“I thought machine learning was like something out of science fiction,” said IMD MBA 2019 participant Chaoyi Zhu. “But during the MBA Digital Analytics week, I learned how it works and it’s the first time I get to code so deeply.”

Chaoyi is not alone. IMD Professor Amit Joshi organized a one-week digital analytics lab precisely because data science and machine learning are two of the biggest trends in tech management today. But many leaders – even if they won’t have to code themselves – need to have basic knowledge of computer programming to get better at their jobs and work for the most desirable companies, many of which now require basic knowledge of data analysis and coding.

Demystifying coding, machine learning and big data analytics

Throughout the course of the week, IMD’s MBAs got their hands dirty working on a massive dataset from a major home sharing platform. Learning the basics of programs like Python, the up-and-coming leaders were faced with a real-world challenge of determining the prices of a large set of New York City real estate properties. With nearly 2 million lines of data, and over 75 factors to potentially consider, this was quite a challenge even for experienced programmers and analysts.

Real learning

Working with an actual dataset from Airbnb, participants were given the rental prices – along with other bits of information such as size, neighborhood, amenities and much more – of a large number of apartments located in the Big Apple.

But there’s a catch; IMD faculty members deliberately introduced errors in the data. So, the MBAs have to spend a half day writing code to clean it up.

Next up, dealing with way more information than an excel sheet can handle, the MBAs had to write more code to analyze the data. They needed to use their newly acquired knowledge of machine learning and artificial intelligence to determine the prices of a number of other properties with missing data.

“I have modelling experience, but so far I was only using Excel. At IMD we are learning python and it is a much more powerful tool - Python gives us modelling capability far beyond what an excel can do and I see myself using it in the future, “said MBA participant Lukasz Kaczynski.

Competitive

The teams received a score each step of the way. To keep them on their toes, the team rankings were displayed on a large screen in the MBA area of the IMD campus.

Many of the young executives agree that the intense week of coding and digital analytics will give them an edge in their careers.

Jinzi Xu’s goal after the MBA is to work for a tech company in the internet industry. “This week was a tremendous learning process for me. Big data will be decisive in the future, especially in the areas of advertising and consumer behavior. The learnings from this week will definitely give me an advantage in my career.”

For Yang Zhu who already had some coding experience, it was a great way to experience programming in a new way. “It’s quite fun and we really get into the details. Also, it is very different when you’re coding with a team. It will be a great asset to put on my resume.”

“The icing on the cake comes at the end of the week when the MBAs put their weeklong project to a real-world test,” explained Amit Joshi.

The teams prepare an ‘open innovation’ business proposal to suggest new features to Airbnb’s platform.

“Drawing on expertise from IMD’s neighbor and leading technology university - EPFL as well as IMD MBA Alumni, the week gives our participants the opportunity to say with conviction that they are prepared for the work challenges of the future,” added IMD MBA Dean Sean Meehan.

Find out more about IMD’s MBA.