Lisa Walkosz-Migliacio lives in Minnesota and works as a Lead Software Engineer on target.com. She specifically works on things such as helping Target superfans and influencers share their favorite Finds on Target’s official channels and crafting an augmented reality experience allowing guests to virtually “try on” new beauty products before purchasing them. When she’s not building cool things, she’s coaching, mentoring, and guiding her team on becoming the best engineers they can be. In her spare time, Lisa enjoys creating video games, tinkering with new interactive technologies, and is also known on occasion to randomly burst into song.
"A program like OMSCS is the only way I would have been able to complete a graduate degree based on my other responsibilities."
Lisa enrolled in OMSCS for various reasons. To start, Lisa had just started her family and was taking a break from the corporate realm. She picked up some contract engineering work while caring for an infant and realized that adding a master’s degree would be a wonderful way to challenge herself. Her focus was skilling up in areas she was enthusiastic about, so she could work on those things once she jumped back into the corporate world. After transitioning back into web development, she realized how much OMSCS prepared her to go about solving technical problems in ways she did not really think about before. As to what she likes the most about OMSCS? "Flexibility, of course! I was not required to go into a classroom at a specific location at a specific time. Actually, a program like OMSCS is the only way I would have been able to complete a graduate degree based on my other responsibilities. I also found it enjoyable that many classes understood their audience well; making all the lectures and assignments available right at the start of each course allowed me to work on my time and prepare accordingly based on what work or life would throw at me during any given week. The price was extremely affordable too, so I felt confident the return on investment would obviously be there, and the program gave me flexibility to spend time identifying and pursuing the coursework I would find most applicable to my interests and career without sacrificing large sums of money.”
She credits OMSCS with gaining new breadth of knowledge and skills as she earned her bachelor's degree “quite a while ago, so many classes offered now are quite different from what was offered back then like machine learning, AI, and data science were all new to me concepts covered in courses I took that stretched my knowledge.” Lisa continues to explain that a few semesters into the program, she decided to go back to full time work and used her Educational Technology project to show off to prospective employers. She was then hired at Target as a Senior Software Engineer, and by the time she graduated, she was the team lead.
"The [OMSCS] program gave me flexibility to spend time identifying and pursuing the coursework I would find most applicable to my interests and career without sacrificing large sums of money."
Beyond her work achievements, Lisa noticed that she had new perspectives to solve problems armed with new knowledge gained at OMSCS. In fact, she started trying out some image processing concepts she picked up from CS 7637: Knowledge-Based AI and CSE 6242: Data and Visual Analytics which created new opportunities within her team. In addition, Lisa became a TA for CS 6750: Human-Computer Interaction: “It was a wonderful experience dipping my toes into teaching and grading. I ended up answering a bunch of practical interface and design principal questions on the class forum. This opportunity became a launchpad for me to start mentoring others and giving presentations at work as well.”
If Lisa could go back in time, the one thing she would do differently during her time as an OMSCS student would be to be mindful of the order of how you pick your classes. Lisa advises: “Do not take your most difficult core course required for graduation as your last course in the program. I took Artificial Intelligence my last semester, and it was nail-biting the entire time based on the material’s steep learning curve.” Lisa notes that in the end, she walked away from that course with an A, but the stress of “am I actually going to graduate because I need a B in this class is not advisable nor enjoyable.” As for what other advice she would give current students? Well, Lisa highlights the importance of finding a study partner who is taking the same set of courses as you. “I went through many classes with my partner who was also enrolled in the program at the same time. We relied on each other for motivation and sometimes clarification on what exactly the assignments were asking us to do. The class forums can help you find helpful classmates as well—being able to weed out incorrect assumptions before you turn in your work will save you many headaches later.” Additionally, she suggests you read the OMSCS emails as they are full of valuable information from the staff and provide students with interesting opportunities you would not be aware off by just taking coursework. “I ended up not only signing up to be a TA, but also signed up for the VIP program, which has you join a small project-based group of both undergraduate and grad students to test out ways to improve the various research needs of different subjects in Georgia Tech. I joined a group of eight undergraduates trying to improve intelligent tutoring systems. I ended up pitching the idea to make a browser-based code editor that could help students understand how to translate electrical engineering algorithm concepts into code. After my year-long coursework, we had a fully functional website with a chatbot that answered when you asked coding questions!” Lisa likes to think that some of her help and guidance assisted the undergraduate students with web development knowledge, and the project allowed her to learn lessons of project management and running a team. She was made aware of all these amazing opportunities by simply reading OMSCS emails sent by staff.
What Lisa misses the most about being an OMSCS student is learning new things in a structured way. She enjoyed most of her classes and saw homework as an opportunity to push herself to learn new skills while working towards her master’s degree. Her courses were an outlet for thinking through creative ideas and projects.