Jennifer Spinney, BS

Wayland, MA

Degree earned at WPI:
BS, Computer Science

Why did you choose to attend WPI?
When I graduated high school, I had decided on studying psychology and human behavior and got into my first choice liberal arts college. Just before committing, however, I felt I needed to give my life-time hobby of computer software a chance; I postponed my college enrollment and became a software engineer at my father’s software engineering company where I had interned throughout school.

Though always a hobby, I never thought of CS as a career because I like being social and like people, and I always imagined computer scientists working alone and being somewhat anti-people. I’m so glad I gave it a chance. Very quickly, I decided this is what I wanted to do: I remember thinking, “This is fun, I love learning about this stuff, I love going to work everyday.”

I applied to WPI after my first year because I knew that I was lacking knowledge in a few key areas and wanted to feel competent in my job. From everything I had heard, WPI was it. I thought, “This is where I can get a very useful education that I can apply, and when I go back into the working world, I’ll be better off for it.”

Present position:
Software Development Engineer at Microsoft

How do you feel your experiences at WPI prepared you for working in your field?
The most useful experiences were the projects, especially the IQP. My job is very different from the typical college classroom experience. I’m never given a nice neat problem that the professor has worked out in his head. For projects like the IQP and MQP, they say, “here is an actual problem.” This is not one that the professor has just created and to which he knows the answer. The professor doesn’t know the answer, and it is not simple, and you can’t find the answer in the text book. You have to struggle though it and actually use a different part of your brain – not just anticipate what the professor wants you to say, but do some legitimate problem solving. These projects are most analogous to my work here at Microsoft.

How has WPI’s philosophy of Theory and Practice, and working with teams, prepared you for facing real-world challenges in the workplace?
Everything you do at Microsoft is in a team, as I’d imagine being true for most software companies. The team aspect is very, very helpful in the WPI education. I worked in teams for both the IQP and MQP, but I found the most useful experience with teams to be a software engineering class with Professor Pollice where we worked in a 15-member team. That was a real test in team work – very similar to what I do here. It makes you look at things like how do you organize, how do you act on a team, do you assume a leadership role, etc. It’s a nice opportunity to see how you function in a group so that you can address any issues you become aware of. Team work is really hard, but that is what the real world is like, and it is really valuable to have these experiences to prepare you.

Groups or extracurricular activities you participate in at WPI:

  • Officer and member of community service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega (APO)
    • Organized two on-campus blood drives/year through APO
  • Officer of the club “Women in Computer Science (WiCS)

Academic or professional awards you have received:

  • Computer Science Outstanding Senior Award
  • Dr. Neil G. Sullivan Memorial Award
  • Gertrude R. Rugg Award
  • Graduated with high distinction.

Additional comments:
WPI is a fantastic school for getting you ready for the working world. As a WPI graduate, I was much more able to hit the ground running. WPI uniquely prepares you for the working experience. It also offers you so many other valuable opportunities, like my experience being a senior assistant or undergrad TA during my junior and senior year. By helping other students in first year CS classes, I learned stuff about myself I may not have known; it was one of the most enjoyable times during my years at WPI. Because of this experience, I’m looking into transferring into a mentoring role here at Microsoft.

There are so many doors open and so many different paths available through WPI.

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