Systems Engineering Program Leads Alum Through Career Change, Job Growth

Christopher Blackden

When Christopher Blackden enrolled in Drexel University’s online Master of Science in Systems Engineering program in 2012, he was working full-time as an IT technician while also raising a toddler at home with a partner who worked nights. He chose Drexel because of the strength of its programs, but there was also a sense of fate in his decision.

“Having gotten my undergraduate degree at La Salle University in Philadelphia, I knew about Drexel’s reputation as an engineering school already,” Blackden explains. “I actually had classmates at La Salle who said that I should have picked Drexel for undergrad after seeing how I worked through problems.”

Juggling school, work, and family life proved demanding in Blackden’s first quarter, and managing a full course load while holding down a full-time job and new fatherhood pushed him to his limits. Thankfully, Drexel’s online programs allowed him to adjust to a pace that was more suited to his schedule.

“There are a couple of funny stories during that time where [my partner] would come home in the early morning and I’d fallen asleep on top of my laptop,” Blackden recalls with a laugh. “I somehow managed to finish that quarter, but quickly moved to part-time, taking only the classes that my employer’s tuition reimbursement benefit would cover.”

With perseverance and a scaled-back course load, Blackden continued advancing through the program over the next eight years. During that time, he changed jobs several times and eventually relocated to Philadelphia for work, picking up new engineering responsibilities and skills with each stop.

Blackden credits Drexel’s systems engineering curriculum for accelerating his career growth and equipping him with an invaluable mindset and skillset. Shortly after starting at Drexel, he was promoted into an engineering role where he could implement the systems engineering principles he was learning. For example, after taking an engineering statistics course, Blackden built a predictive analytics tool that decreased server downtime during complex software updates for his employer at the time.

“The system engineering mindset itself has been incredibly beneficial for my career,” he explains. “Being able to break a complex system or issue down to its base components, see the relationships between different parts, and identify how each piece contributes to the whole has been incredibly powerful and useful for both my professional career, as well as personal projects I’ve taken on.”

Today, Blackden serves as Infrastructure Engineer at the Center for Data-Driven Discovery in Biomedicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In this role, he helps design, build, maintain and secure cloud-based systems supporting cutting-edge pediatric disease research. He also teaches graduate data science courses at Drexel as an adjunct professor.

Reflecting on his eight-year path through graduate school while climbing the career ladder, Blackden says the long haul was worth it. “The world has a lot of problems that need solving. Engineers are people who can not only take a look at a complex problem, but help design and build systems to address those problems."