Ryder Cobean

MSADA Alum Finds New Direction, Purpose and Job as Consultant thanks to BU MET

Ryder Cobean
Consultant, Analytics and Cognitive, Deloitte Consulting LLP
MS in Applied Data Analytics (MET’21)

Why did you choose BU MET for your graduate studies?
Back in 2017, I was looking for a program to change things up in my career. I had done about a decade in nonprofit management and had always been the team’s “accidental technologist.” I wanted to finally add a layer of hard skills to my toolbox to open up new options. Going into the program, my plan was to pivot to nonprofit information technology, and I applied to the Master of Science in Computer Information Systems program.

What set BU MET apart from other programs you were considering?
Coming from a different background, I was looking for a department that offered a breadth of subjects and a technical focus in case, as I waded in, I found myself enjoying those. Many similar computer science departments with part-time programs leaned toward either a management or a security focus. BU stood out with offerings in Python, data science, and database design.

Were you able to use faculty as a resource?
I considered that I was making up for a lot of lost time in my career, so I never hesitated to pose a question to faculty or facilitators.

Is there a particular faculty member who enhanced your experience at BU MET?
Early on, Professor Anatoly Temkin’s course, Introduction to Probability and Statistics (MET CS 546) was my first formal return to math since high school in 2002. I grew up in a house that didn’t get along well with math, and had convinced myself it was out of my reach. Had I known how fun and immediately applicable statistics really could be, calculus might have come a little more intuitively back then! Professor Temkin’s good humor and approachability helped decode the material and really got me started down the path that led me to switch into the MS in Applied Data Analytics program.

Dr. Michael Joner’s NLP course was one of the most fun ones I took! It’s one of the first moments I really fell in love with R programming. I got creative with the course project and built a scraper for the New York Times, and used it to mine articles based on whether they resembled columnist Tom Friedman’s fairly predictable writing style, using top words by TF-IDF and a similarity score to other articles. Dr. Joner had a real knack for bringing out curiosity and project-based learning throughout the entire class.

Finally, I had an absolute blast in my final course, Machine Learning (MET CS 767) with Dr. Eric Braude. By this point, I had become a lot more confident in taking on big projects, and had a lot of fun building a Convolutional Neural Network in TensorFlow to classify chest radiographs for pleural effusion (fluid in the lungs). Dr. Braude was so attentive to his students, patient with tough questions, and so clearly invested in our learning and our success. I especially loved how he designed the course to be one continuous iteration of a core project. It helped make it feel so close to a capstone for me, and gave me the time to go deep and apply knowledge from all my prior coursework.

How were you able to adapt to some of the challenges of balancing work, home-life, and school?
I can’t lie, this was tough. I’m going to be forever grateful to my wife, who was my support through balancing BU with a demanding fulltime job and the rest of life. I would tell others to expect that this is your main hobby for two years! I wanted to get as much out of my time at BU as possible, so put in the extra work to make sure I wasn’t just passing my classes but really learning the material. It’s hard, but it’s possible. The faculty have done a great job designing a program that has all the rigor you need to actually learn, but with the flexibility to balance with work. I appreciated recorded lectures, electronic reading materials, and the ample facilitator office hours many courses offered. Going back to school is nothing to take lightly but it is absolutely possible, and possible to do well without sacrificing your performance at your day job—it’s just a matter of being very deliberate with your time.

Did you benefit from BU MET’s flexible class delivery options?
I did. I tried to attend most of my lectures live as it helped me feel like I was really in class, and helped me build a relationship with my professors. But that wasn’t always possible with commutes, late work nights, or other responsibilities. Having the Zoom recordings available, often the same night as the lecture, with fairly decent auto-transcription was a lifesaver during hectic weeks.

Are there any specific skills or competencies you acquired during your studies that qualified you for a promotion, professional designation, title change or other benefit?
My whole career! BU’s the main reason I was able to career switch. I had a broad and deep set of skills prior to 2017, but in nonprofit management. Today, I’m working hands-on in my first technical role, constructing complex jobs on cloud platforms, writing technical documentation to help researchers and data scientist customers, and writing my own Python and R code, while even training other team members on skills and knowledge I have thanks to BU. I just passed my first industry certification as well, AWS Certified Machine Learning Specialty, which I couldn’t have completed without the material I picked up at BU, especially in my final year of study.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who is considering applying to this program?
If you’re debating it, know what you’re getting yourself into, but take the leap when you know you’re ready. I suggest mining your LinkedIn for anyone you trust to talk to you about technical careers. I had a lot of old classmates and friends who weren’t “professionally relevant” in my former career but were great safe sounding boards as I was going through all the mental friction of starting something brand new. These people can be your best allies, so have some honest conversations with them. They really helped keep me on track through the whole process.

In the program, never think you’re asking too many questions of your facilitators. They’re there for it!

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