Graduating senior of computer science, Mollie Holmes (right), is pictured with her dad, Michael Holmes, in Owen Hall. Mollie remembers visiting Owen as a girl when her dad was attending OSU to earn a degree in electrical engineering.
Mollie Holmes took a risk to change her direction in life and return to school as a post-baccalaureate to receive a computer science degree through Oregon State’s online degree program.
It meant quitting her job and moving back home to become a non-traditional student in a field dominated by men. And there were times she wondered if she had made a huge mistake.
“In the first few weeks of class, there was so much information that I didn’t know, and I started thinking, ‘This was a horrible idea. I'm too old to be doing this!’” Holmes said.
Fortunately, she had the support and guidance of her parents. Her life, she said, parallels her father’s who initially graduated from Oregon State with a business degree, but after serving in the Vietnam War returned to fulfill his dream of becoming a chemical engineer, receiving his bachelor’s in 1979. While working as a chemical engineer, he discovered his love for electrical engineering, and came back to Oregon State for his third bachelor’s degree.
Holmes also had previous degrees from Oregon State in mathematics and art but she could not find a career that was fulfilling for her. She worked in retail as a visual merchandising manager, bartended, and worked as a server, and although she valued those experiences, she came to a point where she wanted more. So, at 29 years (the same age as her father when he first returned to school), she enrolled in the computer science program. A field she thought she would never pursue.
“I’ve been told my whole life that I would be good at engineering or computer science because I’m good in math. I have a cousin that worked at Microsoft and multiple family members that are engineers or work in the tech industry, so I was surrounded by these influences, but I just didn’t think I would like it. I had this idea that it was very impersonal and lonely and you were stuck at a computer all day,” Holmes said.
But her life experiences gave her the confidence to try something different. Starting out she thought she would focus on human-computer interaction because she likes usability and interacting with people, but as she progressed through the program she found her passion in operating systems.
“Designing and debugging a program, especially at that level, reminded me of writing proofs, and I loved it. I finally found the intellectual stimulation that I craved,” she said.
Holmes excelled in the tough curriculum, becoming a stand-out leader in her classes. She also gained confidence in her skills through working at Oregon State’s Software Development Group in the Center for Applied Systems and Software (CASS). She plans to return to school for a graduate degree, but right now she is excited to learn more about firmware and took an opportunity to work at Hewlett-Packard in San Diego as a firmware engineer. “I really need to satisfy that curiosity,” she said.
Holmes jokes with her dad that they are in competition for number of degrees. But even though her first degrees did not lead to a career for her, she does not regret the decisions she made to get to where she is now. Indeed, she believes her degrees in mathematics and art prepared her for computer science which requires innovative and critical thinking.
“In everything I have pursued, I have always stayed true to myself. I have taken a path that might seem backwards to some, and at times it seemed backwards to me. But I learned that no matter what your interests or dreams are — if it is a dream you have had for 40 years, or an idea you came up with just last week — if it sparks an interest in you, it is not too late to pursue it,” she said.