A Practical Introduction to Data Science from Zipfian Academy

There are plenty of discussions about what data science is, what defines a data scientist, and how to position yourself as a competitive applicant. Far fewer resources exist that help aspiring data scientists acquire the necessary skills. Here we will provide a collection of freely accessible materials and content to kick off your understanding of Data Science theory and tools.

This incredible list of resources was compiled by Jonathan Dinu, Co-founder of Zipfian Academy, a school teaching data science through an immersive 12-week course. If you're interested in a more structured learning environment, Zipfian Academy's program provides project-based curriculum and industry connections.

A Practical Introduction to Data Science from Zipfian Academy

Python is a great programming language of choice for aspiring data scientists due to its general purpose applicability, a gentle (or firm) learning curve, and — perhaps the most compelling reason — the rich ecosystem of resources andlibraries actively used by the scientific community. 

When learning a new language in a new domain, it helps immensely to have an interactive environment to explore and to receive immediate feedback. IPython provides an interactive REPL which also allows you to integrate a wide variety of frameworks (including R) into your Python programs. 

Data scientists are better at software engineering than statisticians and better at statistics than any software engineer. As such, statistical inference underpins much of the theory behind data analysis and a solid foundation of statistical methods and probability serves as a stepping stone into the world of data science.

edX: Introduction to Statistics: Descriptive Statistics: A basic introductory statistics course. 

Coursera Statistics, Making Sense of Data: A applied Statistics course that teaches the complete pipeline of statistical analysis 

MIT: Statistical Thinking and Data Analysis: Introduction to probability, sampling, regression, common distributions, and inference. 

While R is the de facto standard for performing statistical analysis, it has quite a high learning curve and there are other areas of data science for which it is not well suited. To avoid learning a new language for a specific problem domain, we recommend trying to perform the exercises of these courses with Python and its numerous statistical libraries. You will find that much of the functionality of R can be replicated with NumPy, @SciPy, @Matplotlib, and @Python Data Analysis Library

Well-written books can be a great reference (and supplement) to these courses, and also provide a more independent learning experience. These may be useful if you already have some knowledge of the subject or just need to fill in some gaps in your understanding:

O'Reilly Think Stats: An Introduction to Probability and Statistics for Python programmers

Introduction to Probability: Textbook for Berkeley’s Stats 134 class, an introductory treatment of probability with complementary exercises. 

Berkeley Lecture Notes, Introduction to Probability: Compiled lecture notes of above textbook, complete with exercises. 

OpenIntro: Statistics: Introductory text book with supplementary exercises and labs in an online portal. 

Think Bayes: An simple introduction to Bayesian Statistics with Python code examples. 

A solid base of Computer Science and algorithms is essential for an aspiring data scientist. Luckily there are a wealth of great resources online, and machine learning is one of the more lucrative (and advanced) skills of a data scientist.

Coursera Machine Learning: Stanford’s famous machine learning course taught by Andrew Ng.

Coursera: Computational Methods for Data Analysis: Statistical methods and data analysis applied to physical, engineering, and biological sciences.

MIT Data Mining: An introduction to the techniques of data mining and how to apply ML algorithms to garner insights. 

Edx: Introduction to Artificial Intelligence: Introduction to Artificial Intelligence: The first half of Berkeley’s popular AI course that teaches you to build autonomous agents to efficiently make decisions in stochastic and adversarial settings. 

Introduction to Computer Science and Programming: MIT’s introductory course to the theory and application of Computer Science.

UCI: A First Encounter with Machine Learning: An introduction to machine learning concepts focusing on the intuition and explanation behind why they work. 

A Programmer's Guide to Data Mining: A web based book complete with code samples (in Python) and exercises. 

Data Structures and Algorithms with Object-Oriented Design Patterns...: An introduction to computer science with code examples in Python — covers algorithm analysis, data structures, sorting algorithms, and object oriented design. 

An Introduction to Data Mining: An interactive Decision Tree guide (with hyperlinked lectures) to learning data mining and ML. 

Elements of Statistical Learning: One of the most comprehensive treatments of data mining and ML, often used as a university textbook. 

Stanford: An Introduction to Information Retrieval: Textbook from a Stanford course on NLP and information retrieval with sections on text classification, clustering, indexing, and web crawling. 

One of the most under-appreciated aspects of data science is the cleaning and munging of data that often represents the most significant time sink during analysis. While there is never a silver bullet for such a problem, knowing the right tools, techniques, and approaches can help minimize time spent wrangling data.

School of Data: A Gentle Introduction to Cleaning Data: A hands on approach to learning to clean data, with plenty of exercises and web resources. 

Predictive Analytics: Data Preparation: An introduction to the concepts and techniques of sampling data, accounting for erroneous values, and manipulating the data to transform it into acceptable formats. 

OpenRefine (formerly Google Refine): A powerful tool for working with messy data, cleaning, transforming, extending it with web services, and linking to databases. Think Excel on steroids. 

Data Wrangler: Stanford research project that provides an interactive tool for data cleaning and transformation. 

sed - an Introduction and Tutorial: “The ultimate stream editor,” used to process files with regular expressions often used for substitution. 

awk - An Introduction and Tutorial: “Another cornerstone of UNIX shell programming” — used for processing rows and columns of information. 

The most insightful data analysis is useless unless you can effectively communicate your results. The art of visualization has a long history, and while being one of the most qualitative aspects of data science its methods and tools are well documented.

UC Berkeley Visualization: Graduate class on the techniques and algorithms for creating effective visualizations. 

Rice University Data Visualization: A treatment of data visualization and how to meaningfully present information from the perspective of Statistics. 

Harvard University Introduction to Computing, Modeling, and Visuali...: Connects the concepts of computing with data to the process of interactively visualizing results. 

Tufte: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information: Not freely available, but perhaps the most influential text for the subject of data visualization. A classic that defined the field.

School of Data: From Data to Diagrams: A gentle introduction to plotting and charting data, with exercises.

Predictive Analytics: Overview and Data Visualization: An introduction to the process of predictive modeling, and a treatment of the visualization of its results.

D3.js: Data-Driven Documents — Declarative manipulation of DOM elements with data dependent functions (with Python port).

Vega: A visualization grammar built on top of D3 for declarative visualizations in JSON. Released by the dream team at Trifacta, it provides a higher level abstraction than D3 for creating “ or SVG based graphics.

Rickshaw: A charting library built on top of D3 with a focus on interactive time series graphs. 

Modest Maps: A lightweight library with a simple interface for working with maps in the browser (with ports to multiple languages).

Chart.js: Very simple (only six charts) HTML5 “ based plotting library with beautiful styling and animation. 

When you start operating with data at the scale of the web (or greater), the fundamental approach and process of analysis must change. To combat the ever increasing amount of data, Google developed the MapReduce paradigm. This programming model has become the de facto standard for large scale batch processing since the release of Apache Hadoop in 2007, the open-source MapReduce framework.

UC Berkeley: Analyzing Big Data with Twitter: A course — taught in close collaboration with Twitter — that focuses on the tools and algorithms for data analysis as applied to Twitter microblog data (with project based curriculum).

Coursera: Web Intelligence and Big Data: An introduction to dealing with large quantities of data from the web; how the tools and techniques for acquiring, manipulating, querying, and analyzing data change at scale.

CMU: Machine Learning with Large Datasets: A course on scaling machine learning algorithms on Hadoop to handle massive datasets.

U of Chicago: Large Scale Learning: A treatment of handling large datasets through dimensionality reduction, classification, feature parametrization, and efficient data structures.

UC Berkeley: Scalable Machine Learning: A broad introduction to the systems, algorithms, models, and optimizations necessary at scale.

Mining Massive Datasets: Stanford course resources on large scale machine learning and MapReduce with accompanying book.

Data-Intensive Text Processing with MapReduce: An introduction to algorithms for the indexing and processing of text that teaches you to “think in MapReduce.”

Hadoop: The Definitive Guide: The most thorough treatment of the Hadoop framework, a great tutorial and reference alike.

Programming Pig: An introduction to the Pig framework for programming data flows on Hadoop.

Data Science is an inherently multidisciplinary field that requires a myriad of skills to be a proficient practitioner. The necessary curriculum has not fit into traditional course offerings, but as awareness of the need for individuals who have such abilities is growing, we are seeing universities and private companies creating custom classes.

UC Berkeley: Introduction to Data Science: A course taught by Jeff Hammerbacher and Mike Franklin that highlights each of the varied skills that a Data Scientist must be proficient with.

How to Process, Analyze, and Visualize Data: A lab oriented course that teaches you the entire pipeline of data science; from acquiring datasets and analyzing them at scale to effectively visualizing the results.

Coursera: Introduction to Data Science: A tour of the basic techniques for Data Science including SQL and NoSQL databases, MapReduce on Hadoop, ML algorithms, and data visualization.

Columbia: Introduction to Data Science: A very comprehensive course that covers all aspects of data science, with an humanistic treatment of the field.

Columbia: Applied Data Science (with book): Another Columbia course — teaches applied software development fundamentals using real data, targeted towards people with mathematical backgrounds.

Coursera: Data Analysis (with notes and lectures): An applied statistics course that covers algorithms and techniques for analyzing data and interpreting the results to communicate your findings.

An Introduction to Data Science: The companion textbook to Syracuse University’s flagship course for their new Data Science program.

Kaggle: Getting Started With Python For Data Science: A guided tour of setting up a development environment, an introduction to making your first competition submission, and validating your results.

Data Science is an infinitely deep field that requires time to master. We would love for you to join the conversation over @zipfianacademy and let us know if you want to learn more about any of these topics.

Also, if you've made it this far, you should check out the 12-week immersive program at ZipfianAcademy.com.

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Comment by Ken Yale on November 17, 2013 at 10:27pm
Good outline. Noticed you have ESL, which should be on everyone's shelf, what about "An Introduction to Statistical Learning: with Applications in R" (which finds itself more likely to be on my desk)?

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