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.
Lionel Barrow, Class of 2015, is a Engineering Manager at Braintree. Lionel shares how to make the most of your time at UChicago, reflects on his favorite MPCS memory and offers advice for those looking to apply to the program.
Did you come to MPCS with a computer science background?
Sort of; I knew how to program but had no understanding of computer science. I studied math and English in college. After school, I moved to the Bay Area and worked as a technical writer before getting an entry-level development job. After about 18 months of working as a developer I was accepted into the MPCS and started it part-time.
What motivated you to apply and enroll in MPCS?
I was doing okay as a self-taught programmer, but it always felt like there were some fundamental concepts in computer science that I was missing. Once I decided to get some formal training, MPCS was an easy choice.
What was your favorite MPCS course? Why?
My favorite MPCS course was Operating Systems with Anthony Nicholson. The OS class peels back all of the layers of abstraction and indirection that modern software is built on and teaches you how your computer really works. It was an incredible topic; but was made even more amazing by Anthony, who is a super talented professor.
I also enjoyed the High Performance Computing class with Andrew Siegel. In it, you get a timeshare on the supercomputers that UChicago and Argonne National Laboratory manage. Our final assignment was to simulate particle decay inside a nuclear reactor in order to determine if it would melt down or not. It was incredible!
What is your favorite memory from your time spent as a MPCS student?
For the final project of the Computer Architecture class with Ted Nugent we all built different IoT devices and spent the last lecture giving demos. People came up with amazing things like: heart rate monitors for couples, remote activated soil sensors, drones--even an internet-connected teddy bear. It was a great class, and people really went all out on the projects.
How has your MPCS education helped you achieve your professional goals?
The answer is simple. The MPCS made me a better software engineer.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I get in around 9am and usually spend some time working on technical projects to make my team more productive; such as speeding up our test suite or automating small tasks. We have a daily standup at 10am and after that my day can vary a lot.
I split my time between making sure projects are successful and helping individual engineers grow. For projects, that means I work on software architecture, help coordinate people and generally ask a lot of questions. For individuals, I act as a coach and sounding board. In both capacities my work is highly technical; I think having been an engineer makes me a much better manager of engineer teams.
What do you enjoy most about your profession?
Impact. Working in technology allows you to have an incredible impact on the world. It’s cheesy but you really are on the front lines of innovation. It's thrilling to see an idea go from the whiteboard to deployed to millions of people in just a few days or weeks.
Would you recommend MPCS to others? If so, why?
For sure. The program was exactly what I was looking for. I got great training in CS fundamentals and advanced training in specific areas, met some fantastic classmates and had a fun time!
What is a piece of advice you’d give someone considering applying to UChicago’s Masters Program in Computer Science?
First, I’d recommend working as a developer for a year or two before applying. You don’t have to, but I think you’ll get more out of the program if you do. Programming has a very intense learning curve for the first few months and if you’ve already gone through that you’ll have more time to explore the advanced topics the program offers.
Secondly, make sure you take advantage of the University of Chicago. Take classes at the business school (you can even do that for credit) or other graduate programs. Join clubs, play an intramural, meet people! It's hard to overstate how great U of C is if you make the effort to get out there.