expos represents as a good opportunity to spread the word of science.
“We felt so passionately about it, in that we see curriculum is lagging,” Reeves says. “And oftentimes, even if there is curriculum, the people teaching it aren’t trained in data science or computer science or what have you, so they’re trying to train kids but they don’t know the subject super-well themselves.”
With that said, Anaconda wanted to emphasize creativity and problem-solving ability over rote coding skills with its Data Science Expos, and the judging criteria reflected that. “It was really cool seeing how the kids took the cues that we gave them,” she says. “We, by design, very loosely dictated the rules of the competition, just because we wanted to see different types of projects.”
The data science projects themselves ranged dramatically in seriousness, from a Pokémon app extension to a facial recognition system to detect school shooters. “That’s heavy,” Reeves says. Winners received scholarship money.
The next Data Science Expo is planned for Durhan, North Carolina on May 13, followed by a larger event in Singapore on September 9, which its hosting in partnership with AI Singapore. If all goes well, the company could hold a series of Data Science Expos competitions, moving from local and regional events to national and international championships, Reeves says.
The last bit of news from Anaconda is today’s acquisition of EduBlocks, a free tool that helps users learn how to program using a text-based language like Python or HTML, using a familiar drag-and-drop blocks system.
“It’s basically learning how to code in a visual kind of block-oriented way,” Reeves says. “Kids in the school-age demographic are the target, but I also see there’s some opportunities for people like me who are knowledge workers, who have jobs and are smart but just are not coders.”
There are opportunities for Anaconda to work EduBlocks into its other educational offerings, Reeves says. “It pairs super well with our charter of data literacy. It pairs super well with the Expos,” she says.
Data scientists continue to be in high demand around the world, and colleges and universities are stepping up to help build data science curriculums and train the next generation of data science professionals.
But there’s a lot more that can be done at the middle school and high school levels, which is a gap that Anaconda is seeking to fill in part with its focus on data science education. From the Anaconda Learning to the Data Science Expos and everything else, the company is investing the resources to move data science education forward and prepare students for their data-engrossed lives to come.