MSc Data Engineering students past and present talk about their time studying at Edinburgh Napier.
MSc Data Engineering

MSc Data Engineering student, Sean MacKenzie, talks about his international experience with the course and provides an in-depth review via his YouTube channel 

Tell us a bit about yourself

My wife and I live in sunny Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. I’m a busy dad with three wonderful sons, one of whom was born during my time at Edinburgh Napier in 2021! As a hobby, I play traditional Scottish and Irish music. I play the bodhran and guitar, enjoy the highland games, and I'm also known to play the occasional gig with fellow performers.

Can you sum up your student experience in a few words?

It was challenging, social, enjoyable, and very rewarding.

What made you decide to study Data Engineering?

I’ve been working on data projects for years but wanted to upgrade my skills and achieve a good credential. I currently work in the field of computing and have customers across North America in many industries, I also started a YouTube channel about Data Engineering in 2020. Much of my work over the past few years has been related to the subject of Data Engineering, and I was very interested in upgrading my skills and challenging myself to learn something new.

What made you choose Edinburgh Napier University?

I was actively looking at many different programmes in technology when I discovered that Edinburgh Napier had a programme that perfectly suited not only what I was looking for, but also contained valuable course content that meets the demands of the industry. After spotting an advertisement on Facebook, I investigated further and applied. As an added bonus, it was connected with my Scottish heritage, which I thought was great.

What were your standout moments of studying at Edinburgh Napier University?

I really enjoyed the Data Wrangling class, where we did some work in artificial intelligence and machine learning. After I taught a computer to identify images with “computer vision”, I was hooked! I decided to do my dissertation using another method called “deep learning”, to classify wildfires. These classroom experiences really opened my eyes. I also enjoyed talking to my fellow students from all over the world!

Did you face any challenges while studying at Napier?

My third son was born during the second trimester of my study. So sleep was tough (more for my wife than me), but I managed to make it through. In one course, I accidentally did the midterm and final assignments for the deadline of the first assignment before I realised what I'd done. You will learn so much from the experience, but don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it.

What key skills have you learned from your university experience?

Some key skills included machine learning, big data, statistics, programming in three new languages that I never used before. I also came away with excellent knowledge of many organisational concepts that I never used before, like data stewardship, dev-ops, and creating data-driven organisations.

What advice would you give to anyone considering a Data Engineering course?

Push yourself as much as you can, especially on the extra credit assignments.

How did you find the teaching on your course?

The teaching was really great. The school lecturers are experts in their fields and genuinely want to engage with students.

What do you hope to go on to do after your studies?

With my current job, I hope to expand offerings to my customers and include additional services in artificial intelligence.

What support was available to you from Edinburgh Napier University as an International Student?

I found that most instructors made themselves available online as much as possible. The computing infrastructure available was really impressive, as most advanced programming tools were made available, including data servers for testing and other purposes. Online meetings were easily scheduled, and Moodle was a neat way to learn. Overall, it was a great environment for international students.

MSc Data Engineering student, Aaron Duffus, talks about his reasons for studying at Edinburgh Napier and his experience on the online learning course
Aaron Duffus

“I currently work as a Research Analysis Associate Director”

In terms of my background, I have a degree in Mathematics from Aberdeen University, I worked as a data analyst for a number of years and I’m currently working with a fantastic team of research analysts in the chemical side of IHS Markit. My job title is Research Analysis Associate Director.

“The coursework presented an opportunity to expand my skills”

This course presented the opportunity to fill some knowledge gaps and expand my skill-set. Throughout employment, over several years, I have taken a number of standalone courses and this course brings all those elements and more into one complete package. In my current work the skills discussed during the course are a great asset, and the flexible distance learning approach from Edinburgh Napier enabled me to take this course while I worked.

“Edinburgh Napier strikes a good balance between academic contact and students’ social resources on this course”

Typically, the latter part of each modules’ coursework is very rewarding as you build on the skills from the learning materials. If I were to pick one of special note it would be the coursework within Data Wrangling which, although challenging, was a new area for me to explore and resulted in creation of a Natural Language Processing (NLP) model.

With distance learning, and with other courses I have taken, there can be a feeling of being disconnected from peers, lecturers and even, at times, the learning material. Edinburgh Napier, I believe, is finding a good balance with scheduled office hours with the lecturer and the resources and chat functionality for the students within Slack. I would like to follow up with this however, and say the value here is directly proportional to the effort individuals put in. I was guilty of not dedicating enough time to the social aspect of these boards, particularly to start with – it can be difficult when work and life gets hectic – but these boards are great for promoting learning as a student body rather than an individual.

“The biggest challenge is balancing time”

The biggest challenge by far is balancing time - I have a young family and full-time role. During the last module both my wife and I were at home, working full time and looking after our daughter! There is always a feeling of having more to give. Postgraduate study opens the door to many questions but studying them all at length would take over my life, and as such I have to ensure I am effective with my time, covering topics to ensure a rounded view.

“I attended a Data-lab event which turned out to be a fantastic opportunity to meet fellow Napier students”

A highlight of my time during my postgraduate studies was not directly with Edinburgh Napier, but I was fortunate enough to attend a Data-lab event in which I met other Edinburgh Napier students. This really was a fantastic opportunity and I have remained in contact with one of the students which has proved invaluable to discuss and ponder elements of the course. I would have liked to attend more of these events, but a combination of work, distance and the current situation led to it not happening. I do feel this is a missed opportunity on my part.

“Postgraduate degrees are more down to the individual to build their knowledge”

In general, I would say undergraduate courses teach the material, however postgraduate study provides you resources to learn. That’s not to say that there is no teaching in postgraduate courses, however it is up to the individual how far they then want to build on the knowledge.

“My advice to someone considering the course would be to attend events when you can as you can meet other students which is very helpful in the long run”

Try and set some dedicated time each week to the course, and when the assessment comes out try to be proactive in planning, just in case a work deadline, family emergency or just general life gets in the way. Also, if you are remote, try to attend events: I met a few other students on the course at one such event and this has been very helpful to sense-check some items on the course.

“The future is uncertain, but my employer is very supportive of my studies”

Given the current climate nothing is particularly certain, however I am in a fortunate position to be in employment and my management is very supportive of my studies. Our company is continually looking to provide insight for our customers, which provides an excellent platform to put what is learned into practice. I hope I continue to be able to put taught materials into practice and drive change.