TECH in AMERICA (TiA)

SHARING AMERICA'S TECH NEWS FROM THE VALLEY TO THE ALLEY

Geek Appeal: New York vs. Seattle

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by CLAIRE CAIN MILLER (courtesy New York Times)

THE East Coast/West Coast rivalry is not just over hip-hop, food and fashion anymore. Now it has made its way to universities preparing the next generation of technologists: data scientists who can make sense (and use) of the explosion of information that is now produced by nearly every industry. New York and Seattle are already sparring over which will be the next hotbed, beyond Silicon Valley, for educating these analysts of the future.

MGMT.design / Sources: New York City and Seattle departments of transportation, and of parks and recreation; New York State Department of Labor; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; PWC/National Venture Capital Association

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s Applied Sciences NYC initiative, whose centerpiece will be the new applied science campus on Roosevelt Island, is also providing money and motivation to make sure New York is mentioned in the same sentence as Big Data. The city is contributing $15 million in assistance to Columbia’s new Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering, which will begin offering a certificate program in the fall and ultimately hire 75 more professors.

New York University has two new fronts: the Center for Data Science as well as the Center for Urban Science and Progress, both introducing master’s programs in the fall. With $15 million in city aid, CUSP will apply Big Data to practical urban issues like how to make skyscrapers more energy efficient or the subways more reliable. Until 2017, when a 150,000-square-foot campus and start-up incubator are carved out of the old transit headquarters in Downtown Brooklyn, students will study at the nearby Polytechnic Institute of N.Y.U. Microsoft and Lutron Electronics will also collaborate with the Brooklyn center on research.

“New York City is on the verge of becoming a data science mecca,” said Yann LeCun, director of the Center for Data Science. “It’s partly because of those initiatives from Mayor Bloomberg and partly because of an extremely vibrant local industry of large and small start-up companies that are all highly involved in data analysis.” And, he added, “It’s much more fun to be in New York, in terms of life besides work. You don’t even have to own a car.”

Meanwhile, in Seattle, with its green hiking trails, coffee culture and tech industry, the University of Washington is making its own pitch. The university has opened the eScience Institute for studying data across disciplines and has a new Ph.D. program in Big Data. It also has many rich and powerful neighbors in tech to finance its data initiatives and lure big-name faculty members.

Since 2000, Microsoft has donated $22 million to the computer science program; Google gives several million dollars a year. And Amazon has endowed two professorships with $2 million; Jeff Bezos, its founder and chief executive, personally recruited Carlos Guestrin for computer science and Emily B. Fox for statistics.

The companies offer more than just money, said Mr. Guestrin, one of the world’s top machine-learning researchers, previously of Carnegie Mellon. “Money helps because students have to eat their ramen, but it’s not just that,” he said. Companies also lend students their real-world data to crunch. “Companies often see big challenges we might not see at that scale or have access to at the university,” he said, “and those connections can be transformative.”

Like New York, Seattle has draws outside the classroom. “It attracts certain geeks like me, nature-loving and into music, food and biking,” Mr. Guestrin said. But the biggest attraction, he said: “The data is on the West Coast.”

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This entry was posted on May 14, 2013 by in FYI and tagged , , , , , , , .

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