“A Maths Degree Was Not Enough. I Still Needed A Data Science Bootcamp”
Khader Khader has experienced both university and coding bootcamps, and here’s how they compare
At some indefinite point in the spring of 2021, Khader Khader decided it was time to give up on trying to find a new job.
A clerk at the Palestinian Mission in Berlin, Germany, Khader had been trying to find his way back into work relevant to the topic he had studied and loved at university — Mathematics for his BA, supplemented with an MA in Statistics. Those qualifications notwithstanding, his applications for roles such as Data Scientist or Analyst were going nowhere.
“I couldn’t get so much as an internship at the time,” he tells me from his office, one year and one bootcamp in Data Science later. “Heck, I never even got called for a single interview.”
Hearing this initially surprises me — in terms of creating career opportunities, isn’t mathematics supposed to be among the better disciplines to study at university?
“Yes, but unfortunately I was missing two things for which my degree could not compensate,” Khader explains, with the assuredness of someone who has first-hand experience of what he is talking about. “The first was work experience. I had a lot of knowledge which I had accumulated during my university years, but I’d never had an actual job that involved statistics, or even such a thing as a portfolio of projects.”
And the other thing? “Relevant, updated programming skills,” he says tersely. “I grew up and studied in Palestine, and there weren’t many opportunities for Data Science there, at least not when I graduated. So I worked as a waiter for some time, then as a teacher, then I moved to Germany for my Masters, and eventually I found myself working at the mission. By the time I decided I wanted to get involved with data professionally, I had been away from university for four years. That may not seem like much, but in those four years, everything changed.
“I had done some coding while studying statistics, naturally, but our programming language was R. Now the only thing that companies cared about seemed to be Python and SQL. I had zero knowledge of either of them, and everywhere I found closed doors. Eventually, I just had to give up on finding a job without first learning about Python and SQL.”
Having resolved to update his skills, Khader first tried to do it all by himself, as an autodidact — but soon found that learning with no guidance was much harder and slower than he’d expected. He could have returned to university, but a friend of his who had already graduated from WBS CODING SCHOOL recommended that new and increasingly popular format — the coding bootcamp.
“A bootcamp cannot be compared to a university degree,” he says today, having experienced both of them closely. “Universities offer studies that are much broader in scope, and you emerge with a much better understanding of how coding works at a conceptual level — particularly the mathematics that underlies it.
“But a bootcamp offered me other advantages. It was much simpler to get into than a university degree, and so much more time-efficient. It offered focused training on exactly the skills I needed to find work, and it was structured differently too. In a university, professors give lectures to groups of perhaps 60 or 70 people and expect students to do their own research. But our bootcamp was made up of a smaller group, and each of us were followed closely by the instructor. We could ask questions and get personalised feedback in a way that wasn’t really possible in institutionalised academia.”
Khader’s choice did not come without challenges though. “A bootcamp is intense, I must admit it –knowing nothing about Python and SQL when I went in, the first week felt more like a month to me! Almost every lesson saw the instructor introducing a new concept, or a new tool, or some other new something. I knew I couldn’t coast my way through this one.”
On the long run, however, gritting his teeth through the difficulties paid off. “I mentioned that what I was lacking were updated programming skills and tangible experience. The bootcamp gave me exactly that. My first few job interviews came 3 weeks before the bootcamp was even over. In fact, once the people from Career Services helped me fix my LinkedIn profile, the offers started coming in by themselves. I’m still getting them today. It really felt good to have people show interest in me — one company called me for five different interviews!”
Today Khader is working as Database Administrator for Footprint Technologies (one of those offers that he passively received, rather than actively looked for), and he is happy with his position. “My job isn’t so much about designing software, it’s more about organising the data that is stored in the Cloud, doing data analytics and Google analytics. And it’s amazing, honestly, I really like my job!”
My final question, having come to the end — or more aptly the new beginning — of his story, is whether he has any regrets.
“I wish I’d started earlier,” he says, after thinking about it for a moment. “I noticed that the market was looking for Python years ago, but I wasted time before going after it. To those who are considering this sort of career, I’d recommend thinking carefully about whether a university or a bootcamp works best for you, as they have different pros and cons. But once you are sure about your decision, well, go for it. Don’t wait.”
Indeed. Don’t wait for it.
Khader Khader graduated from the WBS CODING SCHOOL Data Science bootcamp in October 2021. He is currently employed as Database Administrator for Footprint Technologies, and he is a returning Student Mentor for current WBS CODING SCHOOL students.