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Academy sees uptick in applications, employability

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Data science institution Explore Data Science Academy has witnessed an increasing number of applications for its programme, amid cloud technology adoption and a boom in the local data centre space.

In addition, the employability of students with these data science skills has shot up, according to Shaun Dippnall, CEO and co-founder of Explore.

Dippnall made the comments during a podcast featuring Clive Charlton, head of solution architecture at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The data science academy receives in excess of 20 000 applications per annum, from South Africa and the rest of the continent, Dippnall revealed. Additionally, more than 1 000 students have graduated in the past four years, with over 90% finding employment.

“We’ve got a big uptick in people wanting to do the course because it’s becoming more visible how important cloud and data science is going to be,” he states.

Billed as Africa’s largest data science academy, the institution was founded in 2017 by data scientists Dippnall, Dave Strugnell and Aidan Helmbold. It was launched with the aim of meeting the burgeoning demand for data analytics in the digital economy, a demand that far exceeds current supply.

To qualify for the fully-sponsored one-year programme (including tuition and a stipend), candidates are taken through a series of tests, including aptitude and attitude, IQ, pattern recognition, analytical and problem-solving testing. They must also attend a data science bootcamp and a round of interviews with the team at Explore.

Dippnall explains that once this is done, the top students will be selected. He notes that in the beginning, sponsored learnerships were offered to 100 students, but this has now grown to about 500.

“The demand is incredible,” says Dippnall. “If one had more scholarships, we’d get more people on. We are receiving about 20 000 applications across Africa, and we’re accepting about 500 to 1 000 students for scholarships.

“You can now also do our courses and pay tuition fees yourself. We get thousands of people applying for that across Africa.”

In addition to the Accredited Skills Data Science Programme, the academy last year introduced its first online course in data engineering, in response to the increasing demand for data engineers in SA.

For Dippnall, the demand for data science skills in SA is in line with global business trends, driven largely by the business value and competitive advantage that can be extracted from large data sets.

“This is facilitated by access to data and large data repositories. This trend and demand will only continue with the likes of AWS and Azure making landfall in South Africa and the continent.”

Shaun Dippnall, CEO and co-founder of Explore Data Science Academy.
Shaun Dippnall, CEO and co-founder of Explore Data Science Academy.

Over the last few years, South Africa has increasingly become a data centre hub, with two of the world’s largest cloud computing hyperscalers − Microsoft and AWS − having established data centre regions in the country.

In March 2019, Microsoft opened two data centre regions in SA, becoming the first global provider to deliver cloud services from data centres on the African continent. In the same month, Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei started offering its cloud services from a leased data centre in Johannesburg.

A year later, AWS announced the opening of the AWS Africa (Cape Town) Region.

In 2020, German start-up CloudRadar launched data centre facilities in Johannesburg, and carrier- and cloud-neutral co-location data centre solutions provider Teraco announced it is investing R4.4 billion in the construction of new data centres and the expansion of its existing data centres in SA.

Since then, various other players have opened new data centres locally, including Dimension Data and Teraco Data Environments, with US-based enterprise software giant Oracle becoming the latest company to do so.

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