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Illinois’s Practical CS Curriculum Inspires Sirius XM Radio’s Simon to Give Back

2/18/2018 2:32:53 PM David Mercer, CS @ ILLINOIS

CS @ ILLINOIS graduate David Simon could have cited any number of reasons for renewing his support of the CS Visionary Scholarship Fund, from the elite technical grounding that has helped him build his career to the fall football Saturdays he still comes back to campus to enjoy.

But ultimately Simon (BS CS ’05) was inspired to give again because he believes in the direction of the Computer Science program, including more and more of the hands-on, group-based project work he says is a major part of his job as manager of data warehouse development for Sirius XM Radio in New York City.

“That’s more how the real world thinks. In the business world, I’m never working on a project by myself,” said Simon. “Now I feel like they’re going over and beyond to a practical application of the tools that they’re teaching.”

The fact that his gift is being doubled by the Grainger Foundation match that donations to the scholarship fund are now eligible for was an important bonus.

“I know what I do is doubled,” Simon said.

David Simon (BS CS '05) has found CS's hands-on, group-based project coursework "to be incredibly valuable" in the real world.
David Simon (BS CS '05) has found CS's hands-on, group-based project coursework "to be incredibly valuable" in the real world.
Simon came to Illinois in 2001 from Queens, N.Y., as a student in search of two things: a school that would offer him the kind of full-blown college experience he knew he’d find on a Big Ten campus, heavy on football, basketball and tradition, and a top-notch computer science program.

After he enrolled, he knew he’d found both at Illinois.

The instruction in Computer Science was both elite and practical in ways that would prove familiar in both his day-to-day working life and in getting that first job.

“One of my favorite classes was the database systems class that I took. We had to build a project. We did it in a group of, I think, four people, and we had to do a presentation at the end,” Simon said. “I found that to be incredibly valuable—not just because that’s how the real world is, but if you’re going on a job interview, you’re going to have to be able to talk to somebody about what you do, what you want to do.”

He also found a push from within the department to look beyond the technical, through what was then known as an application sequence—a part of his degree program that wasn’t quite as demanding in terms of credit hours as a minor but nonetheless led him to take classes outside his field.

“This is one of the things that all of the professors preached when I was there,” Simon said.

He took 12 hours in Labor Economics, putting him on the path that would, among other things, eventually lead him to enroll at New York University’s Stern School of Business and earn his MBA.

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At Illinois he also fed his passion for sports, as a fan at both football and basketball games, taking advantage of every opportunity to get involved—he was part of Illini Pride, the Block I and Orange Krush. His years on campus included the 2004-05 run to the NCAA national basketball championship game, and he helped produce a DVD for the 100th anniversary of Illinois basketball.

Simon’s sports connections to Illinois remain strong. He has football season tickets and comes back to campus for two or three games every fall.

Simon makes no secret of the work he had to put in to get his degree—“I’d have to go to office hours a ton. I fought for my grade—it was incredibly challenging.”

But he found and made the most of an unusual job path – landing an internship at what was then Sirius Satellite Radio after his dad heard someone on a sports-talk radio station talk about preparing to start up the company’s NFL Radio channel. Simon turned the internship into a career path.

As an intern, “I solved a problem for our CIO. The boss comes to me and says ‘What are you doing when you graduate?’ I said, ‘Looking for a job.’ He said, ‘Well, you have one here.’”

Now Simon builds the systems Sirius XM Radio uses track its sales and other metrics, and has worked his way up the company’s hierarchy through a series of promotions.

His Illinois degree gave him the option of living in his native New York, or just about any other place.

“Illinois opens up doors everywhere,” Simon said. “You want to go work in California? You want to work in Silicon Valley, you want to work in L.A.? Illinois finds companies that want to recruit there from all over.”