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.
Curren Mehta graduated from the MPCS in Winter 2018. He currently works as a Product Manager at Microsoft on the engineering team in the Azure Cybersecurity division. He shares why he decided on a career in Product Management, and how he’s kept involved with UChicago in the Pacific Northwest.
Did you come to the MPCS with a computer science background? What motivated you to apply and enroll?
I came to the MPCS with a problem-solving background but not a computer science background. I was a mathematics major in undergrad and really enjoyed thinking analytically about how to solve problems. I was able to do research in undergrad on the mathematical models behind artificial intelligence and data science, but didn't yet have all the computer science skills I needed to write production algorithms. I then decided it would be best for me to study computer science where I could learn about the computer science theory and programming skills needed to put my mathematical knowledge into applied use. The University of Chicago has an amazing reputation and is known as a thought leader, and that immediately caught my eye. Further, the MPCS program seemed like a perfect program for me because it would teach me a rigorous base of computer science knowledge at a graduate level, and then give me the flexibility to pick courses based on my career interests.
Can you tell us a bit about your new role at Microsoft?
Right now I work as a Product / Program Manager (PM) at Microsoft. I work on the engineering team in our Azure Cybersecurity division. Specifically, I focus on tools that enterprise corporations use to verify user identities and manage identity life cycles within their organizations. These tools ensure that users only have access to what they should, that users are who they say they are, and that malicious user behaviour is not occuring. As a PM, I am responsible for end-to-end feature development. I work on creating the spec documents and designs that define how a feature will come together. I also help lead the engineering development team through the process of building the feature, and then work with customers and our release team to ensure that the feature is successfully released to our end users. Outside of the development cycles, I am also responsible for helping put together the roadmap for our feature line, and establishing and measuring success metrics for our products.
How did you decide you wanted to work in Product Management?
I picked product management as a career for a few reasons. The first is that it allows me to have an impact on the entire cycle of the development process. Rather than just focusing on the software development aspect, I am also able to work on the ideation and designs behind a feature, have discussions with customers around feedback and future plans, work on leading development cycles, and be responsible for establishing and measuring success metrics for any feature. Additionally, being a product manager allows me to use my computer science and math background every day when working with engineers to build enterprise-grade software, but also helps me build business and strategy skills that will set me up for a career in leadership within a tech company in the future.
We see you are a Board Member for the UChicago Alumni Club of Seattle. What has that been like?
Right now I am serving a two-year term as a board member for The University of Chicago (UChicago) Alumni Club's Seattle branch. This has been an incredible opportunity to connect with other alumni in the region and grow UChicago's presence in the Pacific Northwest. We get together and put on social and intellectual events that bring together alumni from across the region across all industries and stages of life. I'm really enjoying being able to continue my connection with the university community and make new friends and connections.
What was one of the most valuable experiences you had in the MPCS?
For me a very valuable aspect of the MPCS program was the flexibility that it provided me to learn about topics that would go on to impact my career greatly. Two of my favorite courses were a data science course I took and also the Product Management course. The data science course taught me how to use data to inform decisions at scale by using my math/analytical background to create models that help make empirical decisions. The product management course taught me about the theory and practice behind many of the business / strategy skills I would later use as a product manager, such as writing road maps or creating user stories. Both of these courses have taught me skills I use routinely in my day to day job at Microsoft. Additionally, I had the chance to later return and serve as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for the product management course. Being a TA has been an incredible experience as well because it has actually forced me to deepen my own understanding of course materials and also stay up to date on what is being taught in the class and the industry at large.
How has your MPCS education helped you achieve your professional goals?
I don't think I'd be where I am right now in my career or have my job at Microsoft if it weren't for my time in the MPCS program at UChicago. Gaining core competencies at a deep, graduate level in computer science and understanding how to apply my analytical background to produce tangible, applied software has been extremely valuable for me in my career so far. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to take specific courses that taught me things I use at work every day (like data science and product management). I was also able to build a great network of friends and colleagues in the program for which I am very grateful.
Would you recommend the MPCS to others?
I would absolutely 100% encourage and recommend the MPCS program at UChicago to anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of computer science and succeed in building a product or engineering career. The program offers a rigorous core in computer science but also offers unparalleled flexibility that students can optimize on to match their goals. The university itself has an amazing reputation for being a thought leader and there are tons of opportunities to get involved within the department or university at large. Also, I was able to make great friends and connections that will remain with me for many decades.
What is the best piece of advice you would share with someone who is deciding on whether to attend the MPCS or not?
My advice to those deciding whether or not to attend this program is to just attend! But seriously, attending this program was one of the best decisions I've made in my life. The network you will build in the program is incredible and the flexibility to tailor the program to your goals is unlike something you will find elsewhere. Of course, the city of Chicago is incredible too and is one of my favourite places that I have lived.