Valerie Woolard ‘14, Software Engineer at Panoply

Valerie Woolard MPCS

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.

Valerie Woolard, Class of 2014, is a Software Engineer at Panoply. Valerie shares how the MPCS prepared her for real world projects, reflects on what makes Computer Science a great industry for problem solvers and describes a typical day in the office.

Did you come to MPCS with a computer science background?

Yes, I had taken computer science classes as part of my undergraduate coursework. Additionally, I dabbled in coding at work and during my free time prior to enrolling in the MPCS.

What motivated you to apply and enroll in MPCS?

I had taken a few computer science classes in college and found them really interesting. After working at a technology company for a few years after graduation, I decided that I wanted to take the plunge and become a software engineer. I considered self-study and bootcamp options, but liked the idea of enrolling in a full-time program to learn the fundamentals in a more academic context.

What was your favorite MPCS course? Why?

Algorithms was really satisfying. It made me really enjoy and seek out algorithmic problems and puzzles. Now I even help run a Meetup for Women Who Code in DC where we pick algorithm problems and work through them together. They can be really frustrating, but when things finally click it’s so satisfying—like solving a crossword puzzle.

What is your favorite memory from your time spent as a MPCS student?

I really enjoyed working on a practicum for a professor in the astronomy department. It gave me a good glimpse into what developing software in the “real” world is like, rather than in a classroom setting.

How has your MPCS education helped you achieve your professional goals?

The MPCS gave me a great mix of academic, fundamental computer science skills and immediately-applicable, practical professional software development skills.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

I spend pretty much all of my time writing and debugging code--mostly in Ruby on Rails and a little bit of Javascript. Our team has a daily standup where we discuss what we’re currently working on and talk out any blockers that we have. I also help review the code of other members of my team and sometimes pair program with them.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

I love solving problems, and programming just feels like problem-solving as a career. Working on a feature and watching it transform from nothing into a working product is incredibly satisfying. I also find that fellow software developers tend to share my desire to be constantly learning and tinkering, which is an environment that I really enjoy being a part of.

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

Yes, I would. I really enjoyed the time I spent in the MPCS and at UChicago. I loved the opportunity to take classes in computer science fundamentals like algorithms and networking, as well as more hands-on practical skills like web development.

What is a piece of advice you’d give someone considering applying to UChicago’s Masters Program in Computer Science?

I’d tell them to spend as much time getting familiar with programming as they can to see how they like it and whether it’s a career they’d enjoy. Of course, a degree in computer science can be helpful for other jobs besides being a straight-up software engineer, but you should choose and tailor your education and classes with those goals in mind. Think about the skills that are most important for you to acquire and how best to learn them. Also think about how you learn best. For me, a full-time classroom setting is really helpful, other people are much better at self-study or other formats.

Read more alumni profiles here or learn about MPCS program and application process.