Jan. 18, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 8

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    Computer Science masters program gives professionals an edge

    Doctors, lawyers, M.B.A.s and graduates of the College are among the applicants vying annually for coveted slots in the Chicago Masters and Professional Programs in Computer Science.

    “The new economy is generating a demand for information technology workers at a much higher rate than colleges and universities can educate them,” said Stuart Kurtz, Professor and Chairman of Computer Science. “Our program enables us to efficiently qualify people who would otherwise find it difficult to enter this sector of the economy.”

    Professional programs in computer science pervade the nation’s graduate schools, but the Chicago program may be unique in its focus on students who have little or no training in the field, Kurtz said.

    “Because our graduates have mastered two skills, computing and what they did before, they are uniquely valuable and more likely to assume positions of influence and independence,” he said.

    Graduates of this young Chicago program find jobs–often a month or two before graduation–at companies such as IBM, MCI, Intel, Microsoft, Sears, Bank One, CNN, NBC and an assortment of technological start-ups, hospitals and consulting organizations. Placement for graduates in the program is nearly 100 percent, and minimum reported salaries are in the $50,000-per-year range.

    Professional Programs Director Leo Irakliotis said he rates graduates’ success by promotions rather than salary size. “A lot of our graduates are doing very well out there,” Irakliotis said.

    Even before Irakliotis began advertising the program in the newspapers last year, he received approximately 200 applications annually from qualified students. The program received approximately 400 applications last year, and expects as many as 600 this year.

    “That translates into a very competitive admissions process,” he said. “We get some very well-qualified people with M.B.A.s and Ph.D.s who want to expand their computer skills.”

    The day may come when a professional degree in computer science is as valuable as an M.B.A., Irakliotis speculated. Or perhaps holding the two degrees together will emerge as the premium credentials of the professional world.

    “The impact of computers on business has been tremendous,” he said.

    Irakliotis came to Chicago from the business world in 1998. He previously worked as an executive engineer at MCI Telecommunications, where he reported to Vincent Cerf, senior vice president of MCI WorldCom and one of the original co-inventors of the Internet.

    Now Chicago students have the opportunity to delve into the technical details that underlie the recent explosion of Internet-based businesses in a course called Internet Programming. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first course on campus to explore the systems and technologies for electronic business and commerce,” Irakliotis said.

    Brian Ward, Lecturer in Computer Science, teaches the course. Students work in small groups to implement and demonstrate a fully functional and secure Web site suitable for marketing a product for consumers or businesses.

    The Chicago program draws students with an interest in science as well as business. Many students come to the program from the biological sciences to take advantage of the Computer Science Department’s substantial expertise in computational biology. The specialization has become central to the pharmaceutical industry for understanding the data flood produced by the national effort to map all the genes of the human body.

    Many other students in the program, approximately half, are recent graduates of the College. Irakliotis also likes to find the applicant who, though he or she may lack graduate training, has advanced through the ranks of an organization to managerial responsibilities.

    “Definitely, I want that person in my program,” he said. Classes meet in the evening and accommodate both full-time and part-time study. For most full-time students, training begins during the Summer Quarter with an immersion phase. During this period, students with little or no computer science background receive intensive basic training in programming and computer-essential mathematics.

    During the core phase, students take graduate-level courses in the fundamentals of applied computer programming, including database systems, networking and security, operating systems, management of computing resources, software architecture, multimedia systems and e-commerce.

    In the final, specialty phase, students learn advanced concepts in areas such as parallel computing, databases, programming, networking and biological computation.

    For more information about the program, see http://professional.cs.uchicago.edu/.