Craig Topham

M.S. in Computer Science,
Class of ’21

“The professors are so well equipped to teach every class — no stone goes unturned.”

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I currently work as a product manager at Bank of America for an AI platform that supports internal associates who service and onboard corporate and commercial clients globally. I come from an unconventional background for being in technology. I graduated with a bachelor’s in justice studies and began my journey into technology incrementally as I worked my way up from an entry-level contact-center position. It started with Excel formulas, to macros and on to some front-end web work and Python. I believe anybody can learn how to be a productive developer if they work at it, no matter their background.

Why did you decide to pursue your master’s in computer science?

Technology is enmeshed in so many parts of our lives — it makes me feel like I am living in a transformative time in the world, and I want to be part of it. I believe the skill set that you gain while going through this program’s curriculum gives you the ability to harness a healthy amount of technology and use it in any creative way you could imagine.

Why did you decide to pursue your degree online?

I needed something that would work with my schedule. Online classes are great at providing enough structure to hold you accountable and enough flexibility to forge ahead in your career.

Why did you choose Vanderbilt University?

Vanderbilt has an awesome curriculum. The key subject areas, such as mobile computing, cloud computing, distributed systems and software engineering, touched on everything I wanted to learn. The professors are so well equipped to teach every class — no stone goes unturned.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your online education experience?

I love finishing a challenging project. The most rewarding aspect of my experience so far has been picking up a language or a tool I have never used and, after each semester, feeling enough confidence that I could apply it to my own personal or professional work.

What has been your favorite course so far?

Concurrent Object-Oriented Programming. I was nervous about taking this class before the semester started — it seemed daunting. It turned out to be the most fascinating class I have ever taken. We covered all types of tricks in synchronization. Professor Schmidt taught the class and made all the projects really fun. The lessons were sequenced in a way that built on each other, and of course, you end the semester with a cool little mobile app.

With which professor or faculty member have you most enjoyed working?

It’s hard to pick just one; all of them are great. Professor White always has great discussions in class, and his asynchronous material is really informative with lots of actual coding. Professor Hemingway has some great assignments for students. Professor Schmidt has a wealth of knowledge, is always available to students and is able to teach you Java and Kotlin backwards and forwards.

How has the virtual campus helped you collaborate with faculty and classmates?

The virtual campus has made everything from joining live classes to taking quizzes a breeze. I like the “wall” feature, which lets you post questions for a class.

How are you applying what you’ve learned in classes to your current work? How will it move you closer to your long-term career goals?

I use what I’ve learned to understand every decision that’s made for the application I manage at work — from our architectural decisions, such as our middleware and API orchestration, to importing client usage data from Splunk and pulling it into Python, to figuring out what features to implement next.

Tell us about a project you’ve worked on or research you’ve conducted as part of your course work.

I had an opportunity to work on a project to catalog IoT devices in your home and search for any type of security vulnerabilities using the Shodan API.

What advice would you give to incoming students or those considering this program?

Do not give up on yourself. There will be some challenging projects, but you can get through them if you keep at it! Everyone has different strengths. You may find one class difficult, and the next may be well within your wheelhouse.

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