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.
Michael Abramowitz, Class of 2012, is a Managing Director of Market Regulation at the National Futures Association. Michael walks us through his version of a great day at work, recounts his favorite UChicago memory and shares how the MPCS took him from a tech enthusiast to a technology expert.
Did you come to MPCS with a computer science background?
When I came to the Masters Program of Computer Science, I had only a limited computer science background having written some VB for excel.
What motivated you to join the MPCS?
I have spent most of my career working with derivatives. I started on the floors of the CME and CBOT brokering futures on open outcry trading floors. I watched technology transform this industry and recognized the future rested with electronic trading. I feel that exchanges and capital markets are actually applied technology companies. To be competitive in this field, it is increasingly important to have a solid technology background. I did not want to just speak in generalities about technology, I wanted to have the expertise to understand technology and implement technology solutions. I joined MPCS to develop these skills and enhance my career.
What was your favorite MPCS course? Why?
OO Architecture: Patterns, Technologies, Implementations - Mark Schacklette.
This class taught me how to build a complicated system. For me, it brought a lot of the foundational classes I had taken together. Going into this class, I understood some computer science concepts in isolation. This class showed me how to use these skills to work with a team and take something from an idea to implementation. Like many of the MPCS faculty, Professor Schacklette has an amazing ability to eloquently express complex technical concepts. I still paraphrase a lot of his lectures when I want to sound smart in a design meeting.
What is your favorite memory from your time spent as a MPCS student?
My favorite memory is working on a project a classmate and I devised together as an MPCS assignment. It was an iOS application built with a cloud hosted server. We spent night after night pair programming nearly the entire app’s frontend and backend. We literally sat on a couch, passing a wireless keyboard back and forth, with a laptop connected to a tv and white board with graffitied with ideas. I learned so much from my partner on this project and I hope he learned something from me. It amazed me how two minds could come up with such different solutions to the same problem. The joy of the memory is what we went through making it work. We took an elephant and ate it one bite at a time. I am still in love with that feeling.
How has your MPCS education impacted your career?
The MPCS impacts every day of my career. Prior to the MPCS the extent of my technical ability was some automation of Microsoft excel spreadsheets. After MPCS, I am confident in my skills as a programmer, a manager of technical projects, and in my understanding of technology trends in my industry. MPCS allowed me to become a technology expert and not just a technology enthusiast.
What does a great day at work look like for you?
A great day for me is one where I get to jump in and get my hands dirty. In my current role, I do not get to do that much programming. As much as I am proud of the processes we have designed and systems we have engineered, I actually live for the moments when things go wrong. I love the opportunities where I get to jump in, think on my feet or brainstorm with a team and come up a solution under a tight deadline. Our goals are to design and develop processes and systems that are resistant to failures. But, I love the moment where that fringe case gets uncovered, things go wrong, and we have to work under pressure to fix it.
What do you enjoy most about your profession?
I'm fortunate in my current role to be able to bring together two of my interests: computer science and financial markets. I fell in love with finance the first day I set foot on a trading floor and felt the pulse of a market. I fell in love with computers during the MPCS after writing my first real program. Each field on its own is both challenging and dynamic. Put together, the dynamism is compounded. My current profession allows me to live at this intersection. I can take holistic views of markets, technology, and regulatory policy, but also remain close enough to the business and transactions to see what is actually going on on the ground.
Would you recommend MPCS to others? If so, why?
I would recommend MPCS to others and I often do. The MPCS strikes the right balance between theory and practice. It is theoretical enough where the skills you learn can transfer to various technology stacks. It is practical enough where you earn the triumphs and heartaches that accompany real software development. You earn your scar tissue in a way that you are ready for any battle. It is a great program, with a great faculty and administration that are passionate about the curriculum and your success. It is also a great place to meet intelligent, motivated, and technical classmates that will both push you to be better and help you get there.
What is a piece of advice you’d give someone considering applying to UChicago’s Masters Program in Computer Science?
Ask yourself a question: has technology impacted your life? If the answer is yes, then ask yourself another question: Do you want to be reactive to the forces of technology or be a part of the force that is shaping the world? If the answer is the latter, the MPCS will give you the skills to get there.