New program to fill the skills shortage gap in big data

February 24, 2014

A new graduate program offered by Simon Fraser University’s School of Computing Science will help fill the need for professionals who can manage transformation in the information technology industry caused by the burst of big data.

The new Professional Master’s Program in Big Data, a first of its kind in Canada with a strong foundation in computing, will train students in all aspects of managing massive datasets. The program is currently accepting its first group of students to start the Master of Science (M.Sc.) program in Fall 2014.

“With the explosion of data being collected in all areas of our society, from the Internet, social networking sites, retailers, scientific experiments, and the biomedical field, there is already a large demand for skilled data scientists,” says Martin Ester, director of the School of Computing Science. “Big data science is an emerging discipline that requires unique programming and technical skills.”

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.

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.

“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, like Simba, are looking for people like those who will graduate from SFU’s program.”

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."

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 Computing Science faculty members with big data expertise

Greg Mori is a leading expert 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.

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Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada's top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 125,000 alumni in 130 countries.


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Simon Fraser University
Public Affairs/Media Relations (PAMR)


Greg Mori, School of Computing Science, 778.782.7111;
Karen Lee, Faculty of Applied Sciences, 778.782.8923;
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.9017;