Wednesday, June 06, 2018

#EdTechBiz -- Microsoft should acquire DataCamp

Last update: Wednesday 6/6/28
Now that Microsoft has gobbled up GitHub, who's next? In a recent op-ed published on Inside Higher Ed, Joshua Kim suggested that Microsoft should acquire Coursera. While I can understand why an academic would make such a recommendation, I don't think Coursera lies within Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's laser focus on the cloud and artificial intelligence (AI). 

As I noted in another post on this blog, Coursera recently transformed itself from a MOOC platform into an OPM (online program manager), i.e., a facilitator of online programs for colleges and universities. The programs offered by Coursera's elite university clients cover a far wider range of subjects than the cloud and AI.  

Plan A -- Udacity
Given the real and increasing shortage of techs with credible expertise in AI, especially in the arcane branches of machine learning, Microsoft needs to expand the supply of such experts, but in a way that provides it with greater access than its primary AI competitors: Facebook and Google. Given Udacity's current position as the premier provider of non-degree training programs in AI, I thought Udacity would be the most likely job training operation that Microsoft would acquire ... until I considered Microsoft's conspicuous non-participation in Udacity's current programs. 

When I browsed Udacity's nanodegree pages this morning (6/6/19), I found  that Google was prominently listed as a sponsor of eight nanodegrees. Then I searched Udacity's course catalog for "Google" and found 65 courses developed in "collaboration with" Google. When I searched for "Facebook" I found nine courses developed in "collaboration with" Facebook. But when I searched for "Microsoft" I found zero courses. Why? Was Microsoft's lack of involvement in the development of Udacity's courses and programs merely the residue of the historic hostility between Silicon Valley and Redmond? Or does some fundamental incompatibility still exist? Not having access to data that could answer these questions, I set Plan A aside for the foreseeable future and moved on to Plan B.

Plan B -- DataCamp
DataCamp is an online training operation that was founded in 2013 with an initial focus on data science. It offers courses in two languages: R (the preferred language for those who approach data science from a statistical perspective) and Python (the preferred language for those who approach data science via computer science). But in the last few years, surging market demand has encouraged data scientists from all backgrounds to extend their skill sets from statistical learning to machine learning, so DataCamp has added more courses in machine learning, deep learning, and related subjects to its catalog. 

(Note: full disclosure requires that I acknowledge my investments of the time and effort required to earn a certificate in data science from DataCamp in December 2017 by passing the 23 R-based courses in its curriculum. I had previously earned a R-based data science certificate from Coursera in April 2016.)

Whereas Udacity references the technical prowess of its corporate sponsors, DataCamp references the eminence of its instructors, noted data science "hot shots" some of whom work for corporations, some for universities, but most boast achievements that would enable them to retain their eminence within the data science community no matter who they worked for.

Udacity was founded by Sebastian Thrun, a Silicon Valley superstar who, as a professor of AI at Stanford, offered the world's first massive open online course, a/k/a "MOOC" (enrollment = 160,000). On the other hand, as a member of Google's senior technical staff, he initiated Google's self-driving car project. Given Thrun's extensive connections in the Valley, Udacity was a well-funded startup that quickly became the first (only) online training operation to achieve "unicorn" status, i.e., market value = $1 billion. 

Udacity's financial advantage enables it to fund an extensive array of attractive features. Perhaps the most compelling is its speedy evaluation of student projects for all of its nanodegree programs by qualified professionals. DataCamp recently introduced projects, but my search of its Website found no indication that all of its certificate programs would include projects that would receive professional assessments.

If acquired by Microsoft, DataCamp would become a far more credible operation for individual students and for corporate clients. Microsoft could support expensive advertising and recruitment campaigns. Greater credibility and visibility would increase the demand for its courses and programs thereby enabling it to raise its tuition. Higher tuition would enable DataCamp to pay competent professionals to assess student projects in all of its programs.
  

Roy L. Beasley, PhD
DLL Editor



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