Category Archives: online learning platforms

HBX Core – Harvard Business Schools Extension Program

HBX Students

Introduction:

Harvard Business school runs HBX – Core, an online business learning platform.  HBX Core is composed of 3 classes: Accounting, Statistics and Economics for Managers all targeted at improving your business understanding and becoming a better manager.  Once you complete all 3 courses, you get the: credential of readiness.  What does the course cover?

Financial Accounting:

The course covers accounting transactions, financial statements and some basic financial analysis/forecasting.  It covers some accounting principles as well (historical pricing, consistency..).  It’s a great course if you want to understand accounting basics.  The instructor uses real life examples in his course including Cardullo’s located in Cambridge, Ma next to Harvard as well as Bikram Yoga, a yoga study in Natick, Ma.

Statistics (Business Analytics)

This course covers descriptive statistics: mean, median and mode, hypothesis testing, confidence intervals and regression (both single and multiple).  This is similar to an 1st or 2nd class in statistics.  It’s in my opinion a bit more intuitive in it’s explanations than the course I took in college.  One highlight of the course is it’s emphasis on statistic calculations n Excel, which are mostly single formula based.

Economics for Managers

This is an economics course that focuses almost exclusively on microeconomics.  The class can be evenly split into two parts: demand vs supply with the last portion emphasizing the intersection (market).  This course is cool in that all the examples are really intuitive.  You will explore demand curves by answering polls, supply curves by looking at the entire aluminum industry in an interactive graph, price wars by using financial statements and short vs long term markets by looking at the short/long term demand for lawyers.  This course also covers alternative distribution methods such as queues, the formation of secondary markets during a price ceiling, different types of auctions and the two-tariff price model (subscriptions that lower the average price charged per unit).  I liked this course the best.

HBX Courses

Alternative

Something very similar in nature to the above program, but requiring significantly more time: CFA level 1.  CFA level 1 is 1 of 3 exams to become a Chartered Financial Analyst, a designation valued in the investor industry.  It covers ethics around investing, statistics focused on investments, financial statements, micro and macro economics (focus on interest rates and monetary policy).  The section dedicated to finance is twice as long as all the other sections combined.

Summary

Overall, it’s a descent program if you are interested in learning business fundamentals.  It’s also reasonably priced ($1950) and offered by a credentialed university (Harvard), which means you can expense it under most firms education reimbursement policy.

 

Data Camp: Week Adventure into Python Data Science

Image result for data camp

Introduction:

Noah, a former TechTarget colleague, mentioned  datacamp.com  to me, while we were discussing an issue with remotely hosted files (probably rdp associated) and pandas DataFrames.  On February 10th, I decided to give it a try and today, 6 days later, I finished up the Python Programmer Track (10 classes)!

What is Data Camp?  Data Camp is an online education company that offers data science specific courses.  They focus mostly on two lines of technology: R and Python.  They offer some auxiliary courses in other topics: SQL, Linux and git (as well as a few derivatives).  All the courses are hosted on their online platform, which overall is beautiful to interact with.  A bit more about the topics:

Data Camp Topics:

R – Statistical Programming Language

A statistical programming language inspired by LISP and developed by professors at the University of Auckland.  R has become famous amongst statistics and machine learning researchers where they prototype cutting-edge research and provide it as packages to CRAN, a online index for hosting R code.

Python – General Purpose Language

A general purpose programming language developed by Guido van Rossum.  It’s a dynamically typed, interpreted language that has been used for rapid prototyping and scripting.  Python as a general purpose programming language that can be used for: web development, networking, devops, data analysis and machine learning.  Python has gained popularity over the last few years with increased interest in it’s scientific computing platform.  Pandas, a popular Data Science framework, was inspired by R’s data frame.

SQL – Structured Query Language

Structured Query Language, SQL, is a domain-specific language typically associated with relational database management systems (RDBMS aka SQL databases), but has been coopted by other solutions (BI platforms, Hadoop and Spark).  SQL is easy to learn and revolves around a few common entities: Servers, Databases and Tables (Views etc).  Tables can be viewed as tabular data where rows are entities (employee) and columns are attributes of the entity (salary).  Most SQL is used to retrieve data hosted in tables mediated by RDBMS.

Context

R and Python are used to manipulate data in a procedural way, typically through the use of things like Data Frames (R), Pandas (Python) or Numpy (Python).  These libraries create tabular, matrix, vector or scalar data often rely on vectorized operations to do computation.  Both R and Python have extensive data visualization frameworks to create graphs.  They also have great libraries for statistics, machine learning and artificial intelligence.  SQL is primary associated with data retrieval and is used to get “data” back from a hard drive (through the database).  Most database are more limited in functionality when it concerns more finite data manipulation, graphing and machine learning (though extensions do exist).  They make up for it by being able to store large quantities of data without relying extensively on memory (volatile and limited).  Generally, most software engineers and analysts use both a programming language like (R/Python) and SQL (to access data).

Data Camp:

Summary:

Data Camp breaks down Python/R courses on career tracks: Python Programmer, Data Analyst and Data Scientist.  Each track is composed of a number of courses: 10, 13 and 20 respectively.  Topics covered: basic programming, data manipulation techniques, graphing, statistics, machine learning, network analysis and ai (1 course).

Each course is composed of 3-5 segments.  Each segment has a set of lectures followed by exercises.  You can expect around 3 lectures and 10 exercises per segment.  Most courses build on themselves intuitively beginning with the basics and gradually building up in complexity.  I was surprised to find lectures on generators, closures and how they relate to data frames within the first 4 classes.

Lectures:

datacamp lecture

Lecture portion of the website is beautiful.  Presentations have nice transitions and the website background is not distracting.  Lecturers were clear and easy to follow.  You get a sense that al to of effort was put into the curriculum.  There were multiple lecturers in the 10 courses I took (around 5-6).  Some of these lecturers work for esteemed companies like Anaconda, published books on the topic they spoke on or had a background in software engineering/consulting.  Overall, the lectures were high quality with very few mistakes.

Practice Sets:

datacamp practice problems.

The practice problems were conducted in what looks like a modified ipython notebook embedded in the website.  They have 4 panels, the 2 on the left: exercise and instructions and 2 on the right: Scrapt.py and ipython Shell.

The exercise and instructions provide guidance on how to complete the exercise.  The Exercise section explains the topic.  The instructions tell you what steps need to be completed before submission is excepted.

Script.py is where you write your code.  The run code button let’s you execute script.py and see the output in the IPYTHON SHELL.  It’s pretty interactive.  When you submit answer, it checks if the solution matches the instruction section.  For the most part, there are few cases where code I submitted was marked wrong when it was in fact right.  That’s great!

What if you get stuck on a programming problem?  There is a button called hint.  This provides some extra guidance typically in the form of small chunks of code.  If you press the hint button, a new button called show solution will appear.  Clicking the show solution button will overwrite the SCRIPT.PY window with the correct solution, which you can then run and submit.

In rare occasions, you might end up with a multiple choice question.  They offer an interactive shell in this case.  It always proceeds the more free-form question variant.

Gamification:

Data Camp has one really great feature that I liked.  Each exercise has an amount of xp that you can collect.  Each lecture is worth 50xp, multiple choice is worth 50xp and problem sets are worth 100xp.  If you click the show hint button, the problem set xp is reduced to 70xp.  Show solution gives you 0xp.  When logging in, you will see the total xp you got that day as well as how many days in a row you have utilized data camp (streak). This is a great way to motivate you to do the exercises.

Another layer of gamification comes from certificates you can collect (and post on linkedin) as well as career tracks you can complete.

Cost/Summary:

I think data camp is very friendly to beginners interested in learning about data analysis in Python and R, both marketable skills.  I think the course layouts, lectures and practice problems are well thought out.  I would suggest that beginners also read books and online documentation on subjects like Pandas and Numpy.  I found data camp focused more on practicing skills and less on implementation details (which is a good thing).

Data Camp is currently on sale for $180/year (usually $300/year).  You can also buy it as a monthly subscription for $30/month.  Data Camp is similar to Udemy.  There are 3 advantages Data Camp has over Udemy:

  1. Practice problems make up a larger percent of the curriculum.
  2. $30/month you have access to any one of 100+ courses.  The Udemy equivalent is $15/course.  A Udemy course is equivalent to 3 Data Camp courses (in material)
  3. Data Camp specializes in data science and has really thought about how to naturally progress through the data science material.
  4. If you like structured programs, this is better.

Advantages of Udemy:

  1. Overall larger selection of content, variety and topics.  If you want to practice Python, but want to tackle multiple topics like: web programming, networking, penetration testing or a specific subset of machine learning.  It might be a better option.
  2. There is no subscription fee.  It’s fixed cost.  If you are not sure you want to invest a lot of time into python programming this is a better choice.
  3. Lectures are not as uniform.  You might find some lectures that are more theoretical.  Others are more practical.  That means you can try out different lecture styles to see what works.

Best,

Chris