A School for Data Wranglers

schoolofdata The Open Knowledge Foundation in association with the Peer 2 Peer University have announced plans to launch a School of Data, to increase the skill base for Data Wranglers, and scientists.

So why do we need this?

Data is going to be come more core to our world than we could ever have imagined a few short years ago.  Although we have be producing it for decades, data has either been treated as something in the core of a project not to expose to prying eyes, or often as a toxic waste product of business processes.   Some of the traditional professions that have emerged, to look after and work with these data, reflect this relationship between us and and our digital assets. In the data warehouse, they archive, preserve, catalogue, and attempt to make sense of vast arrays of data.    The data miners, precariously dig through mountains of data as it shifts and settles around them, propping up their expensive burrows with assumptions and inferred relationships, hoping a change in the strata does not cause a logical cave-in and they have to start again.

As I have postulated previously, I believe we are on the edge of a new revolution where data becomes a new raw material that drives the emergence of new industries, analogous to the emergence of manufacturing as a consequence of the industrial revolution.  As this new era rolls out, the collection of data wrangling enthusiasts that have done a great job in getting us thus far will not be sufficient to sustain a new industry of extracting, transforming, linking, augmenting, analysing and publishing data.

So this initiative from the OKF & P2PU is very welcome:

The explosive growth in data, especially open data, in recent years has meant that the demand for data skills — for data “wranglers” or “scientists” — has been growing rapidly. Moreover, these skills aren’t just important for banks, supermarkets or the next silicon valley start-up, they are also going to be cruicial in research, in journalism, and in civil society organizations (CSOs).

However, there is currently a significant shortfall of data “wranglers” to satisfy this growing demand, especially in civil society organisations — McKinsey expects a skills shortage in data expertise to reach 50-60% by 2018 in the US alone.

It is welcome, not just because they are doing it but also, because of who they are and the direction they are taking:

The School of Data will adopt the successful peer-to-peer learning model established by P2PU and Mozilla in their ‘School of Webcraft’ partnership. Learners will progress by taking part in ‘learning challenges’ – series of structured, achievable tasks, designed to promote collaborative and project-based learning.

As learners gain skills, their achievements will be rewarded through assessments which lead to badges. Community support and on-demand mentoring will also be available for those who need it.

They are practically approaching real world issues and tasks from the direction of the benefit to society of opening up data.  Taking this route will engage with those that have the desire, need and enthusiasm to become either part or full time data wranglers.  Hopefully these will establish an ethos that will percolate into commercial organisations, taking an open world view with it.  I am not suggesting that commerce should be persuaded to freely and ,openly share all their data but they should learn the techniques of the open data community as the best way to share data under whatever commercial and licensing conditions are appropriate.

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