Aleks Jarcev: Getting Computer Science to ‘Click’ with MCIT Online

Working full time for the U.S. State Department in Croatia, Aleks Jarcev has mastered time management while earning his degree online.
Aleks Jarcev grew up spending endless hours playing computer games and even attempting to build them. Now, after three months in the MCIT Online program from the University of Pennsylvania, he is coding video games on his own.

As a teenager, Jarcev and his friends would bring their computers to each other’s houses, network them together and play interactive games. When it came time for college, he decided to pursue psychology. After college, he got a job working for the U.S. State Department and didn’t think that he would ever get back to his childhood love of tinkering with code. Then life took an unexpected turn: Jarcev’s job relocated him to Croatia. Once there, Jarcev reconnected with an old friend who was now working for a gaming studio as a software developer. Jarcev’s desire to design and create computer software was re-ignited.

Jarcev started poking around on ways he might study computer science. “I thought, ‘What could I do to try this out?’ So, I started looking around for some coding classes. Coursera sent me an email about the University of Pennsylvania’s online Master of Computer and Information Technology degree and I applied within days of receiving the email.”

With his background in psychology and experience conducting research in his current role, Jarcev felt comfortable with analytical thinking, but computer science was new to him. He started from the beginning, which is why a program designed for students without a computer science background such as the MCIT Online degree was a perfect fit.

The program’s flexible, online format also means that Jarcev can continue working full-time. Maximizing his time-management skills to stay on top of his MCIT Online coursework — he watches his lectures on Monday and Tuesday and works on his projects the rest of the week. The program’s community and collaboration through online forums helps Jarcev stay on track.

“Sitting down with people and actually looking at a problem and trying to see how we can fill each other’s misunderstanding is a great way to test my internal knowledge,” Jarcev says. “I’m more active in this online format in terms of joining study groups and talking to TAs and being proactive about my learning than when I was on campus. I participate more in this online class format because it’s asynchronous — if I think of a question I can put it on Slack.”

Jumping into a completely new field isn’t easy, even when the program is designed to support people without a computer science background. Jarcev can remember the moment when it “clicked.” During the second assignment of his first introductory class, he had been working on a problem for more than two days and couldn’t figure it out.

“I pored over the problem again and again. But, then, it clicked,” Jarcev says. “I finished the assignment that night because it was so exciting to understand it. It just flowed from there on. There are always new concepts that are added on that aren’t easy, but once you get over that initial hurdle you can really walk on your own two feet.”

Jarcev’s quick progression is the most rewarding part of the program, he said. When he started Introduction to Software Development, one of the first introductory courses, he had never written a complete line of code. By the end of the course, he had created a video game with his classmates. Soon after, he landed an internship with his dream company.

Jarcev’s advice to anyone considering the Penn MCIT Online degree is to take the leap. “If you are interested in this career, this is a viable option. It is a true commitment and a true university experience,” he said. “MCIT Online is a tight knit community. I have made friends and I have met people face-to-face. I feel like a Quaker and I think most people in the program do. The professors and TAs are all great, professional, and truly encouraging. The top-notch faculty are committed to your success, which is a great thing to experience.”

Jarcev hasn’t decided how he’ll use his degree just yet, though he is interested in joining a large technology company. As he progresses through his third semester, he is finding that the places he can go with computer science are vast. In less than two years, Jarcev went from someone who loved computer games but couldn’t write a single line of code to a capable software developer, excited about the new world that is now open to him.

The University of Pennsylvania’s MCIT Online degree is designed to take people with no computer science knowledge and prepare them to launch careers in software engineering or to innovate in their current fields.. Upon completion of the degree, on-campus MCIT alumni have gone on to earn jobs with competitive salaries at technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oracle and Bloomberg. Learn more about MCIT Online and the application process on Coursera. The Fall 2020 application deadline is on May 1, 2020.