Data Science Download

Peter Guerra Booz Allen Principal says data scientists are critical to a company’s overall success

Last month, Booz Allen Hamilton announced the release of its Explore Data Science online training program, a self-paced, hands-on course geared toward all levels of data science proficiency. With more than 40 hours of content, the program features galactic-themed gamification elements that teach common data science principles. “In today’s highly competitive marketplace, being able to effectively compile, manage and analyze data is critically important to a business’ growth, strategic development and overall success,” says Booz Allen Hamilton’s Peter Guerra, a Principal in the firm’s Strategic Innovation Group. Guerra, who leads a team of data scientists within Booz Allen, sat down with Consulting to discuss Explore Data Science and the demand he’s seeing for data science expertise.

Consulting: What was the thinking behind the launching of Explore Data Science?

Guerra: About a year ago, several of us at Booz Allen Hamilton decided we would sit down and completely rethink how we train our staff around data science. We were seeing a clear demand—across all industries—for data science expertise, but it far exceeded the available supply of trained professionals. By introducing training like Explore Data Science, we’re providing companies and individuals with a resource, while empowering an increasingly data-driven workforce. In addition, we had noticed that a lot of the different training programs that were out there weren’t really providing the right tools.

Consulting: How did Explore Data Science come to be?

Guerra: We initially developed a training program and launched it internally, and it just took off. We have over 700 of our staff that are either going through or have already gone through it over the last six months. We’ve gotten overwhelming positive feedback from them about how engaging it is, and how they are able to iteratively learn, specifically learning as it pertains to their client challenges. So, we’re thrilled.

Consulting: So, that was internal. But this training product is also being offered externally, as well, correct?

Guerra: That’s right. So, we started showing this to our clients, and they were really excited about it. Even though a lot of them have their own training programs, they were very interested and they started asking us if they could buy the training from us. So that’s what we just announced a few weeks ago, that we were making Explore Data Science available to anybody who was interested in it.

Consulting: What’s the overall goal of the training program? Are you selling an off-the shelf solution or an advisory engagement?

Guerra: The ultimate goal is to help broaden the skill sets some people have, as well as to broaden the common base of knowledge around how to do very advanced analytics. And to answer the second part of your question, what we’re selling is access to the Web site for anyone that wants to learn these data science concepts. Some of it is resulting in an enhanced engagement, but the core purpose of this training is to close the gap that exists in data science right now.

Consulting: What does that gap look like?

Guerra: It’s huge. There’s been a number of studies out there that project shortfalls at 150,000 to 200,000 data science workers needed in the market in the next few years. We really felt like what was in the market wasn’t nearly adequate enough to meet that demand. So we’re really trying to manage that gap. We certainly need those workers to serve our clients, but more than us it’s really the entire data science field that needs expertise. And we’re hopeful Explore Data Science will play a big role in solving the big talent shortage there is in this space.

Consulting: What skill set is lacking the most?

Guerra: A lot of folks have leaned the math. We’ve started to see universities doing data science programs that address that aspect of it. Those programs generally take about two or three years to complete. But what they’re not doing is addressing all the different types of analytical skillsets that people need to address various client challenges in the marketplace. Essentially, we designed 40 hours of training that would narrow that gap. We see a lot of people who know how to answer the more basic questions of what happens and why it happens, but what we don’t see out there is a lot of training to develop skills around prescriptive or predictive modeling.

Consulting: Where do you see the most interest and most traction right now?

Guerra: Right now we’re seeing a lot of interest from our government clients who are trying to train or retrain staff. We’re also seeing a lot of interest from Fortune 500 companies who are looking to bring their data science teams up to speed. In addition, we’re partnering with some academic institutions—we’ve already had some academic sales—for their master-level students who want to learn how to apply what they’re learning in school to real–world problems. At this point, those are the three areas where we’re focused on right now.