Computer Science wasn’t anything I thought it’d be. In this post, I dive into my experiences from my first year of studying Computer Science.
Disclaimer: This was my personal experience going through the program. These reflections were pulled from my memory of being pushed to my limits during my first year. Although my first year was tough, I have found more positive ways to manage working in the world of computer science!
Fall 2018 (first college semester) - Computer Science I
“Hey Liana, come sit over here!” I was SO relieved to find out that I knew someone in this class. (Quick shoutout to Johnson for being my first UNT friend and for sticking with me since Flight Week!) I climbed over the tight seating arrangement in the lecture hall and cooled off from my 20 minute walk to the building.
“Hello everyone, welcome to Computer Science I!” Let me just say, I was extremely anxious being in that lecture room. The room was freezing (which in hindsight was great because of the Texas heat), I was crammed in, shoulder-to-shoulder, with about 200 other students, everyone had a nice laptop pulled out, and most students were already writing code or playing a game THEY created. Yes, a game that THEY MADE THEMSELVES.
RIP. I had absolutely no idea what Computer Science was, and I was already struggling with simply gaining access to my course materials on Canvas.
Our professor began going through the syllabus and textbook. He then pulled up Putty (an open-source terminal meant for Windows/Linux) and started writing lines of code. I had a surge of imposter’s syndrome shoot down my spine. “What on earth am I doing here? Wait, what did he say? Haha...I don't know what that means. How did he even get there? ...Oh my gosh, I need to review this later.”
The first few weeks consisted of me frequently googling every data type we studied, asking millions of questions during my 3-hour labs, and a lot of head scratching. Ironically, it’s still like that now. My first semester studying Computer Science really worked my brain and patience. Honestly, I struggled a lot during the class. I worked tirelessly to understand concepts and spent hours writing code. I would come home from campus, make a cup of coffee, and park myself at my dining room table to work on the assigned class projects. Some nights, I fell asleep at the table with all my work still open. Truthfully, I didn’t do well on the tests, and I struggled with the projects. I got through that first class by the skin. of. my. teeth.
What I took away from my first semester...
I had an extremely full first semester. I learned a great deal about time management - being a business & engineering student, my days were filled with back-to-back classes with me driving back & forth from the main campus to Discovery Park (our engineering building is a little ways away from the main campus). I was also rushing for a business fraternity, joining other organizations (some worked out, others weren't really my cup of tea), and becoming accustomed to the UNT culture as a whole. Unfortunately, I caught strep throat for the first time and wow that took me 2 months to fully recover and gain my strength back. Sprinkled in that timeline, I made so many wonderful friendships my first semester, but what mattered to me the most was proving to myself that I could handle everything that I had signed up for. "You're in college now, Liana. You're the one calling the shots. You're the one driving to campus, sitting in lectures, studying, attending meetings, etc. What do you want? Why do you want it?"
Even though my GPA was bruised and my brain exhausted by the extreme amounts of pressure, I still came out of that class with my head held high. “I did it. I got through it.” On paper, it was pretty evident that I was put through the ringer, but physically & mentally, I felt so refreshed. I took a huge risk taking a course about a topic I knew absolutely nothing about during my first semester of college. I was pushed down time & time again. I found out that rock bottom had a basement (oof, I know). Despite the circumstances, I loved it. I loved the rigor & the challenges it gave me. I loved seeing how the concepts connected to the projects we were assigned. I loved the creativity of coding - with a few libraries, function calls, and some patience (actually, lots of patience), I could make something practical right at my fingertips.
Spring 2019 - Computer Science II
Winter break really helped me reset my mind for the upcoming semester. “Here we go. Round 2. This can’t be as rough as last semester...I mean I knew NOTHING then. I at least have a loose idea of what to expect now, right?”
Well...in some ways it was rough, in others not so much.
This class turned out to be absolutely amazing in several ways. Johnson was in this class with me again, and we became acquainted with two people who have become some of our greatest friends - Austin & Megan. Having a little friend group in a class where you're struggling to put two & two together, is a BLESSING. We studied, did homework, vented about class, grabbed food, and supported each other. To this day, they’re still some of my closest friends.
Our professor took time to emphasize the highlights of the computer science/analytics industries. We had several days where he would cover professional development topics to encourage us to research future careers. He structured class projects to take after software engineering internship work, and boy, that was tough. The second project we had took me FOREVER to do. I remember I was at the library with Megan and a few other students working on our individual projects till 2 am. My eyes were watering because of how exhausted they were from trying to work through the pesky errors all over my terminal. I'm pretty sure I took a slight nap while I was there, but I can't fully remember - my memory of that night is pretty blurry. I still don’t know how I drove 30 minutes home without falling asleep. It was quite the trip. (Maybe that wasn't the safest thing to do, but I made it home in one piece!)
The projects were very rough, but what really turned my grade around were the tests. I don’t know how else to explain it besides saying that something clicked or that it felt like a switch had been turned on in my brain. I can’t tell you if it was the type of material we were studying or if I had just become familiar with the way we were tested, but it all began to click for me. I studied even more for the tests than I did during my first semester, and I felt my determination beam through my study hours. I loved what I was learning. I spent so much time working on this class because it also pushed me to work harder in other areas of my life. At this time, I was applying and interviewing for internships, holding a leadership position in my business fraternity, and had just become an equity research analyst for an investment group on campus (more about all of this in a future post). The mix of progress in a skill that demolished me a few months ago and my overall professional development really motivated me throughout the semester. I ended the class with a much, much, MUCH higher grade than the previous class, and I teared up at the end of the semester because of how proud I was of myself(:
Where I am now...
These were little snapshots about my experiences with Computer Science during my first year of college. It’s impossible to write every single minute detail, and I know it’s not anything any of you would like to read forever-long about.
It wasn’t easy, and it hasn't become any easier since my first semester. In fact, it’s only become increasingly harder since then. The difference between each semester is my growing determination & passion for the field as a whole. I see written languages based off of binary as a form of creativity. My coding skills have become more nuanced and my processing of logical critical-thinking has become more natural. The way my mind processes logical problems is completely different now than when I started.
I never ran away from situations that obviously intimidated me. I could’ve turned around & thrown in the towel countless of times before, but I didn’t. I could’ve given into what others said about me and taken their “advice” - “Maybe you should rethink taking this as your minor. You're not cut out to do this kind of work.” However, I loved the challenges I faced, and more importantly, I loved who I was becoming each step of the way.
I completed my 4th class of my Computer Science minor this summer. I have made it all this way being able to say that I’ve gotten through the past 4 grueling semesters of exhausting hours of work. I’m ⅔ done with my minor, and honestly, the thought of that makes my eyes well up. I can write all about how I felt through this journey and I can talk about my experiences to my friends, but I understand the way I feel about all of this - my sense of accomplishment - will never be fully comprehensive to you as it is to me. I’m here to tell you that you CAN pursue & succeed in things that you once thought were impossible. Granted, the term successful is subjective (I’ll leave that up to your personal discretion) - you’re more capable than you give yourself credit for.
All of us have experienced being told “No” or “Maybe this isn’t for you”, and maybe some of you have led yourself to believe that too. But if you have the slightest feeling that what others say isn’t true, or you feel it within yourself that you are capable, then forget what anyone else says. Chase after that dream! Attack that challenge! Show them who you are! And if you stumble along the way, you can always pick yourself up, learn from that experience, and run again - this time with even more grit.
You are capable. You just need to believe in yourself. If you won’t, then who else will?