Big Data master’s to fill skills shortage

March 05, 2014

Society is inundated with massive amounts of data generated on the Internet, social networking sites, and in the private and public sectors.

Who’s going to manage it all?

SFU’s School of Computing Science has just announced a new Professional Master’s Program in Big Data, the first of its kind in Canada.

Big data refers to sets of data that are too large to be captured, stored and analyzed by typical database software tools. A dataset may range in size from a few dozen to a few thousand terabytes. And a dozen terabytes, for example, is equivalent to approximately five billion single-spaced typewritten pages.

“Big data science is an emerging discipline that requires unique programming and technical skills,” says Martin Ester, director of the School of Computing Science. “There is already a large demand for skilled data scientists.”

With a strong foundation in computing, the program will train students in all aspects of managing massive datasets.

The program

The program is currently accepting its first group of students to start the Master of Science program in fall 2014.

Designed for students with some programming experience, the program will focus on:

• systems for storing and managing large amounts of data;

• algorithms, or rules, for processing data;

• data mining to extract patterns;

• machine learning to improve analysis;

• visualization to present information to users for decision-making.

Students will gain relevant work experience in industry or academia through co-op opportunities.

Industry need

The McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2018 the U.S. alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with the needed analytical skills to work with large sets of data, and 1.5 million managers and analysts to apply this data.

“SFU’s program will develop highly trained computing scientists, with the well-rounded knowledge that could apply to any sector dealing with big data,” says Amyn Rajan, CEO of Simba Technologies. The B.C.-based company develops software to access data stored on servers for business intelligence and analysis.

“Over the past few years I’ve seen the need for thousands of qualified people to fill jobs in the area of big data. Simba’s own customer list reads like a who’s who in big data, and all of these companies, including Simba, are looking for people such as those who will graduate from SFU’s program.”

SFU student works on big data solutions

SFU student and PhD candidate Arash Vahdat has already worked on a big data project with Greg Mori, an associate professor in the School of Computing Science. Their large-scale video analysis project involved extracting information from large volumes of video footage.

The researchers developed algorithms to pinpoint events, such as marriage proposals and birthday parties, by extracting features from within videos, such as colours, shapes of images and motion patterns. Their work involved collaboration with two companies and other universities.

“Over three years, I’ve worked on real-world solutions for companies that want to analyze videos,” said Vahdat. “I have to combine simple solutions to scale the analysis from small volumes of videos to large volumes and think of new ideas to improve the accuracy while maintaining the efficiency of the analysis."

SFU’s big data experts

Greg Mori is a leading authority in computer vision and machine-learning research, and the analysis of large-scale video data

Jian Pei is renowned for data mining and database research, and is a leader in large-scale data analysis

Martin Ester is an international leader in database and data-mining research whose current research focus is mining large-scale social networks and social media

Alexandra (Sasha) Fedorova is a systems researcher, focusing on system design for multicore processors and parallel computing.

For more information: www.sfu.ca/computing/BigData.html.

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