How This Self-Taught Web Developer Went Straight to a Master's Degree

Written by Amanda Wicks • Updated on

Kaushik Muthyalu began learning about computers at age 10, which enabled him to take advantage of CU Boulder's performance-based admission.

[Featured image] Web developer and CU Boulder MS in Data Science student Kaushik Muthyalu poses in front of his computer setup at home.

Some students begin learning a subject at such a young age that more traditional kinds of higher education, like a bachelor’s degree, can’t always meet their needs. They end up spending four or five years reinforcing what they already know.   

That was the case with Kaushik Muthyalu, a web developer in India. He began learning how to code at age 10 and two years later moved on to web development. As the prospect of university loomed, Muthyalu had a strong foundation in computer science, but higher education didn’t meet him where he was. 

“I studied game development in college for one year before dropping out because I didn’t find it as interesting as I thought it would be,” he explained. “I felt that I wasn’t learning anything useful that I couldn’t learn by myself.”

After leaving his bachelor’s program, Muthyalu wasn’t sure what to do. His dad approached him with an opportunity to work as a web developer on a new financial app he wanted to launch. Muthyalu spent the next five years working for his father, but when it came time to explore other opportunities, he found that his lack of degree hurt his prospects.

“That’s when I decided to go back to school,” he said. Muthyalu was a unique case. He had a wealth of technical experience and training, so enrolling in a traditional bachelor’s program to learn much of what he already knew didn’t seem like the best option. “If I did go get a bachelor’s degree, it would take me four years.”  

When he discovered the University of Colorado Boulder’s Master of Science in Data Science program, he saw a new way forward. Not only would he earn a graduate degree in less time than an undergraduate degree would take, but he could also gain entry to the program through its performance-based admission. “I wouldn’t need a bachelor’s degree to get in,” he said. 

Performance-based admission eschews the traditional college application, which tends to ask for proof of a bachelor’s degree, along with transcripts and letters of recommendation. Instead, CU Boulder bases admission to certain tech-heavy programs on student aptitude. If you can show your knowledge of either computer science or statistics by passing three pathway courses, then you’re admitted to the full program.  

What’s more, certain pathway courses are good for either CU Boulder’s data science or computer science master’s degree programs, giving students more options once they successfully pass their pathway courses. Muthyalu knew he wanted to learn data science because of the exposure he’d finally get to AI—something he’d wanted to study when he first enrolled in his bachelor’s degree program. “As part of data science, I would be learning machine learning and AI so it seemed like the best option.”   

Given his background, Muthyalu took the computer science pathway courses. Before he got started, however, he wanted to brush up on his math. He’d done considerably well in the subject during high school, but he knew that CU Boulder’s master’s degree would require a more advanced understanding. 

“I never studied calculus and linear algebra, and I knew I would need it, so I ended up learning right before I started with this degree,” he explained. Once in the degree program, he particularly enjoyed the statistics courses he got to take. “It’s actually interesting how I get to predict data from data that I already have,” he said. “That appeals to me the most.” 

Muthyalu couldn’t give up his full-time job to attend university, so finding an online program with scheduling flexibility was particularly important. “It’s great because I can do it on my own time, whenever I want,” he said of CU Boulder’s program. “I also like that the degree won’t say it will be online, so I will be getting the same degree as someone doing this on campus.” 

As a student learning from India, Muthyalu also took advantage of the degree program’s Slack channel. When he first started out, he’d jump online to ask his peers different questions. “Now, I’m more toward the end of the degree, so it’s usually other people asking me and I’m always happy to help,” he said. 

Part of that help involves encouraging prospective students to start slow. “If it’s your first time enrolling, I would definitely suggest just starting out with one course so you know how much you can handle,” he advised. “If you finish the course early you can maybe enroll in another course in the same session and maybe the next session you can enroll in multiple courses.” 

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