Over the Summer of 2014 my employer decided to close down their US Office. After several months of transitional work, I decided to take some time away from the work force and pursue some other goals. Some of those goals involved continuing education.

My biggest goal was to complete the Microsoft certification for SQL Server (MCSE: Data Platform). I wrote about that experience a little more in depth here. I took the upgrade path since I already held a SQL Server 2008 certification. There aren’t many books or articles that specifically address the upgrade exams, so in studying for the exams I relied heavily on MSDN and some posts on the regular track exams.

A lot has been written over the last year on Hadoop and big data, so I wanted to get some hands-on experience with this platform. I found a class on Udacity that covered the basics of Hadoop and Map Reduce. The course is available for free, but I decided to take the paid version which included a final project and a verified certificate upon completion. The Map-Reduce functions were written in Python, so I got an introduction to that as well. The class consisted of video lectures with quizzes to gauge your progress. The course took 20-25 hours to complete (you can work at your own pace) including a final project where you write functions and process some data. To pass, you’ll meet with a reviewer online who will go over the project and ask questions about it before you are verified.

Data Science:
I took a series of classes from Coursera on Data Science. This was 9 classes plus a project. The classes could be taken for free, but I signed up for the paid track, which gave you a verified certificate for each class, and then a specialization certification if you successfully completed the final (capstone) project. The classes covered R programming, machine learning, statistics and regression analysis. Each class was meant to run over one month, about 20 hours to complete. You could work at your own pace but there were deadlines to meet each week to keep you on track. The final class was over 7 weeks (you had to complete the first 9 classes first) where we constructed a web page and created an algorithm to predict the next word for a given set of words.
I found the R programming fairly easy to pickup (a lot of it is set-based like SQL) but the statistics classes were very challenging to me. I got a lot out of this specialization. None of the classes carry any college credit, but they are sponsored by John Hopkins.

Currently I’m taking a MongoDB for Developers class from MongoDB. I’m taking the Python class, although a .Net version will be available starting in March 2015. This is a free class that goes over 7 weeks. Each week the assignments are released, so you can work on each week’s assignments at your own pace, but only one week at a time. So far, it’s taken me 4-5 hours a week to watch the video lectures and complete the assignments. The 7th week is a project that counts as the final exam.
(Updated 4/8): I completed the course in February. I certainly recommend the course to anyone looking to learn about MongoDB.

College Coursework:
I never finished my degree when I went to college out of high school so I’ve looked into getting back on track to complete that. I’ve taken and passed a CLEP exam in Sociology, and I’m currently taking a class through Straighterline which can be transferred to a degree-granting institution.
(Updated 4/8): I ended up taking 4 classes from Straighterline. Their final exams are proctored, but you can take them at home, and have a proctor monitor you via webcam. They offer a very convenient way to take classes. I’m also taking some DSST exams(similar to CLEP exams) for some upper level credit.

Non-Educational Activities:
I took up running a couple of years ago, so I’ve been able to dedicate more time to that. Currently I’m training for a marathon and I’m targeting the Publix Georgia Marathon in March 2015.
(Updated 3/22): I completed the marathon, so now I’m looking forward to the Peachtree Road Race on the 4th of July.