OMSCS | Part I, Application and Admission
The OMSCS series covers my personal experience going through Georgia Tech's Online Master's in Computer Science. This is the first part in the series, which covers my goals for the program, the application/admission process, and what's going on in my personal life. My hope is that this guide will be useful as a reference for current and prospective students.
Coming out of College (UChicago)
For a host of reasons, I graduated early from the University of Chicago with an Economics major and a specialization in Data Science. Those reasons varied from financial concerns, to the professors and classmates I interacted with, and consideration for my personal well-being.
Although I had taken several CS courses at UChicago and enjoyed their content, I felt that the undergraduate CS environment at the college was not a good fit for me. On top of challenges in my personal life (beyond my control), I decided it was not worth it to complete my CS major at UChicago.
Nonetheless, I interned in frontend software engineering at a digital agency the summer before graduating and loved the day-to-day. I strongly considered applying to Georgia Tech's Online Master's in Computer Science (OMSCS), which would allow me to obtain a Master's in CS while working full-time after graduation.
I graduated from UChicago two quarters early in December 2019, and immediately began looking for full-time jobs.
Applying to OMSCS
In early February 2020 I was flown from Chicago out to Boston to interview at a travel startup called Hopper. One of my interviewers had been through the program and spoke highly of how it had helped them transition from data analytics to data science. That pretty much sold me on OMSCS, and I applied on Leap Day right before the deadline. I was offered a full-time position as an Economist at Hopper (a role on their Pricing & Recommendations team within the Data Science vertical) a week or so after my interview.
During my interview, I was asked how a novel virus in China might affect airline prices and travel in the U.S. I answered as best as I could, but I severely underestimated the impact coronavirus would have on international travel and my future job.
In case it's useful for prospective students reading this, I did not take the GRE, and I had a 3.3 GPA as an Economics Major at UChicago when I applied. I got recommendations from an inspiring CS Professor whose course I had enjoyed, a frontend software architect from my internship at the digital agency, and a manager from a prior internship in venture capital. They are all incredible people, and I simply couldn't have made it into the program as a new grad without full-time work experience had it not been for their support.
I was planning to work full-time as an Economist at Hopper while taking the OMSCS program. I flew to Boston in early March to look for apartments, found a place I liked, and signed a 12-month lease soon after. In mid-March I packed up everything into a U-Haul and drove to Boston with my dad and little brother. It's really hard to sufficiently articulate the emotional rollercoaster that moving to a new city can be.
On the day I arrived in Boston, I was advised that the company would have me onboard and work remotely due to Covid-19. Two weeks into starting my new job (and first job out of college), I was laid off with a number of others as the travel industry nosedived. As difficult as it was, I learned a lot from my time at Hopper and met many kind people. From my brief time there and throughout the interview process, it seemed like a wonderful place to work.
There's a lot you can learn at your first job, and there's even more you learn when you lose it. I got out of my lease in mid-April (thanks to a wonderful apartment manager), and packed up as many of my belongings as I could into a nearby storage unit. My girlfriend and I then packed up my car with everything else, and trekked back over frosty highways to Chicago. I couldn't help but feel that our world is a chaotic combination of hard work and luck. You can only hope both are in your favor.
Within a week of being back, I learned I was accepted to OMSCS.
It's now nearly August 2020, and it's been rather difficult to find full-time work in software (or data science for that matter). I'm unsure of whether it's the economy (which has made the job market more competitive and reduced open positions), or my current credentials and experience with regards to the entry level roles I'm applying for. Either way, my goals for the program have measurably changed.
Whereas when applying to the program I viewed it as an opportunity to up-credential myself for more technical roles at Hopper, I now view it as a stepping stone for a longer and more adventurous career in computer science. I expect it to span numerous companies and roles, and I hope somewhere along the way to find financial stability and a greater sense of place.
And perhaps in a different vein, I'm taking this program from a place of greater stability and maturity. I would like to prove to myself that I can get a degree in Computer Science, provided that it is affordable and flexible with the chaos that comes from living life.
I'm 21, I'm about a week from registering for my first class, and I'm ready for the marathon that is this program.
Let's get it.