In fall 2003, Thariq Kara ’07 went from rebuilding cars to learning how to code. Kara had left his homeland, Zimbabwe, for the first time in his young life to start a degree program in mechanical engineering at Florida Tech.
“Even though Zimbabwe had a great academic system, technology was not something we needed to know too well. The first time I had a cellphone and a laptop was in the U.S.,” Kara says. “So, you go from not knowing how to punch a phone number into a cellphone to going straight into programming and modeling—that was a big leap.”
Kara, who also captained the Florida Tech men’s tennis team in his sophomore year, is now the CEO and founder of NU Borders, a data science and big data analytics consultancy based in Washington, D.C., and Boston that focuses on the defense and homeland security space. He is also founder of a startup called Athstat, a company that works with sports teams to collect data and analyze performance. Prior to working in private industry, Kara was a government employee, with his last post being chief data architect at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
How does a mechanical engineering alumnus become CEO of multiple data analysis companies?
While developing the university’s first graphite, carbon fiber high-performance vehicle for his senior design project, Kara started to understand the end-to-end process of creating a product.
“It was more than just the technical aspects that were important; there were a lot of project- and task-management activities that were needed in order to bring the project to fruition,” he says. “But the insight from my professors, especially from the ones who had been in the industry, made me understand that you had to be all in and love engineering practice in order to be successful, and I was not sure mechanical engineering was for me.”
His interest in a different calling led him to earn his master’s degree in engineering management from Duke University. However, he credits his Florida Tech professors for fostering his analytical nature and interest in thinking outside the box.
“I would say the most impactful thing from Florida Tech was the passing down of the real-world experience in engineering and the reality they used in preparing you for post-education. This included the ability to think laterally and put yourself in the end user’s shoes.”
These lessons helped Kara to develop and grow his multiple businesses, he says. While NU Borders supports national security-focused analytics, he’s taken similar design concepts into the sporting world.
“I’ve taken a lot of the lessons from the analytical side of government work and the management of data and leveraged it in the sports world,” Kara says. “While it is a challenge—it’s going to take me the next five years to build it into a really solid product and business line—it’s a passion project that’s turned into a business, which is great.”
This piece was featured in the fall 2022 edition of Florida Tech Magazine.