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Andy Cox, Chicago rock drummer and former philosophy major, finds a path to software development at Dominican.

Professional musician Andy Cox MSSD ’21 first developed an interest in coding while working with audio editing software. At first, Andy tried to teach himself, an approach that had worked well with music but quickly became overwhelming with programming. Considering master’s programs was also intimidating; as a philosophy major in college, he had no prior background in computer science.

In this Q&A, we talk with Andy about why he chose Dominican, what he found special about the program and how his creative background turned out to be a plus.

Q: With no prior background in computer science, did you have doubts about whether a master’s in software development was for you?

Oh yeah, completely. But what made Dominican’s program more approachable was I felt like the curriculum was practical and achievable. In the foundation courses, for instance, we’d be given a set of code and told to apply it to a small application and also to try and critically problem solve a couple things. And that made a lot more sense to me than trying to study algorithms or focus solely on calculus.

Q: You tried another software development master’s before. What made you switch to Dominican?

The first master’s in software engineering I tried had a ton of prerequisite courses related to higher levels of calculus. I hadn’t studied any of that in around a decade almost since my undergraduate studies. After a month or so of trying to do that program, it became a lot to keep up with. Then, I heard about Dominican’s program where, as somebody who was working two part-time jobs and was trying to go to school, I found I actually had time to absorb what I was learning because of how the information was presented. It was a much smoother transition.

Q: Are there things you learned as a philosophy major that are helping you as a programmer?

In philosophy, I learned critical thinking, problem solving and lots of different ways to use logic to resolve problems, which is exactly what you do in programming. It set the groundwork for how I was able to approach the software development program. Programming reminds me of word puzzles, and in my mind I’m more of a wordsmith.

At Dominican, one of my professors talked about a concept he called the “metaphor of language” that went over how different functions in a system work like a sentence structure. I was like, wow, that’s right up my alley, writing and storytelling. That helped me figure out what it means to really code an application. So the learning style of this program takes a cross-disciplinary approach that I was able to connect with.

Q: What about someone with extensive prior knowledge of coding and software, how can they also benefit from this kind of program?

In my master’s cohort of six or seven students, we had one programmer who’s been a career programmer for quite some time. The way he conveys things in a discussion you can tell he’s truly an expert in the field. What I’ve noticed from looking at his work is that he’s been able to cultivate new areas of knowledge and really broaden his skill set.

Q: What did you like most about the program at Dominican?

I really liked the practical coding application classes. Right from the beginning, in the Java programming course, we developed one small application every week, culminating in a larger application at the end. We were learning components of a system and by the end of the course we were putting them all together. That was a recurring theme of many of the courses. Seeing my work turn into a small application or turn into a small website, to see something come alive in that way, was really meaningful.

So, the practicality of the curriculum, the eight-week model and the fact that I could complete a master’s degree in less than two years—those things really jumped out at me.

Q: Was the program convenient enough for you to balance work with your studies?

If you are a working adult with a lot going on it’s tricky to set the time aside to do a master’s and get a lot out of it. So that’s where the structure of this program really appealed to me. I could work for eight hours and still feel like I had time to master the material at night and on weekends. The way the course modules were laid out kept me engaged.

And also, at Dominican, there’s always a person to talk to, and you have mentoring and coaching available. Those resources are presented very meaningfully, which is in stark contrast to bigger schools.

The community at Dominican has been really supportive, and feeling that sense of support is motivating. It’s what kept me wanting to come every day, do the learning and follow through with the goals set for the week. If I was stuck on something, my professors were always accessible and provided me with a practical route to resolving the problem. So that’s been huge.

Q: What’s your ultimate goal?

As I’m finishing up the program, I’ve been recruited by several companies to apply for positions. I definitely want to work as a full-time software developer. Eventually, I’d like to focus on user experience and user interface design.

Q: What advice do have for other professionals looking to move into software development, perhaps from other fields?

Even if you’re unsure of your skills or wondering if you’re good enough, set all that aside and get out of your own way, so to speak. It will open up this world of opportunities in the software development field. That’s one of things my experience at Dominican has taught me.