Featured Interview: Jim O'Neill

Computer Science '12

Jim O'Neill

What drew you to the program?

I’ve had the benefit of attending some very good undergraduate and graduate school programs. I went to Dartmouth College as an undergraduate political science major and graduated from Harvard Business School. So when I looked at the opportunity to get some additional training in computer science, I had very high expectations and standards. I was very happy to find that the U of I is one of the few online computer science programs delivered by a top 5—arguably top 3 institution—and that was what really sold me on Illinois. The opportunity to get an online education without making a compromise in terms of the quality of the education.

What advice do you have for incoming online students?

Make sure you’ve organized yourself in advance of starting the program. Make sure you’re able to carve out the time you’ll need in order to prepare for lectures and projects. In my case, I treated it as a business appointment, so whether it’s over a lunchtime period; whether you stay at the office from 6-7 and get your homework done then, or arrive early and work from 6-8 before the day starts—the key is planning and making sure the people in your life who are going to be impacted by your participation are aware of what you’re doing and that the compromises you’re making work for everybody.

What did you like best about the program?

My favorite part about the program is that you’re getting world-class courses from world-class professionals in these areas. Some of the instructors that I’ve had are working on cutting-edge computer science research. Across the board, the people that we’re learning from are really involved in the industry as well.

How did you hear about the program?

When I decided to look into online computer science programs, I used the Internet and quickly got the list down to just a few programs that were top-notch, and offering an online program.

What was your favorite class?

Hard to say—I came to the University of Illinois as a finance professional, so pretty much everything I was taking was the first time I was taking it, and so I really enjoyed the breadth of the program in terms of the variety of classes, the coverage that you get in the field of IT—everything from hardware, software, and low-level areas to the emerging web applications, and web services. So I really enjoyed the breadth of the programs offered by CS at Illinois.

How much time did you spend per week in class?

In terms of time spent per class, it really varies depending on the semester and it also depends on the amount of prior experience you have in that area. I would say that a pretty good rule of thumb is that you can expect 3-4 hours for every hour of class, so if it’s a twice a week class for an hour, you might expect to spend up to 8 hours a week on that class. But it can vary; there will be some weeks where it’s pretty light, and other weeks toward the end of the semester where you do have to make a concerted effort to finish things up.

What was your plan of attack to stay on top of your job, classes, and personal life?

Most important is to be organized and plan ahead. Make sure you carve out enough hours in every day to honor your responsibilities to the program. If you think of it that way and book the time in advance, it’s not as hard to get through the program.

Did you feel part of the CS @ Illinois community?

Very much so—even though I am from Chicago, which is a 3 hour drive from here, I was very welcome in the classroom. Occasionally I would come down for a class, I tried to come down typically the first day of the semester and the last day of the semester and the professors were always very welcoming, as well as the staff. So I always felt like a welcome part of the community.