There’s no doubt that data analytics has always been important, but now more than ever it’s at the front and centre of all the business discussions I have.

AI is in the news, the rise of the machine a la Terminator, the ethics of computer controlled decision making processes etc.

With this proliferation of publicity around a subject comes the inevitable rise in demand for people who are skilled in this area.

There are a lot of people out there that call themselves data scientists but probably aren’t! My experience is that those that talk about themselves by classifying themselves as a data scientist are not usually suitably skilled in all the relevant areas that you need to be in order to be a modern data analyst.

That’s not to say that they don’t have some of the skills needed and I certainly don’t want to disparage anybody else’s work, but it’s all too easy to hang the latest trendy moniker on one’s CV in order to gain traction in the marketplace.

So how do you get the knowledge you need to perform efficiently and with confidence in this demanding workplace?

Get a qualification!

While this might sound like common sense, and nothing can really replace hands-on and real-world experience, if you are looking to get a good grounding in data analysis then you’re going to need to be confident in the tools required to do that job. One of the best ways to get started is to go back to school.

There are many online courses, MOOCs etc. out there and the ones that I have found most useful are provided by Edx.

So why choose this approach?

Number one: they are free! This is a real bonus when evaluating training courses as you don’t want to be spending money on something that turns out to be not what you wanted.

Number two: they are self-paced, instructor-led courses that cover the topics from a 100 level and assume no previous knowledge, other than the usual IT skills that you will have acquired throughout your career already.

That’s all very well, but once you’ve decided what you want to learn, how to do you frame your approach to this learning, so that you end up with something that your current (or future) employer might look at with interest and respect? With so many courses available, how do you structure your learning and choose the courses that you take so that they compliment each other in a cohesive way?

Get a qualification!

This is where the Microsoft Professional Program run by the Microsoft Academy comes in. There are numerous tracks that you can follow, with specific ones on Big Data and Data Science.

It’s a great way to tailor your learning to a technical path that means you end up with something demonstrable and worthwhile.

I’m currently doing the Data Science track, and while I have discovered that I know more than I thought I did, it is proving to be really useful to help me focus my learning and get a sense of achievement at the end of it.