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.
Laura Rokita, Class of 2015, is a Software Engineer at Google. Laura gives an inside look at a typical day in the Google NY offices, explains why you should take on challenging projects and shares the benefit of carpooling home from class.
Did you come to MPCS with a computer science background?
I did not come to MPCS with a computer science background. My undergraduate major was Information Technology Management and I had worked on the business end of tech startups. I did teach myself to code—mostly web development—for a couple years before the program, but did not have any formal computer science training.
What motivated you to apply and enroll in MPCS?
I had been working on the business side of startups in Chicago for about 4 years and teaching myself to code for a couple of them. I eventually realized that coding was one of my favorite things to do and I also felt confident that I wanted to work in the tech industry for the foreseeable future. After looking into various education options, I decided to give grad school a shot and applied for MPCS.
What was your favorite MPCS course? Why?
This is not an easy question! I liked many of my classes for a lot of different reasons. One of my favorite things about MPCS is that I took a good variety of classes. Some gave me a great foundation in computer science like: algorithms, networking, advanced databases, systems, and C. While others allowed me to dive into more modern technologies like: iOS, cloud computing, IoT, and web development.
I can’t choose one; but I’ll say that I really enjoyed algorithms, iOS development, and Computer Architecture/IoT.
What is your favorite memory from your time spent as a MPCS student?
A couple things come to mind. First, one of my favorite memories was at the end of the iOS Development course when everyone presented their final projects. I was super impressed by the diversity and complexity of iOS apps that people came up with in a very short time.
Second, I really enjoyed the carpools home from class. I lived on the north side of Chicago while I was a student, but did not have a car which made the commute—especially during the winter—tough. I ended up riding home with a small group of other students most nights which was a great time to get to know each other and talk about class.
How has your MPCS education helped you achieve your professional goals?
MPCS was an amazing stepping stone for me to go from a career in business to one as a software engineer. It allowed me to get interviews that I wouldn’t have gotten without a Master’s in CS and it set me up well for my current job as a software engineer. I really wouldn’t be close to where I am today without the program.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I typically start my day by grabbing a light breakfast in one of the Google cafes. Then, I head to my desk to catch up on email or company updates. I try to spend the rest of the morning tackling a tough problem while my mind is fresh. More often than not, this means writing code, but I might also work on a design document for a new feature, review someone else’s code, or spend some time reading and learning about a new technology.
In the afternoon I’ll continue working on a project and might have a couple team meetings. I would say that generally there aren’t too many meetings; and I like have big chunks of time to work on code. Google NY also has a plethora of extra talks and events you can go to if you’re interested. I really like these events so I try to go them whenever I can, often at lunch.
What do you enjoy most about your profession?
I love when I get to see something I built actually being used by people and hopefully improving their lives in some way. For me, it’s very rewarding when my code becomes a product.
I also love that I’m constantly learning something new and getting to tackle new challenges. There is so much to learn as a software engineer. With new platforms and technologies constantly being developed, it seems like it will be hard to ever get bored.
Would you recommend MPCS to others? If so, why?
Yes, I would recommend MPCS to people who want to switch to a career in software engineering or any career where a computer science background is helpful. I really value the foundation that UChicago gave me as a software engineer. I never would have taken the time to learn complex algorithms, computer systems, and networking (to name a few) on my own or thoroughly enough without the help of MPCS professors.
I can also say that the investment of time and money has paid off for me so far and I’m confident that I’ll continue to feel that way.
What is a piece of advice you’d give someone considering applying to UChicago’s Masters Program in Computer Science?
If you don’t have a computer science background, I think it’s important to make sure that you actually want to get a degree in computer science. Take some online coding classes or try to build something to make sure that you want to spend a lot of your time coding. There will be many late nights trying to fix a small bug or build something that you have no idea how to build; so you should make sure you like it first.
And then when you’re in the program, I would say to take hard classes or take on challenging projects even if they make you uncomfortable. One of the most important things I learned while in the program was how to overcome the feeling of ‘I have no idea how to do this’. I now find myself in that position regularly and I’m confident that I’ll be able to figure out whatever I need to.