Preparing Students for Big Data at UNH Manchester

By Beth LaMontagne Hall
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Posted in: Campus News
Related: Computer Information Systems, Computer Science & Entrepreneurship, MS Information Technology,

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MS Information Technology Students Casey Eyring, left, and Daniel Mamede study a complex server network. (Photo by Mike Ross, UNH Photo Services)

The amount of stuff we compile on digital devices has exploded in the past five years. Everything from the selfies we take on our iPhones to the medical data gathered every day at hospitals across the country, the amount of digital data now being created is massive. Coming up with better ways to store, access and process this information is a fast growing segment of the computing technology field, called “big data,” and it’s an area where University of New Hampshire at Manchester students will be able to learn more with the launch of a new class in 2015.

Jeremiah Johnson, a lecturer in mathematics at UNH Manchester, is currently developing the new course, "Statistics in Computing and Engineering,” which will be offered in the spring semester next year. Aimed at students in the Computer Science and Entrepreneurship program, the class will discuss methods for analyzing large amounts of data and breaking the information into functional pieces, essentially laying the groundwork for the skills needed to work in “big data.”

“Students coming out of college with a computer science degree will need to know how to work on big data,” said Johnson. “The big growth area in Silicon Valley is data-driven technology.”

Johnson said this specialized statistics class is a unique opportunity for students since most schools have yet to offer specific training in this area. Once this course is underway, it could lead to the development of more courses focused on “big data” studies.

Tim Chadwick, a principal engineer for infrastructure at Dyn, Inc., and a member of the advisory board for the college’s Computing Technology Department, agreed that “big data” is growing and that it’s an area where people in various fields will be working. Today everything from your car to your running shoes can produce data that needs to be stored somewhere, he said.

“The amount of data being produced is going to grow and in the past we had isolated silos for dealing with the data,” said Chadwick. “We aren’t going to have those options any more if we’re going to have a competitive advantage.”

Storing the data is not enough, he added. Companies and users need to be able to access and process the data too. That’s where analysts and other professionals come in.

“The field includes everything from an entry level IT support person who needs to be aware when they set up a laptop or device how it hooks into a large data platform, or it could go out as far as software developers,” Chadwick said. “In the future, information is coming at us faster and from different sources. It’s going to take more than a classic analyst or programmer to know how to deal with it.”

Although the first official course in “big data” doesn’t begin until 2015, UNH will be hosting its first “big data” event this spring. The 2014 Analytics Institute at UNH’s Paul College is a five-week program aimed at upper-level undergraduates and recent graduates interested in advanced data analysis. Modeled on the Institute for Advanced Analytics at North Carolina State University, the UNH version isn’t just about sitting in a classroom all day. Students attend from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. as if they were going to work. Morning sessions are for training, lunch features a discussion with an industry leader and afternoons are spent working on projects. The Institute will feature guest lecturer Tim Zue, VP of Business Development for the Boston Red Sox, who will discuss his role analyzing the team’s business operations. Guest lecturers will also include Tim Chadwick and Dyn colleague Chris Baker.

Johnson helped develop curriculum for the summer institute and will also be instructing in the program. He believes the Institute will be a great opportunity for students to polish their skills before entering the job market, and to gain some other skills they may not have picked up in their classes.

“There is an emphasis on good team work, leadership, professionalism and communication,” said Johnson. “There is a need for people with these technical skills, but also people who have workplace skills.”

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