Meet the Learner in Turkey Who Wants to Advance in Data Science

Written by Amanda Wicks • Updated on

Atahan Ünal saw the master's degree program in data science from CU Boulder as a "golden chance" to learn about an in-demand field from a leading institution.

[Featured image] CU Boulder master's degree student Atahan Unal.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in computer science last May, Atahan Ünal got what so many graduates hope for: a job. “That company was probably one of the biggest banks in Turkey,” he said about the opportunity. “I was in the IT department and I was dealing with web and mobile development.” But something didn’t feel right. “I said, ‘I’m not feeling like I belong on a development path.’” 

After hearing more about his career goals, the bank offered Ünal a position involving data—a subject he had grown increasingly interested in—but first he wanted to gain a solid foundation in the field. Plus, after researching more about a career in data, he found that most companies in his native Turkey require advanced education. 

That’s when he found the University of Colorado Boulder’s Master of Science in Data Science program, which offers performance-based admission. Rather than go through a formal application process, students instead show their aptitude. If they pass three pathway courses in either computer science or statistics, they gain full admittance to the program—and have those three courses count toward the 30 they’ll eventually need to graduate. 

The degree program embodies Coursera’s mission to make graduate education in the fields of data science, computer science, and other tech subjects more accessible by doing away with the traditional hurdles that students with some prior knowledge in a subject still face.  

And it really appealed to Ünal. “Getting admitted to the program in that way, it’s really innovative,” he said. “It was really charming for me. I’m just doing the thing I like to do. I said, ‘This is a golden chance and I cannot miss it.’” 

In the program, he’s learning more about the theory behind data science, something that was particularly important to him, as well as foundational subjects like statistics. “My favorite subject is definitely stats,” he said. “I’ve never seen someone who’s teaching stats that well, including the stats courses I took during my bachelor’s.”  

Turkey is nine hours ahead of Colorado, and while that kind of distance learning might create communication challenges, Ünal has relied on CU Boulder’s Slack channel and Coursera’s technical support. In fact, the few times that he’s needed help, he’s gotten a response much faster than he did when he was earning his bachelor’s degree in person. “Whenever I join CU Boulder’s Slack channel, they get back to me ASAP,” he said. 

He also appreciates the flexibility that online learning offers him. “You can easily balance your academic and professional lives,” he said. “I can take the classes wherever I want, whenever I want.” 

That flexibility became even more important during the devastating earthquakes that affected Turkey and Syria in February. At the time, some of Ünal’s friends were studying engineering and architecture in Germany. When they chose to return home to Turkey to help their loved ones, they worried about their grades. “They were really afraid of failing classes because of attendance, but I had no problems like that,” he said. 

CU Boulder emailed students in Turkey, offering mental health assistance and other resources. “It was really heartwarming to see that someone thousands of miles away from me is thinking of you,” Ünal said. 

After hearing Ünal rave about his experience, his friends thought the program was too good to be true. No application? Learn whenever you want? Keep working while you learn? No way. “I said, ‘No, I trust Coursera. They’re probably the best online course provider.’ I chose to enroll and right now my friends are kind of jealous of me.” 

In fact, he’s been talking to some of his friends about the benefits of the master’s degree program. “Some of them are planning to take the courses,” he said. “I told them, ‘Even if you don’t want to do the whole 30-credit curriculum, just take a couple of classes. See what you’re missing.’”  

Living in Turkey while studying at Colorado has been a big opportunity for Ünal. “In Turkey, we have many computer science programs, but we don’t have many data science programs,” he explained. And working in data science, not computer science, is what he wants to do. “If someone is thinking that they have the same feelings as me, I would advise them to take just a couple of classes on Coursera,” he said. “Try before they make the big decision.”

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

SEO Content Manager II

Amanda Wicks has developed and produced content for New York University, University of North Carolin...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.