Where do you go when you are a busy professional and need to learn more about Big Data? You go online to the place where the world’s brightest minds are thinking about it. You take the Online EdX Course offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Professional Education, called “Tackling the Challenges of Big Data.”
The course description stated that participants will be exposed to “state-of-the-art topics in Big Data, looking at data collection (smartphones, sensors, the Web), data storage and processing (scalable relational databases, Hadoop, Spark, etc.), extracting structured data from unstructured data, systems issues (exploiting multicore, security), analytics (machine learning, data compression, efficient algorithms), visualization, and a range of applications;” and it does not disappoint. Over a number of weeks, — the course originally was 4 weeks but has been lengthened to 6 weeks — we were immersed in Big Data concepts ranging from collection to storage to encryption and use.
The course covered a mixture of broad concepts in data science, data engineering and practical use cases. Five modules were broken down into weekly topics that covered introduction to Big Data and Big Data use cases; Big Data collection; Big Data storage; Big Data systems; and two weeks of Big Data analytics. A mixture of video instruction and self-paced learning, the MIT class provided enough of a structure to ensure that participants understood the concepts, were tested for proficiency in the various modules and interacted with other classmates on relevant topics.
Every module provided a broad overview on the existing tools and new technologies solving current and emerging Big Data problems.
Why we took the course
Each of us provides counseling to our clients on how to best manage their exploding volumes of data and how to avoid the myriad of risks, liabilities and runaway costs that are associated with the creation, collection, use and management of data. Although we are not data scientists (in fact, neither of us has the recommended course prerequisite of a B.S. in Computer Science), we took the course so that we could understand basic concepts of managing Big Data and be able to assess potential Big Data projects and uncover flaws before projects are undertaken. We also felt it was important to be able to “talk the talk” of Big Data, so that we could better serve as translators between business people and technology people.
The reality of our experience
The first week eased participants in with a high-level overview of Big Data, identifying the challenges in a language we both understood. We were then immersed in the technical side of Big Data. We delved into concepts such as multi-core processing and the challenges of keeping underlying data accurate. The module on cryptography revealed how complex it is to properly encrypt data and how difficult, if not impossible, anonymization can be.
The use cases, demonstrating how Big Data can be used to change business models and social physics, were extremely valuable. They provided a break from the technical to the practical. Take, for example, the use case on Singapore – where sensors are embedded in every taxi cab on each city street. Big Data visualization tools enable cab operators to understand where taxis and passenger are – redeploying cabs to enable “just in time” availability for passengers. It’s not as easy as it appears, and it certainly underscored the value of the data scientist – someone who can parse the noise in the data from the signals and help make good decisions.
The course was challenging and intensive, but well worth the effort. And upon completion, we were each awarded a Certificate of Completion and a major feeling of accomplishment! We also have the opportunity to continue to learn and share information with our classmates via the alumni LinkedIn group.
Ronké Ekwensi is a Managing Director in the Legal Management Consulting practice and leads the Information Governance service line. She sits on the Board of the Cardozo Data Law Initiative and is a frequent speaker on Big Data and Information Governance topics. Ronké is based in Morristown NJ.
Judy Selby co-chairs BakerHostetler’s Information Governance Team, founded the eDiscovery & Technology Management Team and counsels clients on ways to avoid information-related liability. She frequently speaks and writes about information-related strategies and best practices.
By Ronké Ekwensi, Managing Director at Duff & Phelps, and Judy Selby, Partner at BakerHostetler.
This post was originally published on Judy Selby’s LinkedIn