September 28, 2021

Life@CS101: Get to Know Computer Scientist Jessica Rahman


In our Life@CS101 series, we’ll meet the brains behind our bespoke computer science program, CS101 and get to know them a little better. The new accelerated program, powered by OpenLearning, is designed by industry and for industry, bringing together leading technology companies, computer scientists and learning designers to create a one-of-a-kind online program that makes computer science accessible to everyone.

Meet Jessica S. Rahman, OpenLearning’s Subject Matter Expert and Computer Scientist for the bespoke CS101 program. She is currently completing her PhD and teaching various courses in Computer Science, with extensive experience in working with human physiological signals and machine learning techniques.

This week, we sat down with Jessica and had a candid chat on all things CS101 and her journey so far:

Tell me about your role at CS101. What do you do?

My role in CS101 is being a subject matter expert for the course. My background is in computer science. I am currently doing a PhD and teaching different courses in the same field. I aim to bring my academic experiences into this course and provide various course related contents to the learning designers. 

What led you to CS101?

When I first heard the vision of this course from OpenLearning Co-founders, Adam and David, I immediately connected with it. They wanted to create a course that not only provided foundations of programming to learners, but also created a scientific mindset in them. This is something I often find lacking in many courses I have come across, and also studied. There are plenty of courses that will teach you how to write in a particular programming language. But that’s not the only aspect of programming. You also need to understand ways of approaching a problem, before attempting to solve it. This is something that is very crucial to understand in any career path you take. But it needs to be taught in courses as well, especially introductory courses. I think CS101 is able to provide that. That’s what made me interested to be a part in designing this course. So that's why I am here.

What’s your favourite thing about working on CS101 so far?

I love working in a multidisciplinary team and learning from everyone’s experiences. In our team we have people with backgrounds in computer science, mathematics, education etc. We also have industry experts. We all bring a variety of expertise to the table and that helps make the content of this course very rich and relevant to real life application. 

What made you choose your career?

My primary career is being a researcher and an educator. In my daily life I conduct different types of research and also do some teaching at a university level.  I always have the passion to learn about new things, asking questions about them and trying to derive new knowledge from things.  I also really enjoy teaching and love sharing the knowledge and experience that I have gained during my academic career. I enjoy teaching or helping learners in different levels and that's how I came across this role of subject matter expert for CS101. I am here because here I can share my experiences of studying and teaching this course. As I have studied these things during my bachelors I am able to share my experience to improve the content and design of the course. The role allows me to explore my passion of learning and sharing the knowledge of computer science. 

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

I think the best career advice I have received is to not be afraid to ask questions. When I was a student I often felt worried to ask questions in fear of saying/asking something silly. That often refrained me from learning something amazing. I struggled a lot on my own until I learned that many others also struggled like me and didn’t ask questions. Now that I'm an educator I know that even for me the best way to learn is when my students ask me some questions and that triggers me to think deeply and find different ways to explain the topic. This helps me enrich my knowledge on the topic as well. And that is why in this course as well we encourage learners to question everything and ask questions to us and other learners as well. This allows us all to share knowledge with each other and learn the concepts in a better way. 

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to upskill or reskill in Computer Science?

I would suggest taking a step back and always look at the problem first in general rather than solving it in terms of computer science. I guess a big part of computer science involves programming languages so we often think the way to upskill is learning many programming languages and terms etc. But it is very important to understand the underlying concepts first. Any sorts of problems we deal with in computer science have some sort of real-world implications, understanding the problem and the concept first will be the most helpful in solving the problem, rather than thinking of the programming language or technique first. 

The other suggestion I would give is to keep practicing using the concept you learn and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I find the best way to learn is when you try to understand why something didn’t work. Asking those questions, sharing with others will help you upskill to reskill in computer science. 

In your point of view, why should learners choose CS101 as their choice of study? 

For me, there are two things that make CS101 different from other programs. One is the aspect of social learning. Learning online can be very lonely. And also practicing and applying coding skills can also get quite lonely. So in this program, we have given a lot of opportunities to interact with other learners and share knowledge with them, which I think makes the learning a lot more fun and engaging and also interesting compared to just learning on your own and struggling on your own. 

And the second thing is creating the scientific mindset. We give plenty of opportunities for you to think about what is happening and why - when you're learning a new concept, rather than just straight jumping into coding. I think these two things are very important to make introductory courses exciting for learners. That’s what I think makes CS101 a great choice to introduce yourself to the world of Computer Science! 

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