Houston’s Rice University Adopts Boot Camp Model for Big Data

Students will learn programming languages like Python, JavaScript and how to develop front-end web visualization.

by Andrea Leinfelder, Houston Chronicle / July 12, 2018 0
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(TNS) — Rice University is providing an express lane for data analysis jobs and their potential $60,000-plus salary.

The Houston campus is taking the coding boot camp model, popularized in recent years for its quick cultivation of web developers, and adapting it to big data analysis. The program meets a need for local employers that struggled to fill more than 50,000 positions requiring data proficiency in the past year.

Local data analysts make an average of $62,118 a year. Data scientists average $105,726, according to Glassdoor.

“The job demands are massive, and it’s across the spectrum,” said Robert Bruce, dean of the Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies at Rice.

For $11,500, students can attend the Glasscock School’s 24-week, part-time data analytics boot camp developed in partnership with Trilogy Education. They will learn fundamental statistics and programming languages like Python to understand big data. JavaScript and Front-End Web Visualization will help them present that data to future bosses or customers.

The cost is no small sum, but it’s more affordable than attending a traditional four-year college. Evening and Saturday classes also provide flexibility for working adults.

“They are not coming back to school to be a full-time student, and yet they still have that need,” Bruce said. “And I think programs like this are vital.”

The boot camp industry has exploded since the first coding camp opened about six years ago. Some 23,000 students graduated from coding boot camps in North America last year, according to Course Report, a third-party coding boot camp directory with reviews and ratings.

That’s up from 15,077 in 2016. And as a point of comparison, Course Report estimated that 79,650 students graduated from undergraduate computer science programs at accredited U.S. universities that same year.

Web and mobile development boot camps still dominate the field, said Liz Eggleston, co-founder of Course Report. However, the boot camp model has more recently been applied to data science, product management, digital marketing and cybersecurity. Such skills aren’t necessarily pure coding, but they are tech-adjacent and will likely require working with a team of coders.

“It’s been successful for web and mobile development,” she said, “so I think the natural inclination is to think about other technical skills the boot camp model can be applied to.”

Boot camps got their start because of an educational gap. Universities were providing a big-picture, expansive education with a strong base of critical thinking. But they didn’t always provide the precise skills needed to land a coding job, experts said.

The schools weren’t in tune with employers’ needs and couldn’t keep up with rapidly changing technology. It can take years to get a new program accredited, and the evolution of technology sometimes outpaced that.

“Where there is a clear shortage for workers and a clear market demand where traditional higher ed can’t keep up, the boot camps are trying to move quickly to fill that need,” said Michael Horn, chief strategy officer for Entangled Group, a venture education technology studio that incubates new education companies.

Today, 37 universities are providing their own boot camps in partnership with Trilogy Education.

“Across all of our university partners, the desire to continue to meet the need of industry is a very high priority,” said Dan Sommer, CEO and founder of Trilogy Education.

Boot camps tend to attract the unemployed, underemployed and unhappily employed. Many students have traditional college degrees, but an increasing number are enrolling straight out of high school, said Ryan Craig, managing director at private equity firm University Ventures.

More and more, he believes students will prefer these boot camps as a way to get their foot on that first rung of economic security. Then they will gradually add skills required to advance their career, such as management or cognitive thinking.

He believes employers, especially those in technology, are becoming less fixated on hiring workers with traditional degrees.

“It’s really the unbundling of the degree starting with these faster, cheaper pathways at the entry point,” said Craig, who also wrote the book “A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College.”

Yet he said boot camps won’t replace selective universities that admit fewer than 50 percent of applicants. These schools’ reputation, network and job assistance programs are among the benefits that boot camp-type training programs can’t provide. Selective schools also typically have the most generous financial aid.

Bruce, with the Glasscock School, sees room for both four-year degrees and boot camp programs. The boot camp doesn’t offer the same depth as an undergraduate computer science degree. It’s not a substitute for a degree but a way for working adults to supplement professional skills they’ve already developed.

Programming experience is not required to apply to the Rice boot camp, though it’s recommended that applicants have a bachelor’s degree or at least two years of experience in business, management, finance, statistics or a related field.

Students will spend 240 hours in the classroom. They’re also expected to spend more than 20 hours a week working on projects and homework. Career planning services will include a project demo day that invites companies, employers and recruiters to see student projects.

Bruce said the data analytics program came about by examining Rice University’s strategic plan, which includes a goal of engaging Houston and empowering its success. The Glasscock School began working with Trilogy to find a technology focus area, and jobs for data analysts or research analysts continued to pop up across energy, health care, education and a host of other industries.

“To say it’s a field that is exploding, still, seems to be an understatement,” Bruce said.

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