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Engineer in Residence provides students with unique perspective

2/15/2017 8:07:10 AM Laura Schmitt

In January, CS welcomed home alumnus Michael Duff (BS CS ’94), who shared his knowledge and career experiences with students as an Engineer in Residence. The executive director of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Duff manages a global team of 120 employees who keep the electronic trading and clearing systems operating 24/7 for the largest global trading marketplace in the world.

Alumnus Michael Duff
Alumnus Michael Duff
During his lunch hour Q&A session, Duff encouraged the students to discover what they are passionate about while they’re still in school by trying new activities and getting involved with different groups and projects. “You have more time than you think to experiment with things while you’re in school,” he said. “You won’t have time to experiment once you get out into the real world.”

As a student, Duff got involved with the ACM student group and served as its chair his senior year. He also worked at NCSA on a project for Caterpillar, designing software that could detect faults in heavy machinery.

Despite this work experience, Duff worried about his programming skills. “I never felt like the smartest person [in school],” he said. “But once I graduated from Illinois I realized I was a strong software developer compared to the people I was working with. You are among the best engineers in the world here.”

Duff also emphasized the importance of cultivating friendships and networking opportunities. “Every relationship is valuable, whether it be with faculty or students,” said Duff, who stays in touch with some fellow CS alumni, including the founders of PayPal. “You get to know people well working on projects, so keep your network solidified after you [graduate].”

A final piece of advice Duff told the students was to be passionate about their job. “If you know what you want to do, you’ll find ways to get there,” he said. “Don’t just be the person who comes in, does their job, and then goes home.”

The Engineer in Residence (EIR) program enables alumni to return to campus for a day or more to help students develop their computer science education into valuable applications and successful careers. The time with the department typically includes a presentation, informal meetings with students and faculty, and holding office hours for students interested in more personalized advice. If you are interested in participating in the EIR Program, please email Michelle Wellens