It is a great privilege to share Student Success stories on this blog, and today I am honored to present a really remarkable tale of accomplishment. Ammar Jawad is a self-described political activist who experienced the power of social media firsthand while manning a highly influential Facebook page in the heat of the Arab Spring. He has gone from unemployed and struggling in Denmark to employed and successful in the UK in less than five years, and throughout his journey, he’s carried with him the inspiration of his mother’s example, who raised four boys while completing two Master’s degrees in Syria, then relocated to Denmark when she couldn’t find work in Syria. We were able to talk with Ammar recently, and we asked him about his journey. Here is what he so graciously shared with us:
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Ammar Jawad. I have previously worked in the marketing and business analysis departments of Microsoft and Ubisoft, and I’m currently working for Radiant Worlds, a PC and mobile game studio in the UK, where I relocated to from Denmark. Less than five years ago, I was unemployed and struggling to find any work in Denmark.
What were you doing in your job or life before enrolling with Udacity?
I’m a political activist, and back then I used to lead a project on social media with more than 40 international volunteers to translate signs, videos and content emanating from the Arab Spring into English. With more than a million unique weekly visitors on Facebook, it became a go-to place for millions of English-speakers to understand what was going on in the Middle East.
However, I was growing frustrated in my career with the amount of guesswork and lack of a methodological framework within marketing. I couldn’t accept the fact that forecasting was just about studying historical data. I read ‘Naked Statistics’ by Charles Wheelan, which made me fall in love with statistics. I decided that I wanted to become a Data Analyst, which drove me to Coursera, Udemy, Codecademy, CodeSchool, Lynda, EdX and Udacity where I enrolled and completed courses ranging from Big Data, coding, statistics and data analysis.
What got you interested in coding and technology in the first place?
Do you remember the stories about kids jamming floppy drives with bread? I was one of those kids. Technology has always been disruptive, and it has allowed people to do what was perceived impossible. Who doesn’t want to be part of that? Three years ago in a meeting in Paris a director mentioned automation of Excel sheets using a ‘Python script’, it was nothing more than an offhand remark but it piqued my curiosity. Python script, it even sounded powerful! I started to Google it during the meeting and was blown away by how revolutionizing this could potentially be within my department.
What drew you to online learning in general? How did you discover Udacity?
I have always been ambitious, perhaps even overambitious. I have that from my mother, who raised four boys while completing two Master’s degrees in Syria, and then went on to complete the same two degrees in Denmark when she couldn’t find work. She has been my inspiration to continue learning and never stop. That’s why it was a difficult dilemma to choose between studying or quit my jobs at Microsoft and Ubisoft, because I’m passionate about tech and higher education—so I found a middle ground with online learning where I could do both simultaneously.
How would you describe your educational background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in International Sales and Marketing Management from Cphbusiness, and an AP degree in Marketing Management from Niels Brock.
Have you ever been frustrated by the standard educational structure (e.g., college or other post-college options)?
I believe the current educational structure is outdated and does not fully apply the benefits of technology, such as allowing users to participate in lessons remotely and reforming education around flexibility to account for people’s busy lives.
What was your main goal in learning with Udacity?
I chose Udacity as an online learning platform because the courses and degrees are industry-relevant, since they are designed by the industry itself. My ultimate goal is to be able to combine marketing, coding and data science to produce innovative projects.
What Udacity courses have you taken, and what is your Nanodegree program plan now?
The first Udacity course I took was ‘Intro to Hadoop and MapReduce’, which was to prepare me for my new job in the UK as a Senior Data Analyst. I loved every bit of that course, especially fiddling with Hadoop and MapReduce. It felt like a giant Pivot table in Excel without the GUI. I then completed ‘Intro to Descriptive Statistics.’ After that I enrolled in the ‘Intro to Programming Nanodegree.’ I got halfway through, but then I decided to pause it so I could complete the Tech Entrepreneur Nanodegree program, since the marketing lessons are so highly relevant to the software industry (unlike my degree, which is too broad and already outdated although I only graduated three years ago!).
What are some of the most valuable things you’ve learned so far?
The URL scraper/search engine taught in ‘Intro to Computer Science’ was so powerful that it literally made my jaw drop. Also, the ‘Intro to HTML and CSS’ taught me that anything you can read in a website can be extracted and analyzed. Finally, in ‘Product Design’ a simple task of writing your first tweet for your startup was probably one of the most non-tech challenging tasks I faced—140 characters to describe and sell your startup to the world!
Can you give us an example of how your Udacity studies are informing your job?
In the gaming industry, one of the biggest threats historically has been pirated games through torrents. However, I found that it could potentially be a competitive advantage, since it shows what type of games consumers are interested in, although through illegal means. In collaboration with a programmer, I created a script to crawl all of the gaming sections across one of these torrent sites. I was interested in the curve over time of people playing sandbox (think Minecraft) and MMO (massively multiplayer online) games to gauge the seasonality of gamers and compare those to my forecast of monthly active users for SkySaga, which is a free-to-play PC MMO game I’m currently working on. It didn’t take us more than half a day to write the script, and most of the help I required was related to pagination and storing the information as a .csv file. We now have a free real-time market research tool to gauge the interest of consumers worldwide.
Thank you Ammar, for sharing your story!
Ammar is a wonderful example of learning with a purpose. Throughout his journey, he has been motivated by his past, and inspired by his future. He has kept his sights set on real-world objectives, and work has never been far from his mind. Ammar’s story presents an inspiring enactment of how learning and work are inextricably connected. Ammar, we congratulate you on all your successes to date, and look forward to everything yet to come!
And to all Udacity students, here’s to your successes as well! Will we be sharing YOUR story next?