IST alum breaking the mold for programmers

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Clara Ocneanu, a 2015 graduate of the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), says the company she works for, Xerox, reminds her of IST in an important way.

The well-known developer of industry-leading technology prides itself on its diverse and inclusive atmosphere. Ocneanu says she has been lucky to experience the same environment at Xerox as she did in her time in IST.

The State College native is a software engineer at Xerox, working on user interfaces of multifunction office printers. She explained that collaboration is an asset and a necessity on the job.

“If someone has a problem and they share it with the group, it is likely that someone will be able to assist that person,” she said.

Unlike some IST students who are drawn to the college immediately, Ocneanu took a longer time to forge her path. The well-rounded alumna had an interest in drawing and painting, foreign language and computers.

“When I was touring different colleges, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Ocneanu said.

“I really liked how interdisciplinary IST was,” she said, adding that she wasn’t sure if she wanted to work exclusively in computer science but still had an interest in the field.

To follow those interests, Ocneanu decided to pursue a degree in IST, with a focus on Design and Development, and Spanish.

“I wanted to build applications and work with programming that was more tangible. I didn’t just want to do the theoretical. IST was perfect to encompass all those things.”

She credits her time in IST with helping her transition smoothly into the workforce.

“You have people from many different countries who work with people in India and Singapore, so it makes me think of Dr. Rosalie Ocker’s class, IST 301, where we had to work with different international teams,” she said. “That [classroom experience] really prepared me for that.”

She said that Xerox prides itself on its gender diversity and estimated that the employment ratio of men to women in her software development group is about equal. She said, “It’s great to see that Xerox values that.”

Ocneanu also expressed the need to expose girls to IST, especially at an early age. Without her past mentors and experiences, she hypothesizes she may not be where she is today.

“I had a lot of programs that worked on getting women into IST to thank for that,” she said. “Even in middle school, there was a Women in Science and Engineering program from the College of Engineering that got girls to explore those fields. Teaching girls about STEM early on really does wonders.”

Ocneanu is working to support this issue by participating in the Xerox Science Consultants Program, a monthly program that teaches city students science lessons they might not normally have in their curriculum.

“I’m hoping that this will have the same impact that ultimately led me down my path,” she said.

With the demand for women and underrepresented students to join more technical fields, Ocneanu hopes to break the typical model of programmers that society envisions today.

“I think people have this stereotypical idea of a programmer sitting in the dark by themselves,” she said. She emphasized that programmers must learn to explain themselves and their methods in layman’s terms to a “myriad of layers” of people with different specialties.

In addition to programs encouraging women to participate in IST majors, she credits the College of Engineering’s networking sessions for giving her ample opportunities for networking, as well as her current position and past internships.

“[The College of Engineering] has a [networking] program where they extend the session to IST majors,” she said. “I have IST and the College of Engineering to thank for all of my internship opportunities.”

Not only did internships enhance Ocneanu’s education, but she also had the opportunity to become an IST Learning Assistant where she supported faculty in the classroom and students through tutoring and academic assistance.

“That gave me a lot of work experience early on,” Ocneanu noted. She also said that as a result of her opportunity to participate in the program and the requirement to work across majors and fields, she was prepared to work with a variety of people.

Ocneanu encouraged all IST students to “put themselves out there” in terms of networking.

“That was something I didn’t think I’d be capable of,” she shared. “[Doing so] gave me a much better footing. Peers that didn’t have internships until later didn’t have as much luck with getting jobs as I did.”

“Get as many experiences as possible,” she encouraged. “You’ll get to see what you do and don’t want to do.”

Last Updated August 17, 2017