Finding Community in Singapore
When Grace Teng enrolled in MCIT Online from her home in Singapore, she expected the program to feel much like other online courses she’d attended—isolated and solitary. Instead, she’s found a vibrant community of peers, both online and in -person in Singapore. In this Q&A, Teng talks about the connections she’s made and describes her pivot from budding filmmaker to computer engineer.
What were you doing before you joined MCIT Online?
After graduating from NYU with a degree in filmmaking, I returned to Singapore and worked for a while in a film production company. And I realized that, while I really enjoyed being a film student, I didn’t necessarily enjoy being a film professional. So I spent about two years teaching English and then ended up working at a startup as a customer support specialist.
How did you get interested in computer science?
I’ve always been interested in technology. Both of my parents studied engineering, and as a result they always took a very methodical approach to solving problems. I absorbed that mindset along the way. At the startup, my job was essentially to keep users happy, but it started evolving to look at more upstream problems: was there a way that we could prevent issues from happening in the first place? It was a way of using the methodical mindset to solve problems.
Then COVID-19 happened, and Singapore had a lockdown. I decided to use the time to learn something about technology, so I signed up for Harvard’s intro to computer science course online. It’s meant to be a semester-long course, but it was so engrossing and fulfilling that I finished it in under a month.
What led you to MCIT Online?
After I finished the Harvard course, I started thinking about doing a career switch and becoming a software engineer. I went on Coursera to build my own computer science curriculum, and I saw that Penn had an MCIT Online degree intended for people without a computer science background. It was a perfect fit for me. I applied to the program, then quit my job and did a coding boot camp before starting MCIT Online.
How does your experience in the program compare to other online experiences?
When I was studying online before, I didn’t really engage with the other students. If I was stuck, I figured it out on my own. So when I started MCIT Online, that was what I imagined it would be like: watching lectures and doing the assignments. But it’s been much more communal. There are all these other people who are on similar journeys who are supporting each other.
How does that sense of community develop?
We have a lot of channels on Slack where you can talk about the classes you’re taking or discuss jobs and internships. We
even have a humor channel. It is such an active community with people from all around the world. It feels like there’s an ongoing 24-hour conversation that I get to be a part of, which is pretty cool.
What’s it like being an international student at Penn?
There are quite a few people in Singapore who are part of the MCIT Online program, so I’ve been able to meet some of my classmates in person. It’s really nice to have people in your time zone and your city who are going through the same experience, because you also get to talk about local topics—like the job market or what companies are good to work for.
What are you doing now, and how does MCIT Online help you do your job?
I work as a software developer at a software consulting firm, looking at code and trying to solve code-related problems. There are definitely times in my work when I have a better understanding of how something works because I learned about it in class. There are also other times when I don’t have a good mental model of how something works, and I want to take a class to learn more about that particular topic. That’s what motivates me to keep going. There’s definitely a lot of value for me in the program.