South Africa’s first dedicated data science facility Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) is appealing to corporate South Africa to sponsor 300 data science interns in 2019.
The Cape Town-based academy was launched just over six months ago, with founder sponsor BCX committing to invest almost R50-million to fund 100 young interns over the next three years.

The launch of the EDSA co-incided with an appeal for applications for the 100 sponsored internships as well. Interested applicants had to apply online demonstrating their analytical and problem solving skills.

The appeal resulted in over 9 000 online applications from throughout the country – from which the team at the Explore Data Science Academy selected the top 100.

According to co-founder Shaun Dippnall, the demand for data scientists locally more than justifies the 400% increase in the number of internships offered by the academy, which will have a Johannesburg campus as well in 2019.

While data scientists are in high demand, research has shown that there is an estimated global shortfall of 2,5-million. In the US, for example, most positions for data scientists have not been filled.

The same is true in South Africa, where there is a growing need for data scientists in commerce and industry but, ironically, where unemployment among young people has reached crisis proportions.

Hence EDSA’s appeal for more sponsored internships for 2019.

Labelled as “the sexiest career of the 21st century”, the data scientist is a new breed of analytical data expert with the technical skills to solve complex problems – and the curiosity to explore what problems need to be solved. Data scientists are part mathematician, part computer scientist and part trend-spotter.

“In the rapidly expanding world of technology, where billions of bytes of new information are added daily to the world’s databases, it has become clear that this unwieldy mass of unstructured information can no longer be simply stored away and forgotten,” says Dippnall.

“For companies, these vast databases can become a virtual gold mine of increased efficiency and profitability. However, all this potential can only be realised if there is someone who can dig in and unearth business insights that no one thought to look for before. This is where the data scientist comes in,” he adds.

Academy founders Shaun Dippnall, Aidan Helmbold and Dave Strugnell are proud of the search results for the country’s top 100 data scientists.

“The talent out there is extraordinary – many of our best contestants come from very humble circumstances – so we are extremely gratified to have them at our academy,” says Dippnall.

The year-long Explore Data Science programme comprises three modules: the first six months involve learning the foundations of data science, including foundational mathematics, applied statistics and probability, computer science fundamentals, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Next comes three months of problem-solving projects, such as visualising data and predicting the future.

The final quarter involves actual work experience at a corporate sponsor, where the student will solve real-world business problems in a team setting under the guidance of industry mentors.

According to Strugnell: “Acceleration of the digital economy means data science impacts every industry.

“We have designed a course that closely mirrors the demands of the workplace and have added job immersion and self-paced project work, which lead to understanding team-working dynamics,” he adds.

Dippnall is bullish about the future and about the value that the academy can bring both to local business but also to the lives of South Africa’s unemployed young people.

“Our aim to quadruple the number of interns to 400 cannot be achieved alone, and we are appealing to local corporates to partner with us with sponsorships for these young interns,” he says.

“For companies that understand the need for our economy to grow in sophistication in parallel with other advanced industrialised countries, while at the same time addressing the crippling problem of youth unemployment, this is a golden opportunity to make a real difference.”