At the annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto, Microsoft announced its new degree program — the Microsoft Professional Degree (MPD) — that is beginning with a focus on Data Science.
Offered through the Harvard/MIT-backed edX learning platform, the university-level program is oriented to professionals at any career stage. At the pilot phase, the tech giant is offering the Data Science degree comprised of nine courses and a final project. Each of the classes is free of charge, and the enrollment is now open.
Alison Cunard, General Manager of Microsoft Learning Experiences, commented that a blend of real-world demands and lifelong learning informed the project:
"At Microsoft, we believe the approach and tools used for learning need to continually evolve to meet the requirements of our device-centric and data-driven world. This is a world where both technical and functional skills are becoming increasingly critical across all careers and vocations."
Those interested in official accreditation will have to purchase a Verified Certificate for each of the courses, writes Paul Sawers of Venture Beat, a majority of which cost $49. The introductory course costs $25, and one of the other courses is $99.
The curriculum includes querying data in a database with Transact-SQL, analyzing and visualizing data with Excel, a beginner's guide to the R statistical programming language, among other areas. At the end of the course, students prepare a final project by developing and deploying a big data analytics solution on the corporate's cloud-based Cortana Intelligence system.
The program is flexible in terms of how long it takes to complete. Those studying part-time would need to devote approximately five hours a week to finish the entire course over six weeks. Full-time students may take one course per week if they study five hours a day. This way, they could earn their Data Science degree within ten weeks.
Microsoft openly admitted that the increasing need for high-skilled IT professionals motivated the launch of the new program, notes Pedro Hernandez of eWeek. A recent McKinsey report also confirmed the looming skills gap:
"By 2018, the United States alone may face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with strong analytical skills, as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with enough knowledge to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions."
According to Joseph Keller of Windows Central, nearly 700 Microsoft employees and over 200 partners took part in a closed preview of the new data science program to evaluate and validate it.
As Lucia Maffei of Techcrunch notes, Microsoft is one of several leading tech companies to offer online classes. Google has already teamed up with Udacity to provide Android nanodegrees and other courses, and Amazon offers AWS training and certification for advanced technical skills, including a big data course.
Microsoft first launched series of Masters certifications in 2013, and the company admitted that the initiative did not generate the expected results. However, Microsoft sees the advantages of such programs as being that they not only increase the qualification of the personnel, but also can be regarded as a value-added service that can be sold to business partners as a part of their internal training.
At the moment, Microsoft has not confirmed whether it intends to expand its portfolio of online courses:
"As this is currently in the pilot stage, we are unable to share any direction on future offerings."