Five years ago, machine learning (ML) — the branch of artificial intelligence that involves learning from data — wasn’t a thing. Now, expertise with this super-powerful, enabling technology is one of the most sought after technical skills and if you want to land today’s fastest growing job, you need it.
Machine learning is disrupting nearly every industry. Researchers are using ML to identify counterfeit consumer products. Advanced manufacturing robotics are revolutionizing factory floors. Machine learning is part of consumer loan approvals in the financial industry. Doctors are using algorithms to study X-rays. And we’re only scratching the surface of what machines can and will do to enhance business productivity and improve quality of life.
With technical advances speeding up and requirements constantly changing, how can a professional stay relevant and be competitive with the adoption of machine learning? Earning a professional certificate can give you the skills and confidence you need to excel in the job you have today or transition to the one you’ll want tomorrow.
Since 1912, the University of Washington’s Professional & Continuing Education division has been about the business of helping working adults, and those looking to re-enter the workforce, gain the professional skills they need. Their most recent program, created to meet the dizzying pace of change in the high-tech landscape, is the Career Accelerator. Made up of the University’s most popular business- and technology-focused certificate programs including machine learning, Python programming, data science, data analytics and project management, students can enroll in one of four formats: classroom, online, group-paced and self-paced. The self-paced option allows students to start anytime and finish as gradually or quickly as they choose.
“The self-paced format is an answer to what we’re hearing from business leaders,” says UW Continuum College Vice Provost Rovy Branon. “Global companies headquartered here in Seattle tell us, ‘We’re local, but we have employees on the East Coast and overseas, so we need to ensure similar outcomes and standardization in training and skill development’. This range of formats gives employees more learning options available on their time and on their terms.”
Ask Andy Hoover what’s driving the attraction to data-driven and ML careers and he’ll tell you it’s about optimism. “Analysts, engineers and scientists each build things that are used by professionals in every industry to make a positive impact, and this kind of quantitative decision making is how businesses make really smart decisions,” says Hoover, senior director of program strategy with UW Professional & Continuing Education and a former Microsoft senior director. “A career in data and machine learning is an opportunity to work on things that are fundamentally changing our world.”
Machine learning requires two broad skillsets: programming, which involves understanding databases and writing code, and algorithms. It requires strong mathematics and statistics skills and involves different ways to program a computer to do supervised or unsupervised learning. “It mimics what we do as human beings,” says Hoover. “We ‘teach’ machines to classify, cluster and predict.”
With ML constantly advancing, “even people who are educated and finished a master’s degree in the last three to five years don’t have the latest skills,” says Hoover. “Engineers and analysts who use data and have basic statistical skills need to learn ML and perhaps a programming language, such as Python or R, to remain relevant because all companies are becoming data-oriented.”
Certificate program alumni tell us that having a UW professional certificate on their resume gives them that competitive edge. What’s more, the skills they develop and the training they receive from the University’s top-notch instructors gives them the confidence to apply for the next great thing.
Take Elliott Stepusin. With a Ph.D. in biomechanical engineering, Stepusin initially worked in data science but soon decided that focusing more specifically on ML was a better fit. After considering other elite higher ed certificate programs, the UW’s caliber of instructors and the online option for earning a certificate sold him on the Career Accelerator program.
“The types of things you do in class during the certificate program are the exact kinds of things I do at work now,” says Stepusin, a machine learning engineer at one of the nation’s leading public accounting firms, Crowe Horwath. “We have machine learning conversations and debates where I can use what I learned from my instructors and participate in a meaningful way.”
A meaningful experience is exactly what the Career Accelerator programs deliver, pairing instructional time from top-notch instructors with lab, application and assessment time, offered in flexible format timelines. Working professionals are responding positively to the accessibility of the program with 2018 enrollments in Career Accelerator certificates reaching 62 percent above last year’s rates. Registration is open for the start anytime, self-paced option. Students can apply now and start Career Accelerator certificate programs this summer.