Luisa Morales, an MS in Computer Science student, has cultivated a lengthy list of accomplishments during her time at Pace University’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems. For starters, Luisa has enriched her college experience working as a graduate assistant at Seidenberg. She was also an Engineering Fellow at the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity. When an opportunity presents itself to Luisa, she grabs hold of it—that’s what keeps her ahead of the curve.
Luisa graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics from Pace University in 2011. A few years later, she decided to return to Pace University and become a Seidenberg student to do a Master of Science in Computer Science.
She was quickly integrated into the Seidenberg community through a bridge program during her first semester. The bridge program, which is comprised of several introductory classes, is built for students like Luisa who did not study computer science in their undergraduate education. They serve to provide career changers and students looking to try something new with the fundamentals of computing so they can start taking graduate level courses with confidence. In the bridge program, Luisa took Fundamental Computer Science I Using Java, Fundamental Computer Science II Using Java, and Computer Systems and Concepts. As a Pace alumna, Luisa was able to take these courses with a scholarship - something other students may also take advantage of if they are considering a master’s at the Seidenberg School.
The deciding factor of becoming a Seidenberg student, though, was the ability to take courses for her master’s degree in person.
"Through teaching myself to code, I discovered I learn best by talking through problems with others, repetition, and compound learning. I’d tried MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) when I first started learning to code using Coursera, edX, and CodeAcademy, amongst others. While they’re amazing tools, they weren’t ideal for me when learning computer science topics because it required a different thinking process than I had at the time,” Luisa explains. “I would eventually lose momentum, patience, or get sucked into depressive states. Due to this experience, when considering master’s programs, I only considered in-person ones."
Her decision to study computer science through the Seidenberg master’s program came from her personal recognition of her blind spots when it came to some concepts. This led to what she defined as a lack of common core knowledge in computer science.
"It was holding me back from progressing in my career," Luisa says. "I wanted to understand how the systems I worked on functioned under the hood but was unaware of what I didn’t know. As a front-end developer, a lot is obfuscated from you, so it’s quick to build something but harder to build efficiently. Debugging is also a huge pain when you don’t understand the difference between what you’re intending your code do, what it’s actually doing, and where to start to find out."
In order to progress in her career, Luisa chose to dive into her interests in backend development. To work to the best of her ability, she wanted to work closer to data so she could find the connection between economics and computer science. While she taught herself as much as she could, it didn’t come easily.
"It took a long time for me to accept the validity of what I knew as a developer," she states. “So, deciding to embark on learning backend development felt like an opportunity to give myself the space to learn the core/common computer science concepts I felt I lacked, expose myself to new technology, learn things I wouldn’t have exposed myself to otherwise, and get a degree in the process!"
This interest made her extraordinary from the very beginning. So it’s no surprise that Luisa earned an internship working as an Engineering Fellow at the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity from September 2018 to August 2019. She describes her time there as "amazing."
"It’s the first time I’ve worked in government as an engineer and is the most supportive environment I’ve been in so far," she says. "Everyone is really kind and driven to learn, experiment, and help others."
Luisa’s time at the Mayor’s Office broadened her horizons and gave her the chance to work on real programs. She explains that, as a fellow, you have the opportunity to pick a project that aligns with the things you are passionate about.
"I chose to continue a project that another fellow had built a proof of concept for. It’s a dashboard that helps our outreach team prioritize the neighborhoods they visit and determine which trainings and events to run," she explains. "With this project, I got the opportunity to decide on the system architecture, build my first REST API, run my first SQL queries, and contribute to open-source [projects]."
While Luisa spent an entire year at the Mayor’s Office, she also likes to highlight her time with Women Who Code NYC.
"I started attending events after struggling with the feeling of isolation from learning to code at home and it was hugely refreshing. I started volunteering in 2016, and shortly after became a Lead."
What has helped Luisa further her journey in tech? "Having a community where I can let my guard down and feel like I belong and my voice is heard has been key for me," she states.
Most recently, Luisa attended the Grace Hopper Conference as a Facebook Scholar where she had the opportunity to further explore the technology industry with thousands of other women. As a Facebook Scholar, her expenses—room and board, airfare, meals, and the cost of attendance—were completely paid for.
While she was "nervous but excited" to attend, she recalls that she was "really excited to learn about what other engineers are working on to give me an idea of what I can do."
Now, she’s moving on to doing more and better things. We’re ecstatic to watch Luisa thrive in this industry and to support her on her journey.