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SA’s first data science academy launched in CT

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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Mobile is the new branch

Standard Bank has launched an account for mobile devices that gives back 500MB of data a month

Standard Bank has introducd a R4.95p/m bank account called MyMo that customers can open on their mobile devices, loaded with data and airtime offerings and other benefits such as virtual and Gold physical card.

MyMo account holders will also enjoy the convenience of a cheque account through a Visa and Mastercard gold card. Once the account is open, users can choose to either receive R50 in airtime or 500MB of data a month, if their card is swiped more than four times a month. A further megabyte of data is loaded on the account for every R20 spent.

“MyMo is an account for everyone, whether you just landed your first job or have been around the block. With no documentation required it only takes a few minutes to open the account,” says Funeka Montjane, Chief Executive for Personal and Business Banking, South Africa, at Standard Bank Group. “For just R4.95 a month customer will be able to enjoy free swipes and ATM withdrawals at only R6.50 for amounts under R 1 000.

“Mobile is the new branch. This account is about bringing the mobile branch into customers hands, it is about convenience and security while banking.”

She says mobile offers low cost transactional banking which integrates people and businesses into the new connected economy, making mobile the new branch ecosystem that will drive and connect Africa’s growth. Physical connections to the economy are rapidly changing to digital where banks have to move from being financial institutions to service organisations.

“In the past people congregated in communities and eventually cities to maximise the advantages of connectivity. Today a simple hand-held device has the potential to open infinite doors, transforming individuals’ access to opportunities, regardless of where they are, and like never before in history. 

“Historically, a bank account represented access to economic citizenship. Today, having a simple device enabling digital access to a modern banking platform is a passport to global connectivity and vast human development potential.”

The bank says it is using technology, and mobile phones in particular, to deliver low-cost transactional channels accessible to all our customers. The evolution in mobile can be seen in transaction options like cash back at the retail checkout till rather than the ATM, free digital banking rather than using a branch, and the ability to transact using digital wallets, even without a bank account.

“Developing comprehensive connected ecosystems requires a mind-set change from Africa’s banks,” says Montjane. “Banks will evolve away from traditional financial service organisations, into service ecosystems enabling broad universal access to almost everything like enhanced purchasing experiences of vehicles and homes, online procurement of goods and services and lifestyle elements like rewards and travel. 

“These connectivity drivers will also act to future-proof evolving connectivity ecosystem by allowing us to offer untold future services while deriving income from as yet unrealised revenue streams,.   

From a customer perspective, the kind of ecosystems of knowledge, access and, ultimately, connectivity that banks will come to provide will radically transform the share of life that almost all individuals will be able to access.”

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Two-thirds of SA staff hide social media from bosses

With 90% of people in employment going online several times a day, it can be hard for most workers to keep their private and work-life separate during the working day (and beyond). The recently published Global Privacy Report from Kaspersky Lab reveals that 64% of South African consumers choose to hide social media activity from their boss. This secretive stance at work also extends to their colleagues, with 60% of South Africans also preferring not to reveal online activities to their co-workers.

Globally, the average employee spends an astonishing 13 years and two months at work during their lifetime. Interestingly though, not all this time is directly related to solving work tasks or earning a promotion: almost two thirds (64%) of consumers admit visiting non-work-related websites every day from their desk.

Not surprisingly, 35% of South African employees are against their employer knowing which websites they visit. However, more interestingly, 60% of South African are even against their colleagues knowing about their online activities. This probably means that colleagues constitute an even greater threat to future perspectives of an office slouch or maybe the relationships with colleagues are more informal and therefore, more valuable.

On the contrary, social media activity appears to be a less private domain for many and therefore, more suitable for sharing with colleagues but not the boss. This is probably because workers fear harming the public image of a company or interest in decreased staff productivity motivates companies to monitor employees’ social networks and make career changing decisions based on that. Such policies have led to 64% of South Africans saying that they don’t want to reveal their social media activities to their boss and 53% even don’t want to disclose this information to their colleagues.

A further 29% are against showing the content of their messages and emails to their employer. In addition, 3% even said that their career was irrevocably damaged as a consequence of their personal information being leaked. Thus, people are worried about how to build a favourable internal reputation and how not to destroy existing workplace relationships.

“As going online is an integral part of our life nowadays, lines continue to blur between our digital existence at work and at home. And that’s neither good nor bad. That’s how we live in the digital age. Just keep remembering that as an employee you need to be increasingly cautious of what exactly you post on social media feeds or what websites you prefer using at work. One misconceived action on the internet could have an irrevocable long-term impact on even the most ambitious worker’s ability to climb the career ladder of their choice in the future,” comments Marina Titova, Head of Consumer Product Marketing at Kaspersky Lab.

To ensure workers don’t fall prey of the internet threats at a work, there are some core guidelines to adhere to in the digital age:

  • Don’t post anything that could be considered defamatory, obscene, proprietary or libellous. If in doubt, don’t post.
  • Be aware that system administrators may at least, in theory, be informed about your web browsing patterns.
  • Don’t harass, threaten, discriminate or disparage against any colleague, partner, competitor or customer. Neither on social networks or in messages, emails, nor by any other means.
  • Don’t post photographs of other employees, customers, vendors, suppliers or company products without prior written permission.
  • Start using Kaspersky Password Manager to ensure your social media and other personal accounts are not at risk of unauthorised access by someone else in an office. Install a reliable security solution such as Kaspersky Security Cloud to protect your personal devices.

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