As someone who unexpectedly decided to change my major to computer science sophomore year after being convinced that I would get a degree in physics, there are a few things I wish I had learned earlier on in my journey. I needed both a practical crash course on starting a career in tech as well as a healthy dose of reassurance.
Here are 6 things I wish someone had told me when I started studying computer science:
1. It is never too late to start studying computer science.
The truth is, no matter when you start studying computer science, you will feel behind. There is always someone who has a longer history in the field or more experience, but that doesn’t mean you’re too late to the game.
Of course, at some point it may be too late to completely change your major depending on your college’s major requirements, but that is not the only way to study computer science. You could minor in computer science or just take a few courses before you graduate. Even outside of or after college, there are plenty of ways to start studying computer science. There are online computer science resources and coding classes as well as computer science bootcamps or programs to apply to.
Basically, I just needed someone to tell me that no matter how far behind I felt, it was not “too late” to switch gears to computer science, because it genuinely never is too late.
2. Computer science is hard, but not impossible.
Computer science courses can be difficult. Every semester you will read the course reviews for your upcoming classes and you will wince. You will hear horror stories about 35% exam averages and impossible programming assignments. You will question if this is the course that will finally weed you out. And, yes, generally the course work does become more difficult as you take higher-level courses, but no computer science course is insurmountable.
Starting a course with a defeatist attitude and panic will only start you off on the wrong foot. With the right combination of time management, support, hard work, and confidence, that class will begin to be less and less daunting. Before you know it, you’ll be turning in your final exam and moving on to the next semester.
3. Don’t let the math requirements scare you.
Are you intimidated by the math courses you’ll need to take to complete your computer science major? Don’t be! Of course, there are some more familiar math requirements, like calculus,but chances are you may not have as much experience with discrete mathematics and linear algebra. Learning entirely new math concepts can definitely feel daunting.
Discrete mathematics and linear algebra are very unlike calculus. These courses will challenge you in different ways and introduce you to a new intriguing perspective about numbers. At this point, you’re likely (and understandably) a little tired of integrals and intersecting curves. So branching out into less familiar math concepts will actually feel like a breath of fresh air.
It also helps that a lot of professors will make a specific effort to explain the real world applications of discrete math and linear algebra early on. This will motivate you and make these topics easier to understand and use
4. Internships are important but there is no need to panic.
Internships are a great way to gain work experience and can help you figure out what types of jobs you may want to look for after you graduate. The application window for summer internships begins as early as September and generally ends around early spring. Be sure to apply earlier rather than later, so that employers will see your application before spots get completely filled up. Because many companies fill their internship slots on a rolling basis, if you wait too long, the applications you’re interested in may have already closed.
However, if you missed the deadlines, don’t worry. You missed the application season this time around, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never get an internship or that your time is necessarily “wasted.” There are plenty of ways to spend your time wisely, in preparation for the next recruiting season. You can refine your resume, work on personal projects, and begin preparing for the dreaded technical interview.
5. Computer science will start to demystify a lot of everyday computer interactions.
We interact with computers every single day and yet computers can still feel a little mysterious sometimes. We have so much faith that our computers will do what we want, even when we may not understand how they’re doing it.
Of course, taking an intro computer science course won’t all of a sudden make you an expert on every layer of a computer system, but it is fun to see how each course slowly chips away at enigmatic computer processes. It will begin to transform the way you interact with your computer every single day. The more you understand, the more curious you will become (and it's honestly so fun).
6. There are so many online resources.
There will be times when your textbook, lecture notes, and even your professor just won’t make any sense to you. At first you’ll feel defeated and a little helpless, but fear not, because somewhere out there someone will have explained the topic in a way you can understand.
There are a seemingly endless amount of resources for students starting computer science from websites to youtube videos to organizations like Edlyft. It's just a matter of finding the resources that work best for you.