Abstract Background Generation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and converting one cell type to another (transdifferentiation) by manipulating the expression of a small number of genes highlight the progress of cellular reprogramming, which holds great promise for regenerative medicine. A key challenge is to find the recipes of perturbing genes to achieve successful reprogramming such that the reprogrammed cells function in the same way as the natural cells. Results We present here a systems biology approach that allows systematic search for effective reprogramming recipes and monitoring the reprogramming progress to uncover the underlying mechanisms. Using budding yeast as a model system, we have curated a genetic network regulating cell cycle and sporulation. Phenotypic consequences of perturbations can be predicted from the network without any prior knowledge, which makes it possible to computationally reprogram cell fate. As the heterogeneity of natural cells is important in many biological processes, we find that the extent of this heterogeneity restored by the reprogrammed cells varies significantly upon reprogramming recipes. The heterogeneity difference between the reprogrammed and natural cells may have functional consequences. Conclusions Our study reveals that cellular reprogramming can be achieved by many different perturbations and the reprogrammability of a cell depends on the heterogeneity of the original cell state. We provide a general framework that can help discover new recipes for cellular reprogramming in human.