Back to Blog

Syrian Refugee Lands Software Engineering Job By Learning On Udemy

One of our core beliefs at Udemy is that the best teachers aren’t always found in classrooms. Mohamad Alaloush’s story bears that out, but his example also shows that the best students aren’t always found in schools.

Mohamad dropped out of university on three separate occasions, yet he’s one of the most avid and results-oriented learners we’ve come across. Like many bright and talented people, he was disengaged taking required classes and bored having to work at the pace of slower students, but when he’s let loose to learn what he wants, on his own schedule and at his own pace, he’s an overachiever.

On top of that, Mohamad is a Syrian refugee now living in Berlin, which obviously presents an entirely different set of challenges, but none of that stood in his way either.

Designing his own curriculum
Mohamad first studied medicine but gave it up when he discovered med school was “just a bunch of things to memorize, not science.” Next, he studied classical guitar, only to find his school was more concerned with teaching students how to convert their musical talent into paying jobs than how to master their art.

Next, the ever-curious Mohamad stumbled upon renewable energy, which tapped into his love of physics and science, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to pursue it as his career. Noting his analytical nature, a friend suggested programming and turned him on to Udemy. Mohamad immediately enrolled in instructor Tim Buchalka’s “Complete Python Masterclass” and was thrilled with the depth of content. As he explains, he’s actually a great learner who can immerse himself for hours at a time when he’s really into the topic.

After finishing Tim’s course, Mohamad talked about his Udemy experience with a friend who has a master’s in computer science. The friend suggested Mohamad would need to understand algorithms to become employable in the field and gave Mohamad a challenge to test his skills. He nailed it in six hours, and his amazed friend told him he should apply for internships. Despite his lack of formal training or on-the-job experience, Mohamad was able to demonstrate the knowledge he’d gained from Udemy courses to a software development company in Berlin.

But Mohamad wasn’t going to be a passive trainee, satisfied making coffee or other low-level tasks. “I fought for them to give me anything to do that seemed complicated,” Mohamad said, and they gave him an assignment working with databases. That required learning SQL, so he went back online: “Whenever there’s something I have no idea about, I go to Udemy.”

Knowledge leads to opportunity
Mohamad progressed in this manner for the duration of his six-month internship, taking more Udemy courses from Tim Buchalka, Jose Portilla, and Balazs Holczer to learn algorithms, data structures, and more. The company where he interned even wanted to hire him, but Mohamad believed he could find bigger opportunities (and better pay) elsewhere.

He applied and got accepted to a university to study programming but kept taking more Udemy courses, telling himself he’d skip school if he could find a job he wanted before the semester started. Thirty Udemy courses and eight months after finding the “Complete Python Masterclass,” that’s exactly what happened. Even getting an interview with N26, an innovative, fast-growing mobile bank, was a huge accomplishment. They’d told him they didn’t have anyone as junior as him on the team, and he was competing for the job against candidates with bachelor’s degrees.

“I freaked out when I got the job,” Mohamad recalls. “My friends who’d spent six years studying the same stuff at university were annoyed and wanted to know what courses I’d taken!”

He believes his story shows how university isn’t for everyone and, in some cases, can actually be detrimental. “University isn’t built for learning fast, and the teachers aren’t working professionals. They’re people who’ve been in a classroom for 20 years,” Mohamad explains. “You could lose interest and be disappointed if you don’t care about grades and really just want to gain knowledge.”

As we said at the top, the best teachers AND students aren’t always found in classrooms!