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Microsoft Tackles IT Skills Gap With Online Learning Program

Beginning with data science, the software giant aims to help close the IT skills gap with its new Microsoft Professional Degree program.

Microsoft, IT training

During its Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto this week, Microsoft took the wraps off an online "learning-as-a-service" program that will teach professionals the skills required for today's technology-focused, in-demand jobs.

Based on the Azure-hosted Open edX online education platform, the software giant's new Microsoft Professional Degree (MPD) program will "offer employer-endorsed, university caliber curriculum for professionals at any stage of their careers," Alison Cunard, general manager of Microsoft Learning Experiences, said in a July 13 announcement. Open edX is an open-source online teaching and courseware development platform founded by Harvard and MIT in 2012 that offers a variety of free and paid courses on a variety of topics, such as Linux, Web development and several others, including non-technical topics.

The first MPD curriculum is a Data Science Degree program aimed at narrowing the data analytics skills gap.

Last September, Gartner predicted that 75 percent of enterprises will use analytics by 2017. Citing research from McKinsey & Co., Cunard cautioned that many organizations may not have the personnel qualified to make use of tools that convert corporate big data into insightful business intelligence.

By 2018, McKinsey & Co. expects that the United States will face an analytics skills shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people. Worse, the job force will be lacking 1.5 million managers and analysts that can use big data analysis in their business decision-making processes. A recent TEKsystems survey revealed that big data analytics ranked as one of the most hard-to-find IT skills.

Enrollment in the Microsoft Professional Degree in Data Science is currently open. Courses and labs can be audited at no cost. Per-course pricing ranges from $25 to $99, which entitles students to a certificate upon the successful completion of each part of the curriculum.

"Our plan is to award a Microsoft Professional Degree in Data Science to students who successfully pass and secure verified certificates for each course and then achieve a passing grade in the capstone project," stated the company in an online FAQ. "The degree is a digitally sharable, resume-worthy credential."

The curriculum's 10 courses include querying data in a database with Transact-SQL, analyzing and visualizing data with Excel or Power BI and an introduction to the R statistical programming language, among others. As a final project, students develop and deploy a big data analytics solution on the company's own cloud-based Cortana Intelligence suite.

"The proliferation of cloud technologies and the delivery of software as a service has opened up tremendous revenue opportunities for our partners," Steven Guggenheimer, corporate vice president and chief evangelist of Microsoft's Developer Experience and Evangelism group, said in a statement. "The Microsoft Professional Degree will be offered via edX, as well as through learning-as-a-service offerings delivered through partners, to meet customers' evolving training needs and to help close the skills gap we are seeing across a number of industries."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...