Most of Data Science Resources are online and many of them are free. Why pay?
I left university with a Ph.D. in sociology. After spending little more than a year in market research, I started my career as a data scientist. Online courses were invaluable for me. Both for clarifying my interests and for developing the necessary set of skills. Most of my experience comes from Udacity, DataCamp and Coursera. “Data Scientist” found its way on my business card, but I am always looking for new things to learn. My next step is to start with the Artificial Intelligence Nanodegree at Udacity. But is such a degree worth the 599€? Every data scientists knows how far you can get with KDnuggets and Stack Overflow. Here is why I still prefer to pay for courses and material.
Structure & Material
Data Science is an multifaceted area. It feels like someone posts a list of “things you need to know as a data scientist” every other day. Especially when you are new to the field, these lists are intimidating. A course removes the uncertainty of deciding what is most important. It also helps you to acquire a skill in a consistent and structured manner. That is not impossible to do on your own but way harder. Courses provide both the “what” and “how” for data science skills for you.
I also found payed-for-material to have an higher quality. Full-time educators create (c.p.) content with higher quality. When education professionals work with experts, the results can be superior. Payed material also tends to have higher relevance, that is you can actually use it in the industry. An example of this is the deep learning specialization by Andrew Ng on Coursera. Udacity’s nanodegrees are great for the same reasons. Payed-for courses also tend to provide a higher variety of material.
Feedback & Support
There are two main reasons why a official certification is worth the money. First, you can add it to your CV and use it as a signal both for competence and your willingness to learn. Beyond getting a job, it also helps to get access to the more interesting projects within your company. Second, paying for something increases your commitment. That is especially the case for monthly fees, but also true for high one-time fees. As someone who does a lot of business trips and spends a lot of time in hotels, I am often tempted to shut down my brain after a workday. Knowing that I am paying for a course right now helps me to overcome the initial inertia.
If you work at a place that supports online trainings and pays at least part of the bills, there is no reason not to engage in payed courses. Define what gap you want to narrow, look for the best program and commit to it. If you have to pay for the course yourself, be honest: are you able to structure your learning process and pull through it? If not, the money spend on payed-for material can be worth every cent.