Data science interns to tackle Cape's water woes

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Successful candidates of the Explore Data Science Academy will commence in January.
Successful candidates of the Explore Data Science Academy will commence in January.

The founders of the Explore Data Science Academy have set high-impact, topical problems to be solved by the students of the country's first data science-focused institution.

The new data science academy, founded by qualified data scientists Shaun Dippnall, Dave Strugnell and Aidan Helmbold, is offering a one-year accredited skills data science programme to 100 interns.

The institution says since its inception last month, it has received over 4 000 applications and has started extending invitations to the first batch of successful candidates, who will commence the programme in January.

Helmbold notes the first project to be tackled by the interns is aimed at trying to find resolutions to Cape Town's water crisis.

"We will be using the City of Cape Town's open data portal which has made available historical water consumption data by suburb. The students will be tasked with creating a database and visualising this data in creative ways. The ultimate goal of the project is be able to provide deeper insights into the drought and maybe even provide recommendations to alleviate the crisis," he explains.

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

BCX will sponsor 300 interns over the next three years, as well as provide additional courses for executives in the field of data science. The academy says its programme differs from university degrees, as it focuses on practical application to real world problems, not theory.

"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. Our interns will learn business problem-solving skills, foundational mathematics, applied statistics and probability, computer science fundamentals and more," according to Helmbold.

BCX says it committed its support to the academy after recognising the huge need for data science skills within local corporates.

South Africa suffers from a shortage of qualified data scientists, with increasing fears that the vast amount of data generated by the Square Kilometre Array telescope will be shipped and hosted overseas.

According to EMC, the demand for highly qualified big data analysts in Southern Africa is outstripping supply to the point where it can take many months to fill vacancies.

"By 2018, demand for data scientists may be as much as 60% greater than the supply," explains Sonelia du Preez, country marketing manager for EMC Southern Africa.

Interns of the Explore Data Science Academy will also be expected to use data analytics to resolve issues within insurance sales compliance, notes Helmbold.

"We will be working through more complex algorithms throughout the course. One of the products we have developed which uses these advanced techniques is our compliance-AI solution, which is able to conduct a quality assurance analysis on sales in the insurance industry. The ultimate goal of this solution is to help insurers ensure every single insurance sale is proven to be compliant with local regulation," he concludes.

The course will be held at the academy's premises in the Bandwidth Barn in Cape Town's Woodstock.

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