January 11, 2022

From Admin to Software Engineer

Katie Pizziketti, MCIT ’21, studied psychology as an undergraduate, but she’s always had an interest in computers. So when she was ready to pivot from a career in research administration, she turned to MCIT Online. We recently spoke with Pizziketti about how the program helped her learn new skills, build her confidence—and start an exciting new career.

What drew you to the computer field?

I’ve always liked computers. I would sit on my dad’s lap while he played some of the earliest computer games, and I built my own computer once I got into gaming. And of course, computer skills are in great demand. So when I was ready for a career change after seven years in mental health and neurological research, technology was a natural choice.

How did you choose MCIT Online?

Penn’s program offered the equivalent skills and knowledge of a bachelor’s in computer science, but with master’s-level coursework. The online format was also important to me, because I wanted to continue working full-time. And the cost is very affordable for an Ivy League program.

What was your experience like as a new student in the program?

My first semester was a tough adjustment. I had never done any programming, so I had a lot to learn. But I did it—and I got an A minus in the hardest math course I’ve ever taken. So I knew I could do it. And one thing I learned about graduate school is that no one’s afraid of hard work.  

Katie is holding her cat Nova who is a white cat and Nova has a yellow cap on his head.
Katie and her cat Nova. Animals are also a great way to relieve stress!

What did you do to manage the stress?

I know from past experience that the best way to get support and to connect with other people is to offer vulnerability. So I created a support channel on Slack where I offered a listening ear and shared some of my own experiences. And then other people started opening up and providing support to each other.

Was there a turning point for you in the program?

For me the turning point was CIT 593 [Introduction to Computer Science]. That’s when I started to learn the things that had fascinated me about computers from the very beginning—the hardware side, the ones and zeros, how it all really works. I was so excited to share my passion for computer science that I decided to TA that course.

What did you enjoy about being a TA?

I loved answering people’s questions and helping other students. I would have students come to me and say, I just got this grade and I’m devastated. And I’d say, I’ve had bad grades too. I was where you were, and I felt the struggle. It was empowering to reach the point where I could help the newbies and not be the newbie. It also helped me to identify my own strengths and realize that working with people is where my real passion and talents are.

How did the online format work for you?

One of the advantages of the online format is that every student’s learning style can be accommodated. There were reading materials for those who learn by reading and videos for those who wanted to watch. And for people who learn through interacting with other people, we had TA office hours and a forum for students to ask and answer questions. Everyone had their favorite way to engage with the material.

What were your top takeaways from the program?

First of all, I developed the skills I needed to make a successful career transition. Beyond that, I joined a great community of kind and generous people who build each other up and provide an amazing professional network. Finally, the program had a big impact on my personal and emotional development. Every single semester, I had a steep learning curve ahead of me. But I did it! And the experience gave me the confidence that I can overcome challenges and reach my goals.

What are you doing now?

I’m working for Vanguard, the investment company, as a software engineer. I graduated in August 2021 and started my job that same month. And because of the job, I was able to buy my first house. I feel completely transformed, and it’s because I made a commitment to go back to school, and I stuck with it.