Chris Birkhead

Software and Data Engineering

Q&A with Software and Data Engineering Student Chris Burkhead

Student Stories

What made you want to enroll in that program and what interests you about that career?

I've been working in social services for about 18 years now. So, for the past couple of years, I've been looking for a whole new field to kind of jump into and trying to find a program that fits my family's lifestyle. I’m married, have two children, and work full-time. I wanted a field that interests and inspires me and that would be a good return on my investment in my education. 

My wife received her master's in teaching from Bellarmine, so I knew they ran a quality program in the graduate or second-degree programs that are very affordable. I found this program, it's only a one-year program designed for someone who has a bachelor's degree and is looking for a second degree, but it's on a very accelerated timeline. 


Software and data engineering can sound intimidating to some. Help us understand what the program is like.

The class is split between two different factions. You have the software faction and the data faction. The software part starts from the ground up. You learn the history of coding and computers and how that started. Then you start learning one of the most intensive programming languages, Java. That is heavily embedded in most of the programs or inspired most of the new programming languages that we use today. It's a lot of puzzle-solving, so that's a very fun and enticing part of it, it's a lot of trial and error.

The other part is data. Data is everywhere these days; data is gathered about us constantly, so we learn about data, how it is captured, and how different companies use that data for their purposes. We learn as data engineers how we can help companies gather that data, but more specifically how to use that data and what programs you would use to analyze that data. And, to ask questions about that data so you can help the company or the industry you're in. 

It can be very intense at times, but that helps you grow as a student, and as a person. But the support is there and so I think if you're up for a challenge, Bellarmine has that for you. And they have the support to get you through it. 


The importance of this work is huge and probably overlooked by most everyone because they take it for granted because everything just works for them. It would be very difficult to have even a day without benefiting from the work of software and data engineers. 

Exactly, and being in the industry that I've been in for 18 years, I see the software that we use daily, the data that we gather and then use daily. I've seen first-hand how that's all collected and how I use it in my job. And so I've seen ways that I would want to improve that in my own company right now. 

How has Bellarmine helped you succeed so far? 

One of the things that they've already done is put me in contact with the Career Development Center which is there to help you get a job as soon as you graduate, if not before. They've already had one industry meet and greet for students in my program, where we met with local industry leaders from local corporations to tell us how they use people in our field and the careers that they have.

Then there was a career fair where I went and met with several companies and their headhunters and told them what my interests were and what they were looking for. All of them pretty much were very enthusiastic and inspired about the program and told me to get ready to reach back out to them in February as I'm on track to graduate in May.

To know that I was only halfway through the program; I'm already meeting with local employers and they're all telling me that they want to talk a couple of months before I'm scheduled to graduate so that I know immediately upon graduation I might already be employed in this new field. That was very inspiring. 

I really craved that relationship with professors, you know. And I've been able to achieve that through this program with these professors. 


Tell me about what your experience has been like with courses and professors. I know you get to do the program on your own time, so it's helpful for someone who has a job and a family, but tell me about what it's been like for you. 

It's all done on your own and it's all online, but the professors are right there for you. If I ever need to reach out, they're responding to my emails within minutes.

They had a cookout at a local park for us locals where we could and meet in person. They've been very encouraging. I really craved that relationship with professors. And I've been able to achieve that through this program with these professors. 

Doctor Robert Kelly also joined the software field as a second career. So he knows where we're coming from, so he's a source of inspiration. He's very encouraging and reaches out all the time to make sure we're doing what we need to be doing, or that we have the resources we need. So I've been very pleased with the experience.

What would you say to some other potential students? 

If you have the time to fit in a couple of hours each day, this program is fantastic. Within one year, I started last May, and by this coming May, so between two derbies, I'm going to have a second degree in a whole new field. That's going to put me in a whole new career field where the lifetime income earning easily exceeds what I am currently making. 

So the return on investment appears to be very good for the amount of time. I was able to sit down with my family and instead of saying: Hey, for the next three years I'm going to be stressed out pursuing this master's degree, I'm going to be having to make time to go to all these classes in person and then maybe have to do some job shadowing and stuff like that. Instead, it's one hard year that I just have to dedicate myself to and get through. And my family was totally on board. 


Is there anything else that you'd like to add, that you think would be relevant, that you want us to know?

I couldn't be more pleased with the experience that I've had overall in this program. It can be very intense at times, but that helps you grow as a student, and as a person. But the support is there. If you're up for a challenge, Bellarmine has that for you and the support to get you through it. 

Click here to learn more about Bellarmine's Accelerated Bachelor's Degree in Software and Data Engineering program.

Tags: Software and Data Engineering



Located in the historic Highlands neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, Bellarmine University is a vibrant community of educational excellence and ethical awareness that consistently ranks among the nation’s best colleges and universities. Our students pursue an education based in the liberal arts – and in the distinguished, inclusive Catholic tradition of educational excellence, the oldest and most rewarding in the western world. It is a lifelong education, worthy of the university’s namesake, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and of his invitation to each of us to learn and live In Veritatis Amore – in the love of all that is beautiful, true and good in life.