I have been following the startup ecosystem in Data Science education sector very closely for some time now. Recently, I came across UpX Academy, an education venture focussed on offering data science knowledge to professionals & students. UpX Academy is a Tech Mahindra venture that provides online instructor-led courses in Big Data & Data Science.
I reached out to UpX academy and got a chance to interview their CEO – Manvender Singh. Manvender is the Founder & CEO of UpX Academy. Manvender is an MBA from ISB Hyderabad and before starting UpX Academy, he was the founder of Aristotle Prep, a popular GMAT test prep company.
Here are excerpts of my conversation with Manvender Singh.
KJ: Thanks Manvender for taking out time for an exclusive interview with Analytics Vidhya. Tell us the idea behind UpX Academy?
Manvender: It’s a pleasure talking to the audience at Analytics Vidhya!
It was back at ISB in my Business Analytics class where I realized the importance of Big Data Analytics, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence. I felt that these are the areas where the future of technology truly is! It was the same time when Apple’s Siri & Google Now had started to gain traction, increasing my fascination for these technologies even more!
Although a few companies were offering courses in these domains, but on having a look at the overall curriculum and pedagogy, I felt that this was not how a student would learn the most.
So, once I joined Tech Mahindra as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, I started working on setting up UpX Academy. Our tagline is “Move up in life”. Through our courses, we essentially help professionals move up in their careers by equipping them with in-demand skills that will keep them ahead of the curve for the next 10 years.
KJ: Could you please elaborate on the gap between student expectations and the current training landscape that the market provides?
Manvender: Recently, there has been a lot of buzz around Big Data Analytics, Data Science, Machine Learning, etc. A lot of people want to enter these fields but most of the trainings offered tend to be primarily theoretical and do not teach students how to practically apply these concepts to real-world scenarios. However, the industry is not interested whether you know Hadoop as a concept or you know the various Machine Learning techniques. What the industry is really interested in, is knowing how effectively you can apply these concepts to real-world projects. So while designing the curriculum at UpX Academy, we ensured that theory was well integrated with a lot of projects, case studies and hands-on exercises.
KJ: Who are the target audience for the courses from UpX Academy?
Manvender: Firstly, I’d like to break the myth that to learn Big Data & Data Science, one needs to have a strong coding knowledge. If you check the student profile page on our website, you will find that our students have a diverse range of work experience. We have software developers to team leaders to senior project managers enrolled in our courses. In fact, in our current Data Science batch, quite a few students are MBAs with little technical background.
For those who are from technology background and want to remain in technology, we recommend them to go for Big Data courses and for those who want to solve business problems through data, we recommend them to go for Data Science courses.
We only focus on providing courses on Big Data & Data Science and that’s what makes us a specialist in these areas. Unlike other institutes, we run only one batch at a time. So all our resources and time are focused on a single batch which results in a high completion rate and a great learning experience!
KJ: So, which courses are you currently offering and which ones can we expect to be introduced in the near future?
Manvender: Like I said earlier, we are specialists in Big Data & Data Science. So, in Big Data, we have three tracks. The first is the Foundation track that covers Hadoop, second is the Specialization track that covers Hadoop & Spark and the third one is the Super Specialization track that covers Hadoop, Spark, NoSQL databases like MongoDB and HBase.
Similarly, in Data Science, we have three tracks. The Foundation one covers Data Analytics with Python & R. In Data Science Specialization, we add Machine Learning to the foundation track & in Super Specialization, we cover Data analytics with Python and R, Machine Learning and Tableau. In fact, we are one of the very few companies in India which offers online instructor-led courses in Machine Learning.
Being backed by Tech Mahindra, which is one of the biggest IT companies in India, our courses are highly industry-relevant. With every batch, we update our curriculum which further ensures that we teach our students what the industry demands.
Very soon, we are planning to launch industry-specific courses in Retail, Finance & HR Analytics.
In our programs, we have brought together three critical components that I believe make for a great learning experience.
KJ: Can you describe these three critical components which make UpX truly unique?
Manvender: The first component is the instructor. We are very selective in the faculty we choose. Our instructors belong to top institutes such as London Business School, Carnegie Mellon, Indian School of Business, etc. and have worked for top organizations such as Microsoft, Google, etc.
Secondly, while most other programs teach a lot of theory, we have a very high hands-on component in our classes. As I mentioned earlier too, the focus of our courses is on helping our students apply the concepts to real-world scenarios. For example, if they are being taught Linear Regression in a class, then students have access to all the files that the instructor is working on and they also work on those files along with the instructor.
Also, the projects students do are very different here. Usually, in online training, most training institutes provide projects on small datasets with 5 MB or 10 MB of data. However, our capstone projects have data in 100s of MB and which can go upto GBs at times! At UpX, students also get access to cloud lab which enables them to work on these “Big Data” sets for their projects.
So when a student walks out of this program, he has a portfolio of projects that he has worked on from multiple domains. This incredibly helps students, who do not have formal experience in these technologies, to feel confident when appearing for interviews.
The third component that makes us special is our focus on peer learning. We divide our students into study groups of 8-10. Students from the same cities are put in the same group. This enables them to solve problems in teams, just like the way it works in real world. After all, Data Scientists often work on projects in a team. We also have discussion forums, where the students can post their queries and have discussions with the other enrolled students.
Another very unique thing about us is our industry immersion sessions. We implemented this based on the feedback we received from our first batch. The students told us that although they understood the concepts and their implementation, they wanted to know how the concepts are actually used in the real-world. So, we introduced industry-immersion sessions wherein the students get to interact with industry experts from top companies like Twitter, Facebook, Vodafone, Barclays, PwC, Zomato, etc. to make them understand how their organizations use Big Data & Data Science. This gives a very good perspective to students who are looking to transition their careers into these tracks and want to know how to crack interviews and what it takes to break into these companies.
Lastly, the classes take place over the weekends in the mornings. This means that industry professionals can now acquire skills in Big Data & Analytics without having to compromise on their work!
KJ: Since your main focus is providing hands-on experience through case studies and projects. We would like to know the type of projects you offer and the source of these materials.
Manvender: So, while some of the case studies have been developed in-house, the projects have been curated from top sources such as World Bank, US Health Department, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and many more. All these datasets are real-world and are not dummy ones.
The students get to choose from a wide variety of datasets from domains such as retail, entertainment, finance, social media, healthcare, etc. on which they want to do their projects on.
KJ: Is there any course material that students are provided with?
Manvender: Absolutely! Before every class, we give pre-reads, installation guides and ask students to watch a lot of videos to make them well-equipped for the class. After every class, we give them assignments that help them cement the concepts which they have learned. In addition to this, we also give the class recordings, a host of knowledge repositories, PowerPoint presentations etc. to which you can refer to.
KJ: After the students complete the course, is there any certification provided that they are trained analytics professional?
Manvender: While most other companies provide certifications to everyone who attends their course, we have a little different approach. We award certifications to only those who complete the course and clear the final certification exam that we conduct. What makes the certification exam unique is the fact that it is purely case-based and there’s not even a single theory question that is asked. What I can guarantee is that if you clear this exam, then you can definitely crack the interviews that you are aspiring for. We provide a certification of completion to all those who successfully finish the course and projects.
KJ: Is there any placement assistance provided to the students?
Manvender: Yes, we do assist in placements. We do this in 3 steps.
Firstly, we have resources that will help you in resume preparation for Big Data and Data Science roles. Unfortunately, most people working in the IT sector do not know how to build a great resume. We have a set of resources which you can use to take their resume to an altogether different level.
Secondly, for interview preparation, we have repositories that will help you get prepared. These repositories contain all the technical questions that you are likely to be asked in Big Data / Data Analytics interviews that you will be appearing for.
The third way in which we provide placement assistance is through the industry immersion sessions that we do. For example, if someone has 10 years of experience in Java and when he goes for interviews, he would most likely be asked why should we hire you as your background has primarily
KJ: Thank you Manvender for taking out the time for an interview with us.
Manvender: Thank you for having me here. We look forward to seeing many of your readers attend our webinar- “How to crack Big Data & Data Science roles”, where experts from LBS & ISB will be explaining the opportunities in Big Data, Machine Learning & Data Science. The event will be held on the 11th of December in partnership with Analytics Vidhya.