Jumpstart your data science career with these 4 free online Python courses

BY Sydney LakeNovember 18, 2022, 4:35 PM
Michigan fans watch the action on the court during the first round of the 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, as seen in March 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Tim Fuller—NCAA Photos/Getty Images)

About 10 years ago, Harvard Business Review dubbed data science as “the sexiest job of the 21st century”—mostly due to its new and growing role in corporate America, and the “phenomenal” demand from companies. While the role has changed during the past decade, the demand for data scientists continues to grow, according to a July 2022 HBR article

In fact, the number of data science jobs between 2021 and 2031 is expected to grow 36%—much faster than all other occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Not only is the demand for these jobs high, but salaries also continue to increase. The median pay for data scientists in the U.S. is more than $100,000, BLS figures show. Some data scientists—especially those with a master’s degreecan earn more than $200,000, Glassdoor shows.

One way to start pursuing a career in data science is to start with the basics: programming. A common programming language is Python, which is often used for website and software development, automation, and data analysis and visualization. 

Even if you don’t intend to become a data scientist or data analyst, Python is a useful skill to know. As the workforce becomes increasingly focused on technological advancement and digital transformation, it’s imperative for teams of mixed expertise to be able to communicate effectively. Learning programming is such a valuable skill, in fact, that Columbia Business School, which is ranked as a top business school by Fortune, introduced Python courses to its MBA students. While MBA graduates don’t necessarily need to become a full-time programmer or data science after earning a degree, the skillset translates well for team collaboration, explains Costis Maglaras, CBS dean.

“Maybe they’ll code a little bit; maybe they’ll be a little bit more savvy with data,” Maglaras told Fortune in a recent interview. “But all of them will have to collaborate probably with people that write code.”

Whether you’re interested in pursing a data-focused career or are looking to become a better team player, Fortune has compiled a list of free online Python courses hosted at top-ranked universities.

Harvard University

Harvard University, which Fortune ranks as having the best full-time MBA program in the country, hosts a free online course called Introduction to Programming with Python, which helps participants learn the basics about the programming language. Participants will walk away being able to read, write, test, and debug Python.

The nine-week course requires between three and nine hours per week to complete. The self-paced course is taught by David J. Malan, a renowned computer scientist and Harvard professor. He teaches CS50 (a computer science course), which is the largest free online course offered at Harvard with 3.5 million registrants.

University of Michigan

For people who want to take several online courses related to Python, the University of Michigan offers a Python for Everybody specialization, which includes five courses related to the programming languages. The specialization starts with Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python), an intro course that can also be taken on its own. The course covers the basics of the programming language, and the remaining classes in the specialization build on what is learned in the first course including Python data structures, using Python to access web data, and using databases with Python.

The specialization takes about eight months to complete.

MIT

MIT, one of the most renowned tech-focused schools in the country, offers a free online course Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python in which learners are exposed to the programming language and also learn how to test and debug. The course also covers topics including data structures and simple algorithms.

The course is the first in a two-class sequence (the second being Introduction to Computational Thinking and Data Science), which are both intended for learners without any computer science background or education. The course takes just nine weeks to complete, but requires about 14-to-16 hours of work per week.

University of Pennsylvania

Java is another common programming language for people who are just getting an introduction to computer and data science. The University of Pennsylvania offers a free online specialization in Python and Java for beginners called Introduction to Programming with Python and Java. The four-course sequence introduces users to both programming languages, and also goes into data analysis and data structures.

This beginner-level specialization takes about four months to complete, and participants earn a certificate upon completion. The program is taught by Brandon Krakowsky, a lecturer with Penn Engineering and also includes an applied learning project in which students write fully functional Python programs. 

Check out all of Fortune’rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.