On Working with Incredibly Smart People to Solve Difficult Problems: Kathryn Smith (Class of 2016)

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 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 careers and leadership roles.

Kathryn Smith University of Chicago MPCS

Kathryn Smith, class of ‘16,  is a software engineer at Braintree. Here, she talks about how beneficial her time in the MPCS was, how she applies the lessons she learned in the MPCS to her position at Braintree, and how the “ah ha!” moment in her Compilers course was exhilarating.

What does a great day at work look like for you?

A great day at work is one where my pair and I have a challenging problem to solve (which happens often since I work on scaling our application).  We use creativity and analytics to identify potential areas of improvement. Then we propose a solution, test it to exhaustion, adjust and retest as needed, and ultimately make our application faster and more resilient to scaling.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

I love working with incredibly smart people on difficult problems. There’s never a dull day. Some days I benchmark our application, use analytics to identify areas of improvement, and research and implement software or hardware updates, and some days I'm improving existing software by keeping up to date on industry trends. There is a lot of room for autonomy and creativity in my role. 

What motivated you to apply and enroll in MPCS?

I was originally in a different University of Chicago master’s program and got bored quickly realizing that I much preferred building and solving problems. I wanted to stay at UC and was delighted to see they had a professional master's program for Computer Science, which aligned with my career goals. 

Did you come to MPCS with a computer science background?

I didn’t come to MPCS with a computer science background but I did come with programming experience. I had been programming since college. I was first introduced to programming via a math class that required Matlab. From there, I learned SAS and R and always enjoyed spending hours completing and extending the homework assignments and projects. My first job out of college was a SAS programming job and I quickly hit a ceiling of technical skills, so I began looking at more CS-aligned careers. 

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


Of course! The program offers a lot of different classes to create the perfect curriculum to explore as well as sharpen skills. I was able to take classes that focused on low level computer hardware and software (Compiles, Computer Architecture) as well as holistic application creation classes (Databases, iOS programming). This directly lead to my ability to be hired by Braintree and contributed to my job satisfaction. 

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

Compilers was one of my most difficult classes and achieving that “Ah ha!” moment that caused it all to fall into place and finally make sense is a fond memory. I also met wonderful people who became friends AND coworkers!

What was your favorite MPCS course? Why?

My favorite class was Computer Architecture because I finally learned all the pieces of a computer and how they interact together, mastered binary, and built an IoT gadget! It was incredibly fun to marry the software and the hardware.

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

MPCS gave me a strong foundation and connected me with other smart people with whom I now work!

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

MPCS is a great program if you have little-to-no formal CS training and will provide plenty of opportunities to study for topics. You’ll also meet great people!