John Mahoney, Programmer at Phosphor Games, Class of 2014

University of Chicago Masters Program in Computer Science alumni 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 esteemed alumni use their applied skills 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.

John Mahoney

John Mahoney, Class of 2014, is a Programmer at Phosphor Games. John reflects on his favorite MPCS memory, shares what motivated him to apply and walks us through a day in the life of a video game programmer.

Did you come to MPCS with a computer science background?

My bachelor’s degree was in mathematics with computer science applications, which included some introductory algorithms and programming courses. The MPCS helped me build on my strong foundation in mathematics and apply it effectively to problems in computer science.

What motivated you to apply and enroll in MPCS?

It has always been my dream to make video games for a living, but I wanted to become more than just the average programmer with a two or four-year degree in CS. Attaining a world-class education in computer science at the MPCS allowed me to achieve that.

What was your favorite MPCS course? Why?

It’s impossible to choose a single course. But after working in the industry for over a year I would probably choose Intro to Computer Systems. Building a processor and compiler from the ground up really gave me a fundamental understanding of how a computer works and what my code is actually doing, and is useful in my work every day.

What is your favorite memory from your time spent as a MPCS student?

While taking the C++ course taught by Mike Spertus, he had to leave for a week halfway through the quarter to attend a meeting of the C++ standardization committee. He took questions from the class with him and returned with direct responses from committee members who were working on the subjects of those questions, including one from Bjarne Stroustrup himself.

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

The reputation of the school allowed me to selectively apply for the job I wanted most. The education itself has been invaluable to me every day. I am able to understand and contribute meaningfully to large, complex software systems and act as a valuable part of a team of highly skilled engineers.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

Being in the video game industry, our workplace has a pretty informal atmosphere. Playing games during the work day is not out of the ordinary. A typical day for me usually starts with a stand up meeting in the studio’s motion capture room where each team member gives an update on their progress. I then tackle any new high-priority bugs that have been assigned to me. The rest of the day is spent implementing new features, reviewing code for my coworkers and attending planning meetings.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

I enjoy the opportunity it gives me to interact with highly talented professionals across many disciplines; from art and animation to audio engineering, game design and of course programming. It has given me the chance to expand my skillset and knowledge in unexpected ways. A game engine is a large piece of software, and I always like diving into and learning a new subsystem that I’ve never worked with before.

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

Definitely! The quality of education and the experience of attending a school like the University of Chicago are worth every penny of the cost and the rigorous work involved.

What is a piece of advice you’d give someone considering applying to UChicago’s Masters Program in Computer Science?

Get to know your professors. These are some of the most talented and experienced people in the industry and have much to offer beyond their lectures.