How to Learn on Your Own Time to Get a Big Data Job

By Jason Williamson

There are a host of resources that you can sink your teeth into if you want to educate yourself in preparation for a big data job. Here, you will find the kinds of resources that are available, how you can access them, and what you can expect from them.

Hitting the books

The first place you should start is with a book. Many books can guide you from theory to hands-on examples. The benefit of a book is that it often can serve as a desktop reference after you’ve become comfortable with a topic. What you should begin with should really depend upon the type of role you’re looking for and the level of exposure you’ve already had to technology.

For the business or marketing analyst

If your current background is as a business analyst or marketing analyst, you’ll want to begin your research on some foundational topics like the high-level concepts of big data. You can find entire books dedicated to volume, variety, veracity, and velocity.

You’ll also want to continue with books on big data use cases so that you can see how the application of big data applies to your industry. From there, you’ll be able to understand common analytics tools, which you’re likely familiar with

For the programmer

If you’re experienced in programming or database technologies, you’ll want to read up on common modeling tools, languages, and scripting engines. Make sure you understand common big data use cases, but from an implementation perspective rather than from a pure business standpoint.

For the database administrator

If you’ve been a database administrator, take the time to explore the new data models of unstructured data. Find out how to pragmatically model, access, and integrate the new data models with traditional relational database systems.

If you haven’t been involved in data warehouse projects, you should have a desk reference of those concepts. You’ll have to bring together traditional relational database models, denormalized data warehouse concepts, and unstructured data all together to provide the backbone of a big data project.

Online tutorials

Some people learn by reading; others learn by doing. Online tutorials are extremely impactful — and plentiful — resources for getting started in a technology. There are two main mediums for online tutorials:

  • Step-by-step guides: A step-by-step guide on the web carefully takes you through hands-on examples. It’s very similar to working through a book, but it can be easier if you have large chunks of code to input and build.

    Although there is a lot of value in coding things by hand from the ground up, it can also slow you down, especially if you’re already familiar with common coding constructs, logic, and data access methods.

  • Instructional videos: Videos posted on YouTube or other video-sharing sites can provide a level of detail that some books and online guides cannot provide because you have the chance to actually see someone doing something in real time.

On-the-job training

The best way to get a high-value education is to be proactive and find projects that you can learn where you work. For many people, finding their way into projects outside their specific area of expertise can be challenging in the workplace. Two factors affect your ability to find on-the-job training:

  • The climate of the workplace: Does leadership encourage innovation? Are there avenues to submit new ideas? Can you take training — internal or external — to develop your skills?

  • You: How willing are you to go outside your comfort zone to do what it takes to achieve your goals? Are you willing to put the required time in to learn new things? Are you willing to leverage your network colleagues and friends to get involved in new projects while maintaining your current workload?

You can’t control the climate of your workplace, but you can control how proactive you are. And the good news is, you’re more important than your workplace. If you have the right attitude and approach, you’re sure to find opportunities — maybe in places where you didn’t even know they existed.

Identify a project at work that you can volunteer for and perhaps get a new position because of it. Or perhaps you can develop something so great it gets you recognized within your company.