Computing Science Graduand Has Incredible Journey To Completing Second Degree
By: Andrew Ringer
Seven years ago, SFU computing science graduand Julie Jen decided she wanted a change. While working as a chartered professional accountant in her early 30s, she was intrigued by the work that her husband and friends were doing in computing science and decided to start taking computing science courses at SFU while still working full-time.
Having difficulty managing working full-time and taking courses, she went back to working exclusively. During this period, however, she couldn’t stop thinking about the materials she had learnt in SFU’s School of Computing Science. Shortly after, she decided to go back to taking computing science courses, even using her vacation time to attend in-person lectures, before eventually deciding to go back to school full-time as a second-degree student.
Now looking back, she feels that she made the right decision.
“Going back to school to do a second degree took me a few years, but I feel like it was a good investment because I figured out what I want to do and now have many career opportunities,” she says.
Jen’s passion for computer science was evident throughout her degree. The first project that captured her attention was a group project in CMPT 120 in which she was tasked to build a game. Despite needing to complete the project by herself due to her busy work schedule, she was immediately hooked on the ability to build something from scratch.
“The experience I had of building things from nothing by coding was very rewarding, even if it was challenging,” she says.
Her success in her first few years studying computer science helped her land an internship at Microsoft, where she continued to develop her passion and skills in software development at the Redmond, Washington headquarters. When the pandemic began, she was appreciative for the ability to continue in this role remotely.
During this time, she found out that she was pregnant. Calculating how much time was left in her degree, she realized that she still had to complete 10 courses in order to graduate. Thinking that she would be even more busy after giving birth, she decided to finish her degree as soon as she could.
This included finishing her Capstone project, where Jen and her partners, including computing science professor Angelica Lim and PhD candidate Paige Tuttösí, built a website that helps researchers look into how different voices affect a person’s ability to learn from a teacher. The goal of this project was to build a website to collect voice data for researchers to help them make robot teaching voices more engaging for students. For their work, Jen and her team received the People’s Choice Award at the CS Undergraduate Research Symposium this past April.
As for her courses, Jen is grateful for how accommodating the computing science faculty was to enable her to complete her degree successfully. Despite their efforts to be accommodating, however, there were times that they couldn’t keep Jen away from the computer. For example, she was even working on an assignment the day before the scheduled delivery of her twins, despite being told that she had completed the requirements for the course!
Now done her second degree, Jen is excited to be able to spend well-deserved time with her family. She has recently returned to Microsoft as a full-time employee and is joining the same Cloud + AI (Business Applications & Platform) team that she worked with during her internships, while working remotely.
Her story is a reminder that it is never too late to change your career path, and just how much can be accomplished by somebody that is passionate about the work that they are doing.