The University of Chicago Masters Program in Computer Science students push boundaries and innovate across many facets of industry. Whether it’s developing seamless UX interfaces, engineering software at Fortune 500 companies, working in big data or keeping networks secure, our students use their applied-skills education from the MPCS to problem-solve, create, and elevate the computer science field. Learn from their stories and discover how a CS background can prepare you for cutting-edge internships.
Beth Pater graduated from the MPCS in Summer 2020. She currently works as an Advanced Application Engineer at Accenture. She shares her experience as a part-time student, making the most of her MPCS experience, and how the MPCS has helped her in her role today.
What motivated you to apply and enroll in the MS in CS Program? Did you have a CS background?
Before applying, I spent over 10 years as a high school math teacher and program coordinator. The math department needed someone to teach AP Computer Science A so I decided to learn java and take over the teaching of that course. My experience until that point was mostly self-taught with one undergrad course in CS as a math major. From my teaching experience, I was afforded the opportunity to intern at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee and Fermilab in Illinois on CS projects. The lab experience on large-scale CS projects as a whole was something I wanted to pursue. I still loved teaching and giving back to the community so I decided to apply to the UChicago program not knowing what my future plans entailed. I felt that degree would either help me be a better teacher or would afford me the opportunity to switch into something full time with computer science.
You attended the Grace Hopper Conference during your time in the MPCS - how was your overall experience attending GHC?
Attending the Grace Hopper Conference was a very powerful experience for me. I went to the conference with a few sessions in mind and found so many more that I wanted to attend! There were choices from large general sessions to very specific sessions on niche topics…. all were well done and put together by industry professionals. The conference was really powerful because I was able to talk with so many women at all stages of profession careers in technology. Most of the sessions were held at round tables so the chatting with random people here and there really helped me discover what career paths interested me the most. In addition, the career fair was truly outstanding. I was only half way through the MPCS program at the time I attended GHC and by the time I left the conference I had 4 different job offers – one of which was from my current employer. The chance to walk up and talk to so many amazing companies in one place face to face and get an immediate feel for their culture and climate was really a unique advantage in the job search process. To this day, I still get companies reaching out with job opportunities from that networking experience. By MPCS sending me to the conference, my whole career trajectory was smooth and successful in the transition from education to technology.
What were some of your favorite courses in the MPCS?
As far as the courses that I found to be interesting, I would say all of them! I honestly love learning (probably what led me to education in the first place) and many of the professors had great experiences to share. I made some good friends along the way in algorithms so that one holds a special place in my heart since we are all still connected today. As far as the courses that I use the most in my day-to-day work as a software developer/engineer would have to be Databases and Intro to Software Engineering.
You now work at Accenture as an Advanced Application Engineer. Can you tell us a bit about what you do in your work, and if what you learned in the MPCS has helped you in your career?
At Accenture, the work is project based covering a large number of clients so you get to work on a myriad of projects that interest you during your career. There is pretty much every industry and every type of technology to choose from. Regardless of your career level, there are so many training opportunities and chances to get involved in the community – this was particularly important to me as I was leaving the education field. After my initial onboarding and training, I chose a large-scale enterprise application development project in the health and public service industry. It was my first project and I really enjoy the importance of the work, the team, and the client so much that I am still serving that same project 15 months later. My day-to-day work involves creating and fixing code for the large-scale java application including interactions through interfaces with other large-scale entities and general incident management. As far as my MPCS experience, I definitely rely on the material from Databases since a large chunk of the application code needs to interact with extremely large databases. While I don’t maintain the databases, that knowledge is extremely helpful in writing optimized queries for the code and properly targeting the right data. My project deals with a great deal of sensitive protected data and everyone on my team takes that responsibility to heart, so fast and accurate querying is crucial. At Accenture, there are often blurred lines between technology and business so my experience with the engineering process from start to finish provided by the Intro to Software Engineering course has helped me see the much larger picture of the entire project.
What is a piece of advice you’d give someone considering applying to the MPCS? Or, to someone who has been admitted, and is trying to determine if this program is the right fit for them?
I truly believe that you get what you give – I always made time to chat with professors, attend some study sessions, meet people in class and get to know them, and really think about the assignments. Most people feel like they don’t have time for those little extras but those little extras really make all the difference in a program like MPCS. As a part time student for two years, I had a lot on my plate…. I had two young children, I was a full-time teacher with several different course preps and committees, I was remodeling an old house, I was buying a new house, and then all the other things that go along with living life. I could have cut some corners and skipped some things to make that load a little more bearable but it was in those very busy moments that the little extras (knowing your professors, networking with classmates, digging in to the material) really set me on the path to success. My advice…. make the time because you will get what you give.