Isabel Lee, class of 2017: “The MPCS prepared me with the fundamental knowledge that I needed.”

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.

Isabel Lee University of Chicago MPCS

Isabel Lee, class of 2017, is a Software Engineer at Littlstar. She tells us how programming for the first time felt, how the MPCS gave her the confidence and skills to find solutions, and why iOS development was her favorite course.

What does a great day at work look like for you?

No crazy crash reports, no lengthy meetings, and lots and lots of coding! Maybe also some black tea and donuts!

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

New challenges and exciting new technology to learn about, the amazing and smart people I work with, and definitely flexible work hours!

Which programming language/technical skills do you use most often at work?

I started at Littlstar as an iOS developer, so I use Swift / iOS the most. However, part of the fun of working at a startup is you always have chances to do other things if you want to. A few months after joining Littlstar, we started working on a blockchain project called Ara, so I learned a lot about the Ethereum blockchain, Javascript, and building cross-platform desktop apps using Electron. We recently started using Flutter / Dart for mobile development as well.

Describe a problem at work that your MPCS knowledge helped you solve.

Everything. Courses I took at MPCS may not be directly related to the problems I encounter at work, but the program prepared me with the fundamental knowledge that I needed. It also gave me the confidence and skills to find solutions.

Did you come to MPCS with a computer science background? What motivated you to apply and enroll?

No. I started working as a sales assistant at an integrated circuit design company after graduating from college with a Language and Literature degree. Every day I went home feeling exhausted and under-appreciated. I was constantly taunted by my supervisor for using Excel, not programming languages, to process sales data.

I started learning Python online and gradually started to automate a huge part of my work. Programming was so valuable and improved my work efficiency greatly. After a while, I realized that it was the aspect of my work that I enjoyed the most (It also pays much better!). So I started thinking about a career change and pursuing a computer science degree.

What about the future of the computer science/tech industry most excites you?

The best thing about working in tech is that there is always something new and exciting. I remember the first day I started programming. It felt like magic.

If I had to pick one, I would probably pick machine learning because it’s applicable in so many fields, and also incredibly cool. However, it always seems like the next exciting thing is right around the corner.

Would you recommend MPCS to others? If so, why?

Yes. One of my favorite things about MPCS is that it offers a broad selection of courses in both computer science theory and application, and one can shape their graduate study based on their interest in different fields. Being able to graduate in just 9 months is also a huge plus if you don’t want to spend two or three years getting a master's degree.

What is your favorite memory from your time as an MPCS student?

Hack night at Polsky Center. Programming is sometimes lonely since you don’t collaborate with people that often, so it’s always fun to meet new people at hack night and have interesting conversations about tech. Honestly, who wouldn’t love free pizza, friends, and coding?

What was your favorite MPCS course? Why?

iOS Development. This course covered most things one would need to know about iOS development, was super fun and challenging, and also very relevant to the current software development trends. During the course, we were encouraged to apply for the WWDC student scholarship. It ended up being a life-changing experience and opened so many doors for me when I started job hunting. I wouldn’t have acquired the skills to apply for the scholarship without this course, so I am very grateful for Professor Binkowski and all the TAs who helped make it a reality.

After taking the course, I took Advance iOS and Backend for Mobile Development. When I started interviewing for mobile development positions, I realized that the skills and knowledge I acquired through these courses are exactly what companies are looking for, and I was able to start contributing to projects right away without any work experience. 

How has your MPCS education helped you achieve your professional goals?

With a Foreign Language and Literature B.S. degree, it would be very hard to get interviews at a tech company without a degree in a related field. I mainly focused on mobile development courses and had no issue finding a mobile developer position after graduating.

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

Do it! It’s definitely worth it. There’s a lot that UChicago and MPCS have to offer, but I didn’t take full advantage of it since I was so focused on graduating in 9 months.

Do you have any career advice for someone who's pursuing a job in your current field?

Take iOS Development, Advance iOS, Backends for Mobile Application. And also make sure to apply for the WWDC student scholarship!