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‘I Was Always a Fan of Online Studying’

‘I Was Always a Fan of Online Studying’

© Pixabay

Students of the first cohort of the HSE’s online Master of Data Science are now completing their first semester. Offered entirely online on Coursera, the programme attracts students from all over the world. HSE News Service spoke with two international students about what drew them to the programme, the courses they have taken so far, and what their online student community is like.

The online Master of Data Science includes three tracks: Data Scientist, Machine Learning Engineer, and Researcher in Data Science.

The programme has a hands-on, project-based focus and helps students become experts in data science.

Graduates will be prepared to enter or continue working in fields such as analytics, data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence, research, and academia. 

The degree features introductory courses in math for data science, programming, and algorithms, so students without a computer science bachelor’s degree can master the fundamentals of computer science as they complete the programme.

While originally from Sweden, Kalle Bylin currently lives in Colombia, where he is working as a product engineer for Modyo. The company aims to simplify and improve the digital experiences of millions of people around the world. Kalle’s role is to leverage insights from data to make people’s digital lives easier.

Kalle Bylin

I fell in love with Data Science while finishing my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Online courses and projects opened up a path into this career but I was hungry for more. I discovered HSE a few years back through the Advanced Machine Learning Specialization offered on Coursera.

Back then I decided to audit a few of HSE courses and was impressed by the content.

Most online courses are quite basic and I wanted to go deeper. Last year I decided that I wanted a more in-depth and rigorous understanding to go beyond what I had been able to teach myself. I started to compare different programmes and schools but due to my Bachelor’s in Business Administration the only viable option was to move back to my home country.

At that point, I discovered the Master of Data Science degree on Coursera for students of all backgrounds. I remembered my previous experience with HSE and was immediately interested. I also looked into the programmes by the Imperial College of London, University of Michigan and University of Computer Science in Data Science.

In the end, I found the programme offered by HSE to be more aligned with my needs and interests. Value for money was also important in my decision.  HSE opened up an opportunity by offering high quality content in a way that allowed me to continue my life where I am.

Having enrolled in this programme before COVID-19 was a huge advantage. I even received e-mails from other schools I had considered mentioning that they had to postpone the launch of their programmes. In the meantime, our courses kept going as usual. I strongly believe that human contact is very important, but I would still recommend the experience of learning online. The backgrounds and experiences of my fellow classmates are much more diverse than when I got my bachelor’s degree on campus. This has positively affected the whole programme.

I am close to finishing the first semester and soon I’ll have to choose my track. I still haven’t decided but will probably choose between the  Engineer or Researcher in Data Science tracks. I even asked if it would be possible to do both sequentially.

I’m excited about what’s ahead and looking forward to the project block of the programme.

Up until now I’ve had several programming courses like Data Structures & Algorithms and rigorous Mathematics. I have found these math courses to be particularly interesting, especially when taught by instructors like Vladimir Podolsky. The projects made me suffer but have helped open my eyes to new opportunities.

I can say that these first months of studies have not been easy. The courses have been challenging and this is what I wanted from a Master’s programme. I was tired of the superficial projects in most online courses. This programme has forced me to research and read from different sources, which has definitely helped me build a foundation I did not have before.

The time I spend on the course varies from week to week according to the topics, but what I really enjoy is the mix between self-paced lectures on Coursera and the live webinars with instructors and teaching assistants every couple of weeks. This way I can organize my time and study on my own terms while still getting to interact with course staff directly.

As we go deeper into the programme, I feel that the community grows closer together. We constantly interact with each other through Slack. At first it was just about finding help, but at this point we have started to bond and I believe that I will be able to graduate with a new set of friends and a wider social network.

Garagashli Niyazi Jamil is from from Azerbaijan. He holds both bachelor and master’s degree in Advertising but has never worked in this field. Ever since he was in school, he was fascinated with computers. He is now working as a database administrator and is eager to branch out into data science.

Garagashli Niyazi Jamil

Something I carried over from my studies was the interest in what data can tell us about something or someone. In the context of advertising, the task is to cater to the target audience and know it through data. Now, as a database administrator, I’m working on the technical side of data more than I do on the meaning of it. I do reporting too, but it does not satisfy my appetite for data science. So little by little I have started to branch my knowledge out of the narrow and boring scope of Oracle databases.

I did a track in DataCamp and a few courses here and there on Coursera. Overall, I enjoyed the experience but such courses often felt lacklustre in terms of fundamentals of the actual science behind all the fancy Python libraries.

That’s how I knew I wanted to study in a more rigorous format.

Because I’ve already tried a few courses through Coursera, my search also started on that platform. One of the options Coursera suggested was HSE’s programme. To be honest, I didn’t consider choosing HSE from the get-go because I hadn’t heard much about it at the time. Most of the other, American, universities were out of reach due to their prohibitive cost and entry requirements in terms of educational background. In the end, I had a very limited options and I started to research them in depth.

So, HSE came about to be an absolute best option for me: both in terms of reputation and in terms of pricing.

The admission process was nicely organized and I had no issues whatsoever. I did study for the entrance exam and I can’t say that it was quite as easy. I was impressed by how the examination process itself was conducted. It should be mentioned, however, that in my opinion despite having no maths prerequisites, the programme seems to be designed with people with a math background in mind.

We’re now in the final stretch of the first semester. Two more courses, six more weeks and we’re done. I’m excited to attend webinars on how to choose a specialization. Starting with the next semester, specialization will play a role in what courses will be available to me. I have high hopes for that next semester.

This semester, Math courses have certainly been a challenge. Without additional learning resources kindly provided by members of our student community on Slack, I would have probably failed each and every math course I have had so far. 

I truly love the communication between students and how bouncing ideas off each other enriches the whole learning process for us.

I may be a single most active Slack user in this community. It’s a shame that out of 100 students only a handful are active, but even so, almost 6 month deep, I feel like I’ve made some lasting connections.

Personally, I much prefer the programming part of the curriculum. I'd like to highlight the awesomeness of courses like Python Advanced or Algorithms and Data Structure I. And, in particular, some of the instructors in these courses like Gleb Pogudin and Yury Gorishniy. Their presentations and webinars are extremely good. 

I was always a fan of online studying. If I had to choose between studying full time somewhere and working, I would choose work every single time.

With online education, I don’t have to compromise—I’m working AND studying.  

Still, it’s not that easy and I’ve only managed to cope with the course load because I have a lesser workload at the moment.

I’d love to see each and every university continue with online education as an option going forward regardless of the pandemic. Even without the degrees on the line, education itself is crucial for the betterment of all people—and thus, it should be readily available for everyone.

Read more about the programme

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