blog article

Mike Tamir on GalvanizeU and the Zipfian Acquisition

By Liz Eggleston
Last Updated November 21, 2014


Since raising $18 million in June to broaden its education focus, Galvanize has made major moves in the bootcamp space, including the launch of GalvanizeU and the acquisition of popular data science bootcamp Zipfian Academy. Mike Tamir, Head of GalvanizeU, talks to us about both projects- we get the scoop on the broader vision of data science education at gSchool, their partnership with the University of New Haven to offer Masters degrees, and the motivations for acquiring Zipfian earlier this week. 

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What is your background? 

I’ve been a practicing Data Scientist for several years now here in the Bay Area.  And have led multiple teams and data science labs across the Bay. Originally, my Ph.D. research was actually more in the area of foundations of mathematical physics (General Relativity and Quantum Statistical Mechanics).


Why is it this partnership with University of New Haven important to Galvanize?

The driving philosophy of education for Galvanize is to take education from the ivory tower to the industry tower. We see a lot of great things coming out of the immersive coding model where you’re close to industry, learning the skills that you need in order to be successful in the business world – particularly in the technical industry.

There’s a huge need for qualified data scientists. Galvanize U is a program that touches on the three pillars of being a successful data scientist in the industry.

The first pillar is the academic side; understanding the theory, mathematics, statistics and machine learning. You need to understand how algorithms work, how to model and manipulate data and draw good insights from that data.  As a satellite campus for University of New Haven, we are offering a fully accredited Masters degree to our graduates. This means that our faculty is University appointed, and our curriculum undergoes every accreditation requirement expected of a traditional Masters program devoted to providing the theoretical understanding expected of students graduating from an established academic institute.

But the academics alone aren’t enough. The second pillar is on-the-job training beforehand to get to the point where you can be a high-performing top tier data scientist. That’s where we leverage the immersive programs. We have coding labs on the floor. Students will learn the theory but then they’ll walk right out into our coding lab area and get a chance to sit down, get their hands dirty, do some heavy lifting, and work on coding.

The third piece is the experience piece, which is something that only Galvanize can do. At GalvanizeU, we’re approaching learning how to become a data scientist much like we approach learning how to become a doctor. And how do we train our doctors? We don’t just give them a textbook and train them on differential diagnoses. We also let them learn by experience and shadowing and attending physicians in hospitals.

Each of our faculty is also a practicing data scientist. We have over over 350 member companies at the Galvanize San Francisco campus. We also have pipeline and large enterprise industry partners. Each of these is an opportunity for us to listen to business problems and turn them into data science solutions, and teach through experience.

By the time our students go through 8 months of education and instruction with that hands-on experience, they are ready for jobs as high performance professional data scientists.


There are 12-week data science programs already in the U.S. Where do you think those fall short and why doesn’t Galvanize go down this path?

These 12-week programs have their strengths and there’s a place for them in the data science training world. What do you get out of GalvanizeU? You get the experience of 8 months of instruction and hands-on training, shadowing practicing data scientists followed by a multi-month period of capstone work and internship practicum. And you graduate with a fully accredited Masters degree certifying your expertise.

The capstone project is something the students are going to be working on throughout.  From day one they will start thinking about their thesis for the capstone and we will be introducing them to various partner companies who will sponsor these capstone projects.

The degree reflects this deeper experience and capability gained through a more intensive 12 month education program.


Do you envision this Galvanize U model extending to topics other than data science? For example, a web development year-long degree-granting program?

Yes and no. There’s a lot to learn in order to be a high performer as a data scientist because there’s a lot of theory and a lot of experience necessary to succeed. The reason why Galvanize  will work so well is that there’s a lot of theory but there’s also a lot of hands-on work and both of these are vital.

When it comes to other technical skills, sometimes you need a deep understanding of the subject matter and practical experience. Sometimes the best model is to give someone a little bit of practical experience, enough to learn on the job and that works best.

Often, learning just a coding language for instance can be very effective that way, or learning a full web stack for a certain web development tool can be very effective that way. So it really does depend on the particular subject matter.


Are admission standards going to be similar to gSchool in terms of background and qualifications? Do people need to be at a certain technical level before they apply to Galvanize U?

They do. The expectation is high but the reward is high. We are going to be reviewing every single applicant we get. This is a top tier program. We are creating the next class of data scientists and because of that, students don’t necessarily need to have any experience with data science but should have the core fundamentals. Data scientists can come from all different professions. Some of the best ones that I’ve met come from fields that are not necessarily traditional computer science routes.


But they do need to have a quantitative background?

Yes; quantitative ability. Particularly, we’re going to be looking for ability to meet minimal coding requirements and minimal analytical reasoning requirements.


Since GalvanizeU is granting a degree, does an applicant need to have an undergrad degree before they apply?

They do. Part of the requirements for being eligible for receiving the masters is that you must have a bachelors in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics area, but we will be accepting students who are able to make the case that their undergraduate training fits this broad requirement.


Do applicants need to take the GRE?

GRE is optional and it can help students but it’s not required.


Along the same lines, will there be grades?

Every course has its own unique structure but there are going to be regular skills exam and regular lab exercises that they’re going to be working on throughout the week, and in most cases there will be final exams.

Depending on the subject matter, we’re going to be testing them in very different ways  and a lot of it is going to be hand-on working with the instructors. We want to make sure that students who come out of the program with the degree are completely capable of performing on every single one of the skills that the 8 months of materials covers.


Do the instructors need to have certain qualifications?

Our faculty instructors are appointed through University of New Haven. So for instance, I am part of the UNH faculty which means when I teach a course, I am teaching it with that hat on.


Were you involved with UNH first or with Galvanize?

I connected through Galvanize originally. I heard about this fantastic collaboration that they wanted to do and I was very excited to help them build it.


Did University of New Haven create the curriculum or was that Galvanize? What’s the partnership like?

The faculty that’s appointed by UNH to teach these courses are especially suited for data science. They have industry experience; we have very strict standards on education requirements. The Galvanize faculty and I are working very closely with the campus faculty; going through the entire process on the department level, the university level and ultimately the state level. I sit in on faculty meetings just like anyone else to talk about and adapt the curriculum to make sure that everyone is in agreement that it’s top notch.


Have you seen any pushback from the university or from Galvanize about the partnership?

Across the board at UNH, they have been very welcoming. As we propose and develop the curriculum with their team, I have not received anything other than excitement.

From Galvanize’s perspective, I think there is an understanding that there’s a lot that needs to be learnt in order to become a top data scientist. And it’s appreciated that whether there’s an accreditation or not, there might be some reticence about going to more old school qualification in the larger bootcamp community.

We’re taking all of the quality assurance that you get from an traditional accreditation body but we’re also taking the best from immersive programs when it comes to preparing students to become professionals. We’re really trying to integrate what’s best about both worlds.


Have you had to work with any state or federal agencies to get this collaboration to happen?

We work with all of the regulating bodies with auspices over a satellite campus of UNH located in San Francisco, we are following their guidelines and making sure that we have all of the approvals necessary.


Are the goals of this program to get your graduates employed as with gSchool or is GalvanizeU more of an academic endeavour?

The principal expectation is that we are generating the world’s next class of top data scientists for the industry. I can certainly imagine some students might be fantastically intrigued by the theory and machine learning; I know I am!  Because we have given them a deep understanding of this field I would expect them to be attracted to continuing investigation of deep and powerful cutting edge algorithms and continuing their learning. But we are preparing our students for top track performance in the data science industry and everything else that comes with that is a bonus.


How does the Zipfian acquisition work with GalvanizeU? Will they operate separately or together somehow? Will you incorporate aspects from the Zipfian data science program into GalvanizeU?

Zipfian’s is now a part of gSchool, running as our 3 month Data Science immersive offering.  While the GalvanizeU curriculum and classroom instruction exists as part of an independent program to receive a masters degree through UNH accreditation, the open lab space where students practice their coding skills and receive immersive style support working through data science coding labs will be located in the community data science area of the Galvanize campus.  We anticipate that this will foster a special comradery and atmosphere of mutual support offering students from both programs the opportunity to learn and develop their skills as part of a unified data science community, and this is what Galvanize is all about.


Will the Zipfian immersive (now the gSchool data science immersive) be 3 or 6 months long? Will the curriculum change? Who is teaching the course?

The Zipfian curriculum has continued to grow and improve with each cohort, and we are exploring a number of options to drive continued enhancement of this fantastic program.  The upcoming iterations of the program to be hosted at the Galvanize SF campus this spring will continue as a three month program.  All instructors for the gSchool data science immersive program must successfully pass a vetting and training process that is separate from the faculty hiring process for the GalvanizeU program.


What is it about Zipfian that drove this acquisition? gSchool/Galvanize has so much experience in the immersive education space- why not create the data science course yourselves?

Zipfian Academy has distinguished itself as the leader in immersive data science education.  As Galvanize continues to expand its immersive education offerings, the strategic acquisition of Zipfian Academy increases our capacity to provide the benefits of industry-focused technical education to an even larger student-base.  Our mutual alignment on what works best in immersive education when it comes to getting students ready to enter the industry, coupled with their impressive placement track record, convinced us that this acquisition was right for Galvanize.


Want to learn more about gSchool? Check out their School Page on Course Report or their website here!

About The Author

Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!

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