The Top Free Courses in Data & Tech

by Modis on April 2, 2013

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The field of data science is moving at a thousand miles per hour — and so are job descriptions. Top-notch employers want IT professionals with fleshed out skills in business analysis, distributed computing, information management, and quantitative analysis.

If you’re able to land one of these gigs, you’re golden. According to CNN Money, ‘IT Data Scientist’ is one of the best new jobs in America with a 10-year growth projection of 18.7 percent and a median pay of close to $100,000.

This is a cutting-edge field, which means you need a solid technical foundation. Education is key, but certificate programs and graduate degrees are over-the-top costly. Luckily, there are plenty of self-taught, free courses out there to get you ahead. Keep in mind that many of these free classes are self-taught, meaning that you won’t actually get academic credit for what you learn. While you may not have grades or school pressures to hold you accountable, one fact holds true — the quality, challenge, and value of what you’ll learn will keep you independently motivated.

Here are some of the best free opportunities to supplement and grow your already-awesome skills:

1. Natural Language Processing
Host Organization: 
Stanford University
Instructor: Christopher D. Manning
Next Session: Independent Study

This course will introduce you to fundamental applications of NLP, a programming technique for the processing of linguistic information. This class will walk you through basic quantitative methodology by introducing you to the statistical models and algorithms you’ll need for acquisition, disambiguation, and parsing. To be most successful with course material, you’ll need a basic understanding of computer programming as well as standard concepts in artificial intelligence and computational linguistics.

2. Machine Learning
Host Organization: 
Stanford University
Instructor: Andrew Ng
Next Session: Independent Study

This class provides a broad introduction to machine learning concepts including supervised learning, neural networks, vector machines, bias/variance tradeoffs, robotic control, data mining, autonomous navigation, bioinformatics, speech recognition, text analysis, and web data processing. You’ll get the most out of this class if you come in with a programming background.

3. Programming Languages
Host Organization: 
Instructors: Westley Weimer & Anthony Teate
Next Session: Independent Study

This class is for professionals with basic computer programming skills who want to learn more. You’ll learn how to specify and process valid strings, sentences, and programming structures. When you finish the class, you’ll know how to build a simple web browser with the ability to parse and understand HTML and JavaScript.

4. Introduction to Data Science
Host Organization: 
University of Washington, via Coursera
Instructor: Bill Howe
Next Session: May 1, 2013

So you’ve heard the term ‘data science,’ and it’s peaked your curiosity — but what exactly does it all mean? This class will help you connect your data skills with commercial and research needs. You’ll tour basic techniques including SQL and NoSQL solutions for massive data management, algorithims for data mining, and basic statistical modeling.

5. Metadata: Organizing and Discovering Information
Host Organization: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, via Coursera
Instructor: Jeffrey Pomerantz
Next Session: September 2013

This class will help you develop an understanding of the theory and practice of information management systems. You will learn how to build a metadata schema, foundations of network analysis, and how to evaluate metadata.

6. Data Management for Clinical Research
Host Organization: 
Vanderbilt University, via Coursera
Instructors: Stephany Duda, Paul Harris, and Firas Wehbe
Next Session: April 2013

If you’re thinking of pursuing a career in healthcare, you’ll need a working knowledge of the industry’s data needs. This course will teach you important concepts related to research data planning, collection, storage, and dissemination. You’ll be exposed to hands-on examples and training opportunities to fully understand the concepts you’ll need to rock on the job.

7. Designing and Executing Information Security Strategies
Host Organization: 
University of Washington, via Coursera
Instructor: Mike Simon
Next Session: March 25, 2013

This course will give you hands-on exposure to security in an IT context. You’ll learn how to identify business risks, apply several models for risk assessments, and deploy an IT security plan. A background and awareness of cyber security threads and vulnerabilities will be essential for success in this course.

Your Thoughts
Which of these courses look interesting to you? Think you’ll take any? Feel free to share your thoughts (and look for study buddies) in the comments below.

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