Developing the Next Wave of Data Scientists

This post is by Chirag Dhull, Product Marketing Manager for Advanced Analytics at Microsoft.

It’s no secret that there’s a vast trove of benefits that data science can offer to organizations of all stripes. However, we simultaneously face a situation where there is a global shortage of data science talent. As Patrick Wolfe, Deputy Director of the Alan Turing Institute in London, put it, “Data sets are coming faster than we can even conceive them, so we need really smart people to come up with new algorithms, new ideas and new solutions on how to make sense of this data.”

Ensuring that universities and students have access to real world tools for analytics and data science is the first step in empowering the next generation of data scientists. In September 2015, Microsoft kicked off our global Data Science Student Challenge (DSSC) campaign. For this initiative, we partnered with six universities around the world. We hosted a set of data science hackathons where students could skill up, hack and build interesting applications. Our partner universities in this effort were:

  • Columbia University, New York
  • École nationale de la statistique et de l’administration économique (ENSAE), Paris
  • National University, Singapore
  • University College, London
  • Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
  • Melbourne University, Australia

Learn more about the hackathon at Columbia University, New York, in the video clip below, including what one of the first hosts for the DSSC, Patricia Culligan, Associate Director of the Data Science Institute, had to say:

With Cortana Intelligence Suite, students had access to a rich set of tools such as Azure ML, Jupyter notebooks with R and Python, and rich visualization capabilities with Power BI. In each city, students were given access to a collection of local data sets and challenged to develop a useful predictive analytical application. Students picked from a wide range of areas including healthcare, environment, smart city design and more. With the support and mentorship of university faculty and Microsoft technical staff, students wrestled through the creative problem solving and technical implementation aspects of data science.

Many high-performing teams even published their models in app stores. One example is Live London, the winners from UC London, who developed a safe neighbourhood tracker app available on the Android app store. Learn more about the London hackathon in the video below:

At the Paris hackathon, students found practical ways in which data science could have a positive impact on the community. They used a unique data set provided by Croix Rouge (Red Cross Paris) to analyse how the needs of citizens could be better met with Red Cross’ services. More on that below:

Students at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, aided by a team of senior Microsoft mentors, succeeded in generating over 50 ideas for digital solutions that could address pressing socio-economic issues in the country and accelerate the pace of the government’s Digital India programme. “I am pleased that IISc’s Pravega technical fest has partnered with Microsoft to host its first global Data Science Students Challenge in India at our campus,” said Yogesh Simmhan, Assistant Professor, Department of Computational and Data Sciences (CDS) at I.I.Sc. More on the Bangalore hackathon below:

According to Dr. Ben Rubinstein, Senior Lecturer at Melbourne University, “This challenge gets the students excited about what data science can do as an end-to-end process and not just looking at machine learning as a black box, but to look at how to use various tools to build apps around data and to provide value from data.” The winning team at the Melbourne hackathon, led by a student who had recently suffered a broken collarbone from a bike accident, developed an application to determine an ideal cycling route between two points that would avoid bike accident hot spots.

The global series of hackathons goes to show that the desire for budding Data Scientists to drive progress through data knows no geographical bounds. Everywhere we went, participants shared a deep passion to harness the power of data and use it to improve the world around us.

Team Safe Cycle – first prize winners at the DSSC Hackathon in Melbourne 

We look to bring hackathons to more universities across the world, so stay tuned. Meanwhile If you’re a faculty member or educator, we provide curriculum assets and free grants for teaching purposes and consultation support to educators. Please email to join this invite-only program.

If you are looking to participate in an online data science hackathon, click here.

If you’re a researcher, the Microsoft Research Data Science Initiative provides grants and dozens of datasets for data science projects – learn more here.