How Alim Memon Completed an Online Data Science Bootcamp and His Junior Year of Undergrad at the Same Time

During his junior year at Rutgers University, Alim Memon worked at Rutgers Makerspace, a shared space on campus where students and faculty practice hands-on skills using innovative technology. One day, his boss mentioned Rutgers Data Science Bootcamp, which partners with the Makerspace, and said that as a Rutgers student, he could qualify for a scholarship. Intrigued, Alim decided to enroll and take advantage of the free opportunity. 

After starting the bootcamp a few months later, he realized that balancing a six-month program alongside full-time classes as an information technology and informatics student would require tremendous time and energy. Faced with two options — throwing in the towel or persevering and making his colleagues proud — Alim knew what he had to do. 

“They gave me this opportunity and I never took it for granted,” he said. “I tried my best to stick with a constant schedule that allowed me to keep with my full-time status at school and pursue my ambition for data science.” 

After grinding through months of technically difficult assignments, Alim graduated from the bootcamp with not only an A average, but also a few valuable takeaways. Here are three lessons he learned along the way. 

Tackle challenges step by step 

Alim had little confidence in his coding ability upon joining the bootcamp, but as the program progressed, he learned that coding isn’t quite as mysterious as it seems. 

“It’s basically a script, a step-by-step guide that the computer is following. That was something never drilled down to me until I did a lot of these projects in data science,” he said. “I learned that it’s something that’s not impossible. All you need to do is stick with it and it will click one day.”

He also discovered that most coding problems have already been solved, and the solutions are typically available online. Tools like Stack Overflow helped Alim overcome obstacles and make progress on difficult assignments. 

“When you’re new to coding, you tend to get overwhelmed by looking at a much bigger picture. The bootcamp allows you to look at things piece by piece,” said Alim. “If you can read code and interpret it, you can usually assemble the solution bit by bit.”

Learn from your peers 

As the only undergraduate in the bootcamp, Alim was initially intimidated by his classmates, many of whom were already successful in their careers. After working with them on class projects, however, he seized the opportunity to make new friends and practice his communication skills. 

“Many of these people, even though they were older and from different generations, actually inspired me that no matter what happens in life you can’t quit,” he said. “You have to keep going with the flow, no matter what the speed is.” 

He came to love collaborating with others and working toward a common goal. For their machine learning project, Alim teamed up with a classmate to create a platform to project wins and losses in the NFL. At first, he thought machine learning would be daunting, but his classmate showed him that it’s well within his reach. Now, after enjoying the project so much, he hopes to become a machine learning engineer one day.

“I had so many doubts since I was taught that this was something far beyond my level,” Alim said. “If you pay attention and attend classes, you can do this. Now I’m actually learning all this as a side project.”

Have a plan, but don’t be afraid to change it  

Over the past year, Alim hasn’t been discouraged by bumps in the road, like when the bootcamp transitioned online because of COVID-19. Instead, he took advantage of the increased number of tutoring sessions instructors offered in response, ultimately making the most of an unexpected situation. 

“I found it challenging because you have to be disciplined enough to sit in front of a computer for many hours,” he said. “Other than that, I found it slightly easier because you have a lot of time saved with commuting and expenses related to that. That’s one of the benefits.” 

Since the bootcamp, Alim has decided to change course professionally. After graduating from Rutgers, he hopes to become a data or business intelligence analyst, and study machine learning in graduate school down the line. As he wraps up his final semesters in college, he has the bootcamp to thank for his new approach to life and learning. 

“The bootcamp allows you to become self-sufficient and learn in a very effective manner,” said Alim. “Because of the bootcamp, I have a much clearer vision of what I should be able to accomplish in life when it comes to technology.” 

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