Sergey Yun, MBA ’18, MS ’18, was one of the first to participate in a new joint-degree program that allows Booth MBA students to simultaneously earn a master’s degree in computer science through the University of Chicago. Yun graduated earlier this year, and shares his experience in the program here.
Technology and computers have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. When I was 6 or 7 years old, I disassembled a cartridge for my video-game console. I was really interested in how this little microchip could produce my experience of playing a game. This is how I became a geek.
I never got a chance to learn computer science formally. I always saw it as more of a hobby and not a serious career trajectory. I studied economics and financial management and worked in consulting.
Initially when I came to Booth, I thought I might pursue investment banking or another career in finance. But I soon realized I wanted to pursue something I felt more passionate about, and I began to consider a career in technology. So when we got an email announcing a new joint-degree program with the computer science department, it came at exactly the right moment in my life. I knew it would be a perfect fit for me given my interests and my new direction.
The program is built to be completed in the same two years that you would do your regular MBA. It was not easy. Luckily I like to challenge myself. In the course of a single day, I might go to Negotiations class in the afternoon and spend three hours bargaining over the details of a hypothetical M&A deal. Then I’d immediately head to Java Programming, where I’d learn concepts of object-oriented programming for my final project—making a clone of the classic video game Galaga.
These skills are on opposite ends of the spectrum; but at the same time, they are complementary. Every ability that I wanted to develop was offered by the combination of the two programs.
At times, it was an emotional roller coaster. I would spend hours trying to find the bug in a program, and then give up and go to sleep, only to discover the typo the next morning after taking a fresh look at the code. At Booth I agonized over on-campus recruiting, spending days preparing for interviews. But among the cohort of students pursuing the joint degree, there was a sense of camaraderie: we had all chosen the same pain. We were all in this together.
The joint degree definitely helped me get job interviews, especially for coveted tech product management roles. These are jobs that require you to speak the language of both engineers and salespeople. These days, lots of MBA students are interested in switching careers to technology. The fact that I had the dual-degree program on my resume helped me stand out from other candidates.
In the end I got an offer from video-game company Activision Blizzard, whose franchises include Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. I’m in a rotational program designed to develop future leaders there. My first function will be on the data analytics team, and I already feel that my computer science degree will help me in this role. I will have to work with SQL databases and I had a whole class on relational databases, which we learned using the SQL language.
Blizzard makes the game StarCraft, which was one of the first games I played on my own computer, wide-eyed with amazement, when I was 10 years old. If somebody told me that 20 years later I would be working at a company that made this game, I would be the happiest 10-year-old boy in the world. Today that’s my reality—and I still couldn’t be happier.
—As told to Deborah Ziff Soriano