We want to introduce you to Ali. He lives in Syria, where he originally studied agricultural engineering. After he graduated, he entered a master’s program for animal production, and he’s currently writing his master’s thesis. Simultaneously, he began learning data science skills on Coursera, made possible with a paid subscription from the Syrian Youth Assembly. His goal was to build a new skill set and land a new job—an effort that involved overcoming many obstacles, including near-constant electricity blackouts and ongoing internet access issues. The good news is that today, he’s working in a job that challenges and inspires him. He shares his story below, along with some advice for others who want to learn new skills and pursue their career goals.

Ali, thank you for taking the time to talk with us! Let’s get started with a bit of background; how did you first get interested in data?

I used to read many books on IT and data science. I believe that real magic exists within books.

That’s wonderful! We absolutely agree. So, from books to online—how did you come to learn on Coursera?

I got a paid subscription on Coursera, all thanks to the Syrian Youth Assembly. They gave me the chance to achieve and improve my skills. 

So you enrolled in the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate on Coursera, but it sounds like you ran into some challenges studying online—can you tell us about that?

Completing the program took me around eleven months. I had many obstacles, and I needed to make use of every second of time. Electricity blackouts in Syria were almost 20 hours a day—sometimes even more. There were also internet connection issues due to sanctions. I am sure that if I had the chance to be elsewhere, I could have done it faster.

Given the circumstances, it sounds like you proceeded at a pretty amazing pace, actually! Congratulations on completing the program. Do you think the experience was beneficial?

Studying data science with IBM on Coursera was a great deal for me. I gained a lot of highly needed skills and knowledge. The program prepared me well for any role requiring the manipulation and management of data. 

We understand you’re in a new role now; that’s great news. What’s the position, and are you using your new skills on the job?

Yes! I am now a Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning Officer at the Aga Khan Foundation in Syria. I use open-source tools to help facilitate data management, analysis, and visualization, and I do statistical plans and monitoring and evaluation tasks, which are things I value and enjoy. 

How do you like working for the Aga Khan Foundation?

I really like the noble goal of my organization, which is humanitarian aid during the war. I also like that even though I am the youngest employee there, they are assigning me challenging responsibilities. 

You have a fascinating range of interests. Do you see connections or overlaps between your work in agricultural engineering, animal production, and data science? And if so, how do they all fit into your career plans?

I intend to study genomic data science. So I see the data science program as a cornerstone for utilizing machine learning in genetics, which is a futuristic trend. Data management is also important for monitoring and evaluation (M&E) positions. That’s how the program helped my professional career. 

You’ve really been on a remarkable journey; any advice for other learners who might be trying to follow a similar path?

Only compare yourself to your yesterday! And I would say, learn faster than others and the future will be yours. I really want people to be determined and focused because time is priceless. 

Thank you, Ali, for taking the time to share your journey with the Coursera community, and congratulations on your successes!

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Visit Coursera today to learn more about the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate program.

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