Hasan Hboubati recognizes the initial feeling among his new Business Applications of Data Science students at UCI, many of whom are new to the data analytics field: Uncertainty. Perhaps due to a lack of exposure, or a lack of belief in themselves, many doubt their fit for a data-driven business landscape.
“A lot of people are anxious or scared,” says Hboubati, an Alteryx sales engineering manager who teaches this course at the UCI extension campus. “They worry that data analytics will require them to do a ton of math or be really good with databases.”
“But I emphasize that data analytics is a team sport with lots of roles. You have someone who prepares the data, you have a data engineer, you have someone who’s really good at visualization, and another who’s good at ETL (extract-transform-load).”
“And you can actually see their eyes opening up to the possibilities.”
Once they gain some hands-on experience, Hboubati says, these same students tend to leave the course with enough confidence to take on the world. “At Alteryx, we like to say you don’t have to be a data scientist to have data breakthroughs. It’s awesome to equip someone with basic data skills, show them how to find the gold nuggets, and make them feel powerful.”
Engaging students with real-world data challenges
Hboubati’s course is the first in UC Irvine’s certificate program for data analytics. It focuses on the practical applications of data analytics and science — the near-infinite number of use cases where data can be used to generate insights or solve difficult business challenges.
For example, how can an oil and gas company use data to prevent an oil rig accident? Can a bakery reduce bread waste with a camera mounted on a conveyor belt? And how might data be used to help doctors predict the likelihood of diabetes and high blood pressure?
Many of the hands-on exercises Hboubati creates are pulled from conversations on the job with Alteryx customers, whose size, industry, and data challenges vary widely. “The exercises run the gamut, because there’s no telling where students will land when they finish the program. They could go to work for Kaiser. Or a transportation logistics company for Amazon. We try to prepare them for all kinds of possibilities.
Code-free and code-friendly platform for learning
Students have access to a variety of data analytics tools in the course, including Alteryx Designer, which combines powerful data prep, blending, and analytics capabilities with a drag-and-drop interface that almost anyone can learn. Free Alteryx Designer licenses are available to students in the certificate program. Students can also learn the concepts and implementations using R or Python.
Hboubati frequently draws on his experience at Alteryx when working with students. Sharing practical uses cases from his daily customer interactions is one example. “An executive once told me she doesn’t need more data scientists, she needs storytellers. I mean, I could throw COVID data at you all night long. But if I tell you a story about what’s happening, where it’s happening, and why it’s happening right now, it’s much more consumable.” Telling stories with data tends to connect with his students. “They say, ‘Hey, I can tell stories.
Part instructor, part data science champion
Hboubati is a natural as an analytics teacher. He started his own consulting company in 2014, intent on helping small businesses join the analytics bandwagon. He preached the data gospel, helping customers see that anyone can derive insights from data with the right skills and tools.
After seeing Designer in action in 2017, the reality hit like a lightning bolt: “Alteryx software does exactly what I set out to do with my company. It effortlessly combines data files and sources that otherwise could not easily be combined. I know how hard that is to do, and the analyst was demonstrating it in just a few minutes.” So, he closed his company and joined Alteryx.
Hboubati now sees himself as a bridge between Alteryx and UCI. He helped facilitate an Alteryx hackathon, with other Alteryx sales engineers and managers helping out as mentors. At least one of his Alteryx colleagues has expressed interest in teaching data analytics at UCI, and he hopes others will follow. “People are excited. They would love to help.”
This desire to contribute is the same spirit he wants to inspire in his students. He recommends tackling as many data projects as possible to gain experience before interviewing with prospective employers. Some of Hboubati’s UCI extension students are between jobs, many are international students, and others are professionals looking to acquire data skills for new career paths—but most will need to enter the job market eventually.
“The most important thing I tell them is to build a portfolio. Creating info sheets on individual projects is a great way to get noticed, as is learning to describe your role and approach. Track everything you’re doing as part of this program, because that will validate your knowledge and skills, and will be a launchpad to your next job.”
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