Sammy Cannillo, MPCS Class of 2018: “As someone making a career pivot, studying at the MPCS was an incredible opportunity.”

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.


Sammy Cannillo graduated from the MPCS in December 2018. She shares her experience from her time in the MPCS: attending the Grace Hopper Celebration, her favorite classes, and how it has impacted her career as a Mobile Software Engineer at Braintree/PayPal. She also shares tips on how to get the best experience at GHC for our MPCS students attending virtual GHC this year! 

You attended GHC in 2018 while enrolled in the MPCS. Did your experience at GHC impact your career/professional aspirations? 

Definitely. I will never forget - I befriended a senior dev at Workday during GHC's closing party in line for the mechanical bull where she left me with some wise words: "Don't wait for the perfect time or the seemingly perfect position to open up. All experiences are valuable; you are talented; you can learn anything". I should write this on my fridge.

What are you most looking forward to at virtual GHC this year? 

This year I'm most looking forward to the talks 'AI/ML and Bots: Friend or Foe' by Dr. Crystal Acosta and ' Applying Accessibility and Gender Sensitive Design Strategy to API Design' by Dr. Anwesha Bhattacharjee.

We are sending 10 MPCS students to GHC this year - do you have any advice for them? 

Though GHC will be taking virtual form this year, I encourage the students to meet and connect with as many new faces as possible. Don't worry so much about getting someone's email or LinkedIn connection, but instead focus on listening to and learning from that person in the moment. Understanding other people's experience and perspective in the tech world will open your eyes to the endless opportunities that could exist for you. It's both thrilling and humbling to be surrounded by so many talented women who are all in one place to lift each other up. Take advantage!

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 B.S. in Psychology w/ Neuroscience from Penn State. I didn't have any formal CS training prior to the program. Dabbling in some data analysis work in undergrad combined with a long-time interest and intrigue in working with computers is what led me to MPCS. I knew studying CS would allow me to make a career out of one of my passions, though I wasn't exactly sure which one at the start.

What was one of the most valuable experiences you had in the MPCS (a specific class, a project you worked on, etc.) and why?

The functional programming course taught by Lamont Samuels was one of the most influential courses I took. It challenged my  habits and typical thought processes in writing applications. It taught me that learning new programming paradigms and design patterns will allow you to tackle problems from multiple angles, thus making you a better programmer. It was well worth the challenge!

The iOS courses were also very important to me, as they ignited my love for iOS application development. I later went on to TA the 1st iOS Application Development course and now work primarily as an iOS developer at Braintree/PayPal.

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

Yes. As someone making a career pivot, studying at the MPCS was an incredible opportunity. If you're willing to put in the hard work and time, the MPCS can help you gain strong CS fundamentals. UChicago as an institution has a ton of great career resources for both grads and undergrads that you shouldn't shy away from. Get involved and you'll get even more out of your MPCS experience.