University of Chicago Masters Program in Computer Science alumni push boundaries and innovate across many facets of the industry. Whether it’s developing seamless UX interfaces, engineering software at Fortune 500 companies, working in big data or keeping networks secure; our esteemed alumni use their applied skills and education from 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 careers and leadership roles.
Gian Thomas (GT) Wrobel, class of 2016, is the Curriculum Development Manager at Code.org. He tells us how his MPCS experience informs his day-to-day life at Code.org, why he’s excited to see tech become more diverse, and why Gerry Brady’s Algorithms course is a class he’ll never forget.
What does a great day at work look like for you?
I don't have very many days that look the same at Code.org, but I like nearly all of them. Some days I'm working with other curriculum writers to craft a new lesson or unit and it's satisfying to create something new together. Other days I'm working with our engineering and product team to design new tools for students. The very best days, however, are when I get to work directly with students and teachers, either by visiting classrooms or training teachers at workshops.
What do you enjoy most about your profession?
As a member of our curriculum team, our job is to design computer science curricula that are used by classrooms around the country. The thing I love most about my work is that it directly supports students and teachers. I used to be a high school teacher and I enjoy that my work keeps me deeply ingrained in those communities. I also love that my work challenges me in such a wide variety of ways. It requires pure creativity, project management, deep understanding of the CS concepts we're teaching, strong writing skills, and the ability to work well across many different teams. That mix works really well for me.
Which programming language/technical skills do you use most often at work?
Describe a problem at work that your MPCS knowledge helped you solve.
The biggest problem I run into at work is figuring out how to present a computer science topic in a way that makes sense to students and teachers. Sometimes this means we're designing a lesson plan and sometimes it means we're designing a programming tool. My MPCS degree is critical here because I always feel like I have a broad foundation of understanding of a variety of CS topics. I didn't just learn one example of a concept or one way to solve a problem. I will usually have lots of ideas for the way of introducing a CS concept that will fit best for the needs of students and teachers.
Did you come to MPCS with a computer science background? What motivated you to apply and enroll?
Prior to MPCS, I had taken only a single computer science class in my last semester of college. Right out of college I took a job doing data analysis, but wanted to shift to a career where I built things. I applied to MPCS because I thought that I'd want to build software. Over the course of my degree, I taught high school and started my current job. I discovered that I really love building curriculum at the intersection of education and technology.
What about the future of the computer science/tech industry most excites you?
I'll be honest: Some of the tech excites me and some of it scares me. What's clear is that it's increasingly becoming integrated into every aspect of our lives. I'd say what most excites me is that a more diverse group of people are learning computer science. I'm excited to see this translate into a more diverse group of people building the technology that we use, and a broader portion of the population able to discuss big questions about technology in an informed way.
Would you recommend MPCS to others? If so, why?
I highly recommend MPCS to anyone looking to deepen their knowledge of CS topics. The evening class schedule and supportive staff made sure that it meshed well with my working schedule. The coursework was well-designed and I felt free to explore a wide variety of interests ranging from the highly applied to the highly theoretical. I felt more than qualified to apply for tech roles if I'd wanted them. It's an excellent program.
What is your favorite memory from your time as an MPCS student?
My favorite memories were the opportunities to work with students and professors outside of class hours. We would meet to study at the library on weekends or I would come visit the office before class. Even taking one class at a time I felt like I formed a little community at MPCS.
What was your favorite MPCS course? Why?
Don't make me pick just one! If I have to though, I'd say that the all-time classic was Gerry Brady's Algorithms course. Gerry is an incredible teacher who has designed a course that I loved not only because it was challenging, but because over time you realized just how well Gerry designed every aspect of it. As I design courses of my own, I still talk about how fantastic both she and that course were.
How has your MPCS education helped you achieve your professional goals?
Thanks to MPCS I have a strong foundation in a wide array of computer science topics. This background not only helps me as I design new computer science courses for students and teachers, but it allows me to comfortably collaborate with the product and engineering teams at Code.org. Whether I'm writing a video script to explain how CPUs work or collaborating with the engineering team to design a new programming environment for students, I'm constantly using the computer science background I developed at MPCS. Also, I made the connection that eventually led to my current career through a talk hosted by MPCS!
What is a piece of advice you’d give someone considering applying to MPCS?
Taking one course at a time is a great way to go through MPCS. I was learning just as much at my work as I was at class and they complemented one another nicely. I found it allowed me to be more targeted in picking the courses I wanted.
Do you have any career advice for someone who's pursuing a job in your current field?
I'm not sure how many MPCS students are looking to get into the field of education, but if you've ever even considered it I highly recommend finding opportunities to volunteer and see if you like it. Also, don't hesitate to reach out to me directly!