Branden Doyle (left) and Muhammad Raza (right) both used online education programs to enhance their careers and pursue roles that they love. (Photos courtesy of Branden Doyle and Muhammad Raza)
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning and naval nuclear engineer and technology manager Branden Doyle had a mission that seemed impossible: maintaining the health and safety of the essential teams on the U.S. Navy’s submarines and aircraft carriers.
“We had a lot of critical workers that were working in tight spaces,” Branden says. “There was obviously a big fear around the fact that they were staying in there when everybody else was starting to work remotely.”
Branden put together a small team and quickly developed an ultraviolet light technology that sanitized surfaces. Unfortunately, the success of their product coincided with new learnings about COVID-19 — that it was primarily transmitted through the air.
Branden needed to take his knowledge of ultraviolet light science and create a system that could disinfect the air. He felt there was an opportunity to build something entirely new, and set off on his own to do just that.
“I’m an engineer. I’ve done plenty of program management, personnel management — all of that. But the reality is, I’ve never formed a startup,” Branden says. He started looking into traditional MBA programs, but he was concerned about the amount of time it would take to complete the degree. “And the reality is an MBA is going to teach me how to be a CEO of a large company, not a CEO of a startup.”
Branden found his perfect fit in the Entrepreneurship Accelerator from Emeritus (part of Eruditus, a CZI venture investment) and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The entirely online program allowed for Branden, who lives in Seattle, to focus on building his business while also gaining the skills he needed to grow his startup, such as learning how to pitch investors.
He chose the program because of its low cost, Wharton’s reputation, and the flexibility it offered. Branden was able to complete his education while finishing his work with the Navy, building his prototype, and succeeding at his “primary job” as a father to two young children.
One of the benefits of those programs is the network of people that you meet, like the other entrepreneurs. There’s actually two people that I met in that program that work for the company now as advisors and are helping us grow.
Branden isn’t alone in his quest for an online program that will enhance his career and fit into his lifestyle. In fact, online higher education has been on the rise for years. Three million students pursued online higher education in 2019. And 23-year-old Muhammad Raza, who goes by Raza, was one of them.
Raza has always been interested in technology. While in college studying science and psychology, he’d often play around with HTML to change colors or fonts on websites. But he’d never thought of pursuing coding as a career.
“I used to think that coding or software engineers were on the God-tier,” Raza says, “like no one could touch them unless you have some degrees in the field, like masters or above.”
After a year in college, Raza dropped out to pursue an engineering apprenticeship and then went on to work a series of jobs that were interesting — but not entirely fulfilling. He was working at an e-commerce warehouse when he came across an Instagram ad from OpenClassrooms, which also has received an investment from CZI. It promised a job within six months of completing the online program.
Impressed by the claim, Raza decided to give it a shot.
“I saw myself as not working in a warehouse for the rest of my life. And so I just dove in so I can have a better career in tech because that’s really something that I enjoyed,” he says.
Raza, who lives in the United Kingdom in Birmingham, spent two years working on the European equivalent to a bachelor’s degree with OpenClassrooms while also working full time. The 10-hour warehouse shifts were exhausting, and balancing his coursework was difficult, but Raza made it through at his own pace.
“That’s the flexibility that you have,” he says. ”You can work from anywhere and in your own time. And that’s what I needed.”
Raza completed his coursework in March of 2021, and is now working as a junior web developer. He credits OpenClassrooms with his success — specifically their hands-on project-based learning, mentorship model and career coaching.
That’s the flexibility that you have. You can work from anywhere and in your own time. And that’s what I needed.
Raza added, “The support in the community is great.”
Branden also credits the community as one of the many benefits of his online program with Emeritus and Wharton.
“One of the benefits of those programs is the network of people that you meet, like the other entrepreneurs,” Branden says. “There’s actually two people that I met in that program that work for the company now as advisors and are helping us grow.”
Branden’s company, Violett, is currently in a startup incubator at the University of Washington and has already started selling its product to elder care facilities. Branden says the product could revolutionize health care settings, HVAC systems and how we build office buildings.
“You expect to walk into a place and that you’re safe to breathe the air. That’s something that we used to take for granted,” he says. “Now, we want to make sure it’s safe before we go there. And so we have a cool opportunity to really build that into our way of life. That’s what we plan to do.”