Extension Big Data Contest Ignites a Passion for Data Science


- Michelle Darling, Database and Data Analytics Alumna

Term : March, 2014
Department : Engineering
Program : Database and Data Analytics

In her “Big Data: Tools, Concepts and Deployment” course, Michelle Darling had the chance to put her data science skills to the test in front of a panel of experts. Darling had enrolled in UCSC Extension’s Database and Data Analytics certificate program to prepare for new opportunities in high tech, and was surprised when her instructor announced that their projects would be evaluated in class by Silicon Valley data scientists.

“The fact that our professor brought in his industry connections really speaks to his commitment to his students,” Darling says. “He showed us that it’s not just about school work—it’s about networking.”

Darling and her classmates presented a case study on a hypothetical auto insurance company struggling with customer retention. They suggested ways of using Big Data, including customer scoring, “right pricing,” telematics dashboards, and fraud detection. The trick was presenting a Big Data solution that used the algorithms and techniques they learned in class, while also demonstrating how these technical processes could be applied to real-world business problems. The project, as Darling explains it, addressed a question begged of data analysts and scientists everywhere: “Now that we have all this data, how do we make sense of it?”

Darling and her colleagues nailed their presentation—and they won the competition. Their success was a thrill for Darling, whose unique background in technology, project management, and entrepreneurship made her a perfect fit for the evolving field of data analytics.

In addition to the Big Data course, Darling learned how to apply data science to various business and scientific problems, gained hands-on experience programming in R, and evaluated best use cases for NoSQL databases such as Cassandra and MongoDB.  She valued her instructors’ passion for the field, as well as their enthusiasm for teaching.

“One of UCSC Extension’s main differentiators is its instructors,” she says. “They are very inspiring; clearly passionate and committed to their students' success.”

When Darling completes her certificate, she plans to work as an intern in a data analysis or data science firm. In the meantime, she posts regularly about trends in data science on her blog.

Visit our Database and Data Analytics program page to learn more about UCSC Extension’s unique offerings. Browse upcoming Database and Data Analytics courses.

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