ECU’s software engineering degree program graduates first student

Jack Hanley’s journey to becoming the first graduate in East Carolina University’s new Bachelor of Science in software engineering program wasn’t easy. But he admits that being the first is “pretty cool.”

Hanley’s accomplishment became official Friday during ECU’s spring commencement at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium where Chancellor Philip Rogers conferred degrees to more than 4,000 graduates.

“I’m super excited,” Hanley said. “It’s been a long four years with COVID and everything going on. Coming back to in-person classes after being online for so long was pretty difficult. But, it’s been nice.”

The Department of Computer Science started its software engineering degree program in 2019. Software engineers design and build complex software-intensive systems using a range of computing and engineering technologies. Industry demand for software engineers is increasing according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with 22% job growth expected through 2030. The median salary for software engineers tops $110,000.

“I actually started in computer science, but I had seen where they offered this software engineering degree. When I looked at it, I realized that the software engineering side of things actually lined up with more of what I wanted to do,” Hanley said. “Software engineering is more of the applicable stuff, while computer science is sort of the research and ideology behind software engineering. I knew I wanted to do software engineering and knew that it would help me more in the field, and I think it has.”

The constant problem-solving is really the most enjoyable part to me. You’re always thinking about something.
- Jack Hanley, software engineering graduate

Hanley already has a job lined up with a company he’s been working with for about five years — Grover Gaming. The Greenville company develops software, game content and gaming systems for lotteries and charitable gaming jurisdictions in the United States and Canada.

“I’m on the software engineering team that does a lot of the back-end work on the actual games that not everyone gets a chance to see, but it’s pretty rewarding,” he said.

He continued to work full time at Grover while attending ECU.

“Going back and forth between school and work kept me pretty busy,” Hanley said. “It was pretty cool though, because there were times I would learn something in class and be able to take it to work, and then vice versa when I would look up something at work and the next day I would be talking about it in class.

“There were classes where we had homework assignments developing small programs that did a set function or had a certain functionality. A lot of those were pretty small, but the capstone project, there was a lot required. It was a semester-long project where you worked on a team and developed an application. That was as real world as it gets. Some of the other classes we did work where I could see myself doing it out in the real world.”

He called his path to software engineering a familiar one.

“Probably like a lot of students, I enjoy playing video games,” he said. “I took a few classes in high school and that got my interest. I just found it to be interesting. The constant problem-solving is really the most enjoyable part to me. You’re always thinking about something.”

Hanley said what attracted him to ECU was the small class sizes in which faculty would get to know students and students would get to know each other.

“I’ve always liked the classes where they are smaller and you have a group of close-knit people,” he said.

Hanley also has a family connection to ECU. His father, Mike, a 1982 ECU graduate, is the senior associate athletics director for student services, and he has two sisters that went to ECU.

“I lived in Greenville my whole life,” he said. “I couldn’t see myself anywhere else.”