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SA’s first data science academy launched in CT

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South Africa’s first data science training academy has become a reality thanks to an investment of over R50-million by BCX.

The investment has largely been fuelled by the growing demand for big data analytics and BCX’s recognition of the need for this skillset within the country.

The Explore Data Science Academy aims to meet the burgeoning demand for data analytics in the digital economy – a demand that far exceeds current supply. Through the academy, BCX will sponsor 300 interns over the next three years, as well as future-proofing executives in this scarce skill, through the provision of additional courses. The Academy is believed to be the first institution in the country focused on data science.

Kicking off the initiative was the announcement of 100 free internships to successful applicants of the Academy’s one-year Accredited Skills Data Science Programme, commencing January 2018. These internships will be fully sponsored by BCX, which has come on board as founder partner of the Academy for the next three years. BCX has committed its support after recognising the huge need for data science skills within corporates in South Africa.

There are no restrictions to entry for the one-year course, nor are formal qualifications required. Applicants should be between 17 and 35 years of age and must pass a challenging aptitude test on the academy’s website.

The Explore Data Science Academy is the brainchild of founders Shaun Dippnall, Dave Strugnell and Aidan Helmbold, all highly qualified data scientists with actuarial qualifications and experience in lecturing, research and consulting.

Dave Strugnell was former head of UCT’s Division of Actuarial Science. Dippnall was previously an actuarial lecturer at UKZN, but more recently served as both a Chief Actuary and Chief Data Scientist at some of the largest corporates in South Africa. Both Helmbold and Strugnell have also held executive positions in their roles as actuaries and data scientists.

“Ours is a unique, one-of-a-kind course in that it is free, practical, has real-world relevance and provides work experience. We also like the fact that it is open to anyone with aptitude,” said Dippnall.

By comparison, equivalent university programmes, such as a Masters in Data Science, come at a significant cost to a student, which prevent many people from applying. They also tend to focus on theory rather than practical application.

“The support from BCX allows our interns crucial access to real-world challenges. What’s more, the spectrum of programmes we offer, simulate the teamwork required when working with data in a corporate environment,” Dippnall added.

Ian Russell, CEO of BCX, said: “In a rapidly changing business landscape, data science has become a core skill for corporates who are looking to digitise their operations and leverage big data. We look forward to welcoming the first interns to BCX as a result of this programme.

“Data science is integral to the future of our business and many others. For this reason we have committed, through our agreement with the Explore Data Science Academy, to sponsor a minimum of 300 interns over the next three years,” Russell added.

The course, which will be held at the academy’s premises in the Bandwidth Barn in Cape Town’s trendy Woodstock, incorporates cutting edge training material, leveraging the latest in data science and artificial intelligence research. The Academy will be designated as a Seta Accredited Skills Programme, with the expectation that it will receive accreditation by the end of the year.

Commenting on the decision to establish the country’s first academy devoted to data science, Strugnell said: “The acceleration of the digital economy means that every industry will need data science skills. There is an estimated global shortfall in data scientists of two million. Likewise there is huge demand for these skills within corporate South Africa, which far outweighs current supply.”

The field has been ranked as the ‘sexiest’ career choice of the 21st century[1] and is also one of the highest paid.

“We are particularly excited to be the first institution to offer a focused, comprehensive and free year-long accredited skills data science programme in the country that will build the relevant digital skills within our youth, so that they can thrive in the new economy,” Strugnell added.

Dippnall and his team aim to complete the recruitment of 100 interns by October 31, 2017 from the flood of applications expected. While prior education and exposure to mathematics and computing will be an advantage, applicants will be selected primarily on their ability to complete an online aptitude test.  The course will start in January 2018.

“Anyone from any background with an aptitude for mathematics, statistics, problem solving and analytics may qualify for our course,” Dippnall said.

“Data science, at its core, is about solving real world problems. We will teach our interns how to solve these by applying the latest techniques – from prediction models and artificial intelligence – to the growing amount of data available in businesses,” Helmbold said.

“Our design principle is to build an agile, digital, peer-to-peer, modern education programme that is Seta-accredited and teaches students new economy skills that current platforms do not offer. We are also extremely gratified to have the support of BCX as founding sponsor for our first intake,” he added.

Successful candidates will spend the year between the classroom, on-the-job training and team-based project work.

“We designed a course that closely mirrors the demands of the workplace. Included in the curriculum are tools such as Python, Tableau, SQL and Scikit-learn, which are routinely required when building data science applications. We have also added job immersion and self-paced project work, which both involve team dynamics and interaction,” Dippnall said.

While job placement at the end of the year is not guaranteed, Dippnall is confident that uptake of candidates will be strong given the shortage of skills. Stipends are available to cover the living expenses of successful candidates who are in financial need.

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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