Ha (Kelly) Tran, Current MPCS student: If you are considering applying to the MPCS, my advice for you is “Just do it."

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.

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Kelly Tran, a current MPCS student in the 12-Course Program, tells us about her experience growing up in Vietnam, her first experience with programming, and her current internship at PayPal in Software Engineering.

What motivated you to apply and enroll in the MPCS Program?

Growing up in Vietnam - a conservative male-dominated country - as a female, I never seriously considered software engineering a feasible career option. Ever since I was little, I always loved technology and innovation. Although the thought of going into engineering in college crossed my mind countless times, I fell under the fallacy that STEM-related careers are for males, and I would never make it in the tech world. Instead, I chose to go to Villanova School of Business for undergrad, double majoring in Finance and Accounting.

With my background, I had been always working on the non-technical side with various business roles after graduation. Over the years, I realize I would like to obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to become a builder and creator. A little more than a year ago, I printed out my very first "Hello, World” and finally had the guts to step out of my comfort zone and follow my passion. 

I googled what options I had to break into tech without a technical background. I had self doubts about pursuing a masters degree in Computer Science, let alone at a top school like UChicago. However, I studied for the GRE and tried my luck applying to the MPCS Program. “I had nothing to lose by submitting the application,” I finally convinced myself. I felt on top of the world when I got the acceptance letter. It has been both a difficult and rewarding experience with many late nights and a lot of struggles (and joy). I'm so glad I made the decision.
 

What have been your favorite MPCS courses? Most influential instructors? Why?

I like all my MPCS courses and get great support from all of my professors. And no, I'm not exaggerating. All of my professors are experts in their fields and so passionate about what they teach. 

I took Java Programming with Dr. Adam Gerber and Databases with Dr. Aaron Elmore, which helped me attain the knowledge and skills (Java, Spring Boot, SQL, etc.) that I use on a daily basis now at my current job with PayPal. 

I had Algorithms with Dr. Amitabh Chaudhary - It was the most difficult class I took so far. There were times I seriously just wanted to give up, but Dr. Chaudhary offered help by going through the materials 1:1 with me during office hours (twice a week for 10 weeks straight). “Kelly you can do this," Dr. Chaudhary said so many times. What I learned from Algorithms class really prepared me well for technical interviews and helped me get Software Engineering/Product Manager internship offers. I'm forever grateful for Dr. Chaudhary’s kindness.

I took Applied Software Engineering with Professor Peter Vassilatos. I learned a great deal about backend development: architectural design patterns, software quality control, security and cryptography essentials, test-driven development, as well as continuous integration & deployment. Professor Vassilatos also taught me a life-long lesson to face my mistakes and learn from them. 

iOS Application Development with Dr. T. Andrew Binkowski is hands down the most fun class I had. I learned the fundamentals of mobile application development using Apple’s iOS SDK, Swift programming language, object-oriented design, and the model-view-controller pattern to build fully-featured iPhone and iPad applications. I appreciate Dr. Binkowski’s extensive knowledge and experience in iOS native application development as well as his sense of humor, which created a great exciting learning experience. My final project was to build a lifestyle app named Horoscorpio, a free horoscope application updated on a daily basis that I published to the Appstore.

What’s great about MPCS is that I can take some elective courses from other schools at UChicago during my program. This coming fall quarter, I'm very excited to get selected from a competitive accomplished set of students to participate in UChicago Booth School of Business course Hacking for Defense. I will have a chance to work with domain experts across the Department of Defense and Intelligence Agencies to create breakout solutions to real-world problems facing one of the world’s largest bureaucracies.

This summer, you have had a Software Engineering internship at PayPal, can you tell us a bit about how it’s been?

This summer, I work as a software engineer intern on the Identity - Customer Growth Platform Team as well as a technical product manager intern on the Global Data Science Products - Horizon Team (through the great program called Intern Product Exchange) with PayPal.

Joining PayPal, I hope to combine my background in finance with technology to make more positive impacts in the world. It’s awesome to join the global team to reimagine finance and democratize financial services!

It is hard to define the most exciting moment for me during this internship. I didn't know working from home could be so fun and memorable. The weekend before the internship, I was welcomed with a huge package of all the cool swags, a latest Macbook Pro, and a brand new 34-inch monitor from PayPal. Together with my intern class, I get to do so many fun (virtual) activities (scavenger hunt, escape the room, making boba from scratch, painting, magic show, fitness challenge, hackathon, startup pitching, pinastagram flashmob,...). I get to work on developing new features of PayPal's high performing and scalable onboarding APIs, which have some impacts on PayPal's 400 million users. Everyday, I meet (virtually) and work with some of the most passionate, hard working, and intelligent people from all over the world. Among 200 interns in the class of 2021, I'm also very fortunate to have a 30 minute 1:1 with Dan Schulman, President and CEO of PayPal, at the end of my internship.

The 12 week internship, albeit being virtual, has been the most productive, engaging and satisfying learning experience. Not only did I improve my technical skills, but I also made great lifelong friends and connections. Through the internship, I have realized that physical space is not what brings people together. It is a desire to learn, innovate, and connect with others for a common purpose. I'm so thankful for the University Team, Customer Growth Platform, Global Data Science - Horizon, everyone at PayPal, the MPCS program, and all of my professors for this amazing internship opportunity.
 

What is a piece of advice you’d give someone considering applying to the MPCS?

From my very first “Hello, World” I could never imagine that within a year, I'd be back to the US and pursuing a masters degree in Computer Science at UChicago. The program is well designed. MPCS offers courses that help me not only fill the gap in understanding Computer Science fundamentals but also gain practical hands-on experience for job seeking and future career development. To my surprise, after a short period of time, I am now able to program in several different languages (Java, Python, C, Swift, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL, etc.) and build applications from scratch. I'm well prepared for interviews and able to perform in technical roles. I also have a chance to partner with my UChicago Booth friends to build an exciting startup from the ground up.

A year ago I would have thought the idea of me pursuing a masters in Computer Science with a non-technical background, securing a technical job offer, and performing well in engineering positions to be a crazy unrealistic one. The imposter syndrome kicked in hard and many times I thought about giving up on the MPCS application as well as the job searching process. I was the one who said “NO's" to myself but fortunately, UChicago and PayPal gave me the YES’s. If you are considering applying to the MPCS and worrying about the unknown future, my advice for you is “Just do it.” I learned that hard work, luck, and kindness from others can pay off. I'm glad that I pulled through.