Student Spotlight: “You Constantly Iterate” 

When current-senior Max Phillips first transferred to Pitt in the fall of 2020, he had an identity crisis. Phillips had spent a year and a half attending the University of Scranton and studying computer science before taking a two-and-a-half-year break from school. Once at Pitt, he continued with this same major, but was feeling uninspired. 

“I didn’t know if I truly wanted to be a programmer for the rest of my life,” Phillips explains. “I was never 100 percent sold on it.” 

Phillips was trying to navigate multiple different classes and interests at the same time, but finally found his way after taking a class about digital narrative and interactive design with professors Fitzpatrick and Babichenko. 

“That class convinced me that I could find a happy medium between my interests in tech and the humanities,” Phillips says. “I dove headfirst into DNIV and it was one of the best decisions I could’ve made. I actually enjoy my classes now.” 

When he first arrived at Pitt as a transfer student, Phillips felt pretty alone. 

“I moved across the state to a city I didn’t know and a school where I didn’t know anyone. It was 2020, during the pandemic, so I couldn’t go out and meet people. There were lots of growing pains.” 

Changing his major to Digital Narrative and Interactive Design allowed him to make a space for himself within the Pitt community. 

“DNIV is a tight-knit community with a lot of like-minded people,” Phillips notes. “Talking to those people made me feel more comfortable.” 

Phillips also got a job in Pitt’s information technology department working as an endpoint technician and solving the faculty’s technological problems. 

“I had to go to all the buildings and talk to all these different professors to help people set up their laptops and do other tasks like that,” Phillips explains. “It was a great way to get to know the campus well and meet new people.” 

Wanting to take advantage of all of Pitt’s resources, Phillips began to attend some alumni-in-residence virtual events hosted by the Career Center.

“Having taken some time off, I know that you can learn a lot outside of school,” Phillips says. “But once I was back here I wanted to use all of the tools that were available to me.” 

One of Phillips’ favorite speakers was Pitt computer science professor and Google engineering manager Timothy James. 

“Tim was really a sharp-shooter,” Phillips notes. “He told it like it was and his advice was very helpful.” 

As his first year at Pitt progressed, Phillips once again turned to the Career Center for advice about an important decision. He had been offered two summer internships, one with Innovative Systems and the other with Cloudflare. Leaning towards accepting the Cloudflare offer but still unsure of this decision, Phillips spoke with Lauren Fagan, the Center’s career consultant for SCI, Math, and Stats students. Fagan supported his choice, agreeing that Cloudflare seemed like the better fit for him. 

Now, currently working that internship, Phillips is satisfied with his decision. 

“I don’t think I could’ve picked a better place to be,” Phillips confirms. “I have an assigned mentor that guides me through my assignments, and I’m working on a capstone project right now, which is going to be a public-facing deliverable that actually has an impact on what the company is doing. This internship is solidifying a lot of things that I’ve learned through my program and putting them in the context of an actual production environment.” 

Not only has Pitt provided Phillips with valuable internship opportunities and a sense of community, but it has changed his definition of success. 

“Since I’ve come to Pitt, I’ve sort of changed my values a bit,” Phillips admits. “I used to have that traditional idea of success – a good job with high pay. In my field, there’s this idea of the agile development cycle, which means you constantly iterate. As long as you improve upon where you were before, as long as you keep moving forward, I think that’s success.”

By Dionna Dash
Dionna Dash Nordenberg Scholar