Data are becoming the new raw material of business
The Economist

MATLAB vs. Python NumPy for Academics Transitioning into Data Science


At The Data Incubator, we pride ourselves on having the most up to date data science curriculum available. Much of our curriculum is based on feedback from corporate and government partners about the technologies they are using and learning. In addition to their feedback we wanted to develop a data-driven approach for determining what we should be teaching in our data science corporate training and our free fellowship for masters and PhDs looking to enter data science careers in industry. Here are the results.

This technical article was written for The Data Incubator by Dan Taylor, a Fellow of our 2017 Spring cohort in Washington, DC. 


For many of us with roots in academic research, MATLAB was our first introduction to data analysis. However, due to its high cost, MATLAB is not very common beyond the academy. It is simply too expensive for most companies to be able to afford a license. Luckily, for experienced MATLAB users, the transition to free and open source tools, such as Python’s NumPy, is fairly straight-forward. This post aims to compare the functionalities of MATLAB with Python’s NumPy library, in order to assist those transitioning from academic research into a career in data science.

MATLAB has several benefits when it comes to data analysis. Perhaps most important is its low barrier of entry for users with little programming experience. MathWorks has put a great deal of effort into making MATLAB’s user interface both expansive and intuitive. This means new users can quickly get up and running with their data without knowing how to code. It is possible to import, model, and visualize structured data without typing a single line of code. Because of this, MATLAB is a great entrance point for scientists into programmatic analysis. Of course, the true power of MATLAB can only be unleashed through more deliberate and verbose programming, but users can gradually move into this more complicated space as they become more comfortable with programming. MATLAB’s other strengths include its deep library of functions and extensive documentation, a virtual “instruction manual” full of detailed explanations and examples.

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