Today, we’re lucky enough to live in a world of incredible access to online resources, including free tools, training guides, videos, and other materials that can provide a solid base of BI skills for those willing to take the initiative. Here are a few things you can do to get started.

Hit the (e)Books

Coursera, edX, Khan Academy, Saylor.org, and other massive open online course (MOOC) providers offer free, multi-week courses from professors at some of the most innovative and prestigious universities around the world, including Stanford and Harvard. Just like real college courses, MOOCs are a time-commitment and run on a set schedule. They may even include assigned readings or homework. If you’re looking for a deep dive into data, MOOCs are a great option. Check out this 4-week course on “Data Management and Visualization” from Wesleyan University, or this class from Johns Hopkins University titled “Learn Data Science Fundamentals.” Indeed, a quick search query for “data” on Coursera yields many results covering all aspects of data science and business intelligence.

Find Experts in Your Area

Even in the era of online professional networks like LinkedIn, in-person networking is always an option. Data nerds love to swap tips, tricks, and battle stories. Click through websites like Meetup.com to see if a group of data scientists meet near you and attend a few events. These groups sometimes have networking outings or more formal events with speakers focusing on a language like R or Python. Not only are these events a great place to ask questions about the industry or specific problems that are stumping you, but they can also be an opportunity to get a foot in the door at some exciting companies.

Take Advantage of Free Tools and Online Training

Many companies offer free versions of their software, and there are plenty of open source tools available as well. For example, we recently made our Desktop product free for everyone to use (register for our upcoming webcast to learn more). That’s the same, enterprise-grade tool our customers get, so experimental data users can benefit and learn from the same technology that companies around the world use. We also created a free, in-person training program called Jump Start that’s designed to help people learn how to use MicroStrategy. It’s open to anyone, so a student or budding professional could easily attend to learn new skills and add to their resume. So check out the range of tools available to you, from offerings provided by leading vendors to open source projects – you might be surprised at the training and tools available at no cost to you.

Practice Makes Perfect

Working with data can be a little tricky, and no two tools are the same. Once you’ve downloaded a few free tools, take them for a spin with some real datasets. Don’t have data of your own? Public and open source datasets are a great resource to try. The U.S. Government provides a number of open datasets at Data.gov, and different agencies such as the U.S. Army, Department of Commerce, and Department of Education also provide ample information; check out this resource from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center for an extensive list of government data. KDNuggets also provides a list of different open, free data sources, including financial data, government resources from other countries, and more. If that’s not enough to get you started, check out Github’s ongoing list of open data sources, which covers many different industries and fields.

The most important thing is to indulge in your curiosity and stay focused on your goals. Data isn’t going anywhere, and that means the ability to understand data will only grow in importance in the years to come. Whether you’re just getting started or trying to strengthen your data skills, we hope these tips will help you get there.