2017 DiversityInc Top 50 Announcement Event

AT&T: The Future of Data Science Education

The University of Notre Dame collaborated with AT&T to launch a new online master’s program devoted to data science.

John Donovan, Chief Strategy Officer and Group President – AT&T Technology and Operations (right) Steve Buechler, Professor of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics, University of Notre Dame (left)

The University of Notre Dame recently launched a new online master’s program devoted to data science with the collaboration of AT&T (No. 4 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list). The program, offered by the Department of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics, will launch its first classes in August. Participating faculty will represent a multitude of disciplines, including psychology, computer science, engineering and business.

John Donovan, AT&T’s Chief Strategy Officer and Group President — AT&T Technology and Operations, discussed the program and the rich ongoing collaboration between AT&T and Notre Dame with Professor Elliott Visconsi, Notre Dame’s Chief Academic Digital Officer in the Provost’s Office.

Get an exclusive look at what they’re planning for the program:

Elliott Visconsi: Thanks for talking with us about Notre Dame’s new online data science program and AT&T’s collaboration with the University. Why was Notre Dame the right partner for this collaboration?

John Donovan: For the past three years, AT&T has been making large strategic bets on a diverse range of technologies ─ most recently our acquisition of DIRECTV. Customers are demanding constant connectivity; since 2007, for example, data traffic on AT&T’s wireless network grew by more than 250,000 percent. The company forecasts that by 2020, 75 percent of its network will be controlled by software-defined architecture. That percentage was virtually zero in 2000.

The new landscape requires skills in cloud-based computing, coding, data science and other technical capabilities. As AT&T moves down this path, it requires the right educational collaborators like Notre Dame. The University brings excellent researchers and faculty and a strong, agile commitment to personal education for its students. We look to forward-looking institutions such as Notre Dame to help us shape this new cloud- and wireless-based future.

Elliott: We are indeed striving to be a forward-looking institution committed, as you know, to being “a powerful means for doing good in the world.” The online master’s program in data science is an expression of our innovative ambition, and Notre Dame is excited to work with a partner like AT&T to create the future of higher education.

What is the goal of your ongoing collaboration with us at Notre Dame around the online data science master’s degree program?

John Donovan, Chief Strategy Officer and Group President – AT&T Technology and Operations (right)
Steve Buechler, Professor of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics, University of Notre Dame (left)

John: The overall goal is to enable students to have the flexibility to work this unique 21-month program into their busy schedule with online learning, in-person weekend immersions on Notre Dame’s one-of-a-kind campus and tailored curriculum to quickly infuse their data science learnings into their jobs and desired industry.

There’s a growing need for skilled data scientists – both at AT&T and in virtually every major industry around the world. Our hope is that this collaboration will create a premier degree program that will prepare graduates for careers as data scientists in a wide range of industry fields including management, marketing, information technology, government policy, healthcare, finance, education and scientific research.

Elliott: We’ve infused the online program with the principles of liberal education for which Notre Dame is well known. As you know, we’re planning to train analytically rigorous, creative and versatile data scientists with excellent business judgment and an ethical approach to their work. We think that this broad vision, combined with the personal attention of a smaller program and the flexibility of online instruction ─ and of course our collaboration with AT&T ─ distinguishes us from other online programs.

What kind of people are you looking to hire at AT&T?

John: We have a storied heritage of innovation at AT&T. And while we’re proud of this, time and technology wait for no one. We need experts in a variety of specialties, including network function virtualization, software defined networking, security and the internet of things. Every one of these areas is reliant on data and the ability to precisely analyze it for our business and customers. We even need our non-technical workers to be versed in those areas. Our salespeople, lawyers, accountants, recruiters, marketing experts and more also need to understand where we’re going.

AT&T jobs are among the best in the world, with highly competitive wages and benefits. We have a diverse workforce across all parts of the company and view it as imperative that we are seen as a great place to work ─ a workplace of choice. In short, we want people who are ready to work in a competitive and more digital world.

Elliott: Speaking of work, how are Notre Dame and AT&T working together beyond this program?

John: We do quite a bit together, including research collaborations and working directly with faculty and staff to create projects to incorporate into the master’s degree program. Some of these projects will be built into the curriculum to teach basic knowledge of data analytics focused around our business. We also plan to work on other projects similar to a capstone project, where the focus will change periodically and consistently be relevant to the industry. All projects are desired to be relevant to AT&T and enable students to learn data science and analytics while also discovering a deeper understanding of AT&T.

One more example to show our collaboration comes in the form of frequent Hackathons that we put on around the country. In fact, AT&T recently hired two first place AT&T Hackathon winners from Notre Dame into a Big Data internship – one in the spring and another in summer. One of these interns is now participating in the Notre Dame Silicon Valley Semester in Palo Alto, California.

Elliott: It’s clear that our two organizations have many aligned interests and a shared vision for collaboration. What is your assessment of higher education right now?

John: Notre Dame is a model of the right kind of innovation in education. Your commitment to the students, faculty and the student’s experience helps define it as a forward-looking university. This is why we value the great progress Notre Dame, and higher education as a whole, has made toward rich online learning experiences that meet the learner where he or she is, both in physical space and also intellectually – creating interdisciplinary programs that welcome professionals from several disciplines to gather and master data science knowledge. Ultimately the learning environment will benefit from the diversity of experience and background of these students in many of the ways we benefit from the diversity of experience and background of our employees here at AT&T.

Elliott: Agreed. We see diversity in background, experience and point of view as an essential component of an intellectually rich learning environment, as well as fundamental to a flourishing civil society. What does the future of data science look like, at AT&T and throughout industry? Why is the need for data scientists increasing?

John: Increasingly it’s harder and harder to find a technology field or industry that can’t benefit from data science, whether it’s the explosive mobile video growth, augmented and mixed reality, software-defined networking, connected cars, smart cities…the list goes on and on. And we should factor in more data becoming available in the years ahead as we march towards a 5G reality in the next few years.

More data creates more opportunities for every business, but that data is only good if it’s used properly. This requires more data scientists in every facet of a company. This global trend won’t slow down anytime soon.

Elliott:  Thanks for the conversation.

John: You’re welcome. We’re excited to be working with Notre Dame on this and many other projects.

Learn more about the data science master’s program and see how it can lead to a bright future at AT&T.

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