As an English major with an entry-level job in data and analytics, Doug Wade felt lost and unqualified. Then, his roommate introduced him to Coursera, where he was able to expand his skills in database management and software engineering. When the coursework he’d posted on Github caught the attention of an Amazon recruiter, his career suddenly began to take off. Here’s Doug’s story:
I graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2010, with a double major in English Literature and Russian Language. I got exactly one job offer, from a company in Madison, WI, and I was so excited to move out of my parents’ house that I didn’t ask a lot of questions about what I’d be doing. The job was called “Division Operations,” and the job description indicated that I’d be reading reports, talking to people, and then summarizing the results of my research—very close to what I was used to doing in school.
When I arrived, the company put me through their developer boot camp to learn a language called M. I was totally lost. I remember stopping class for a solid 10 minutes one day, and the befuddled expression on my instructor’s face when I insisted that explanations like “By reference is on the heap; by value is on the stack” clarified nothing for me.
Eventually, I understood that my new position was mostly a data and analytics position, and that most of what I was doing was retrieving data, warehousing it in SQL and MDX databases, and then producing reports using SSRS and Excel, which meant learning a ton of new tools including SQL, VBA, and some C#. I felt unqualified to communicate with developers – I didn’t have the technical chops to understand what they were talking about. I limped along like this for about a year, a mediocre employee just faking it and scraping by.
Finally, my roommate stumbled across a Reddit post about the first run of Coursera courses: Relational Databases with Jennifer Widom, Machine Learning with Andrew Ng, and an AI course starting in October of 2011. We divided the classes between the two of us—I took Databases, he took AI, and we both took Machine Learning. I assure you that we both bombed Machine Learning, and I’m pretty sure my roommate abandoned AI after the first week, but the Databases course was a godsend. I stayed up late into the night studying, and then found that I could apply what I had learned immediately upon arriving at work in the morning. In six weeks, I went from being a questionable-at-best member of the team to being widely regarded as the most “hard-code technical” member of the team. I was also hooked on Coursera.
After that, I took every course I could find that was even tangentially related to software development. Without thinking much of it, I posted my coursework on Github – imagine my surprise when I got an email from an Amazon recruiter, who’d found my StackOverflow and GitHub accounts and wanted to fly me out to Seattle for an interview! I was even more surprised to discover that I could answer the interview questions just fine, and when the recruiter followed up with a job offer, I didn’t even bother to read the fine print.
I mostly attribute my success to Coursera. Coursera pushed me to think deeply and critically about theories, tools, and systems, and helped me adopt a paradigm better suited to my field, instead of asking me to resort to memorization and magical incantations. The Coursera model of homework and exams with deadlines helped keep me on track, and unlike other sites, I felt confident enough in Coursera’s evaluation to want to list my certificates on my resume and LinkedIn profile. Thanks to Coursera, I more than doubled my take-home pay in just three years, and my evening hobby has become a full-time job!