Computer Science Education Week: How I Got In The Field

XKCD Tshirt
“Stand back, I’m going to try science” tshirt by XKCD, purchased and photographed by Ariane Coffin

This week (Dec 4th – 10th) is Computer Science Education Week, a week long celebration of computing and computer science education. In honor of this event, I am doing a series about computer science. Today’s topic involves my personal success story and explains how I ended up in this field.

I am not a teacher, so what can I do to improve recognition for computer science? I can share the love. You see, I am a programmer and I love what I do.

I was not destined to become a programmer, like some are. My brother, for example, was a quiet smart computer whiz from a very young age. No one had any doubts that he would go into some engineering field or another. Me, however? I was a wild child and a boy-crazy teenager.

It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do. I loved animals, I excelled at music. Not exactly financially viable options. I attended community college while I took classes from every field under the sun. I thought about majoring in industrial arts, graphic design, computer animation, or multimedia arts. At every step of the way, I got a little closer to computers.

Finally, one day, it clicked. What I loved about my digital art classes was the more technical computer stuff! That’s when I took the jump, I applied for a computer science program at a 4-year university. I was scared. I was not a computer geek. Would I fit in? Would I crash and burn, fail horribly?

It was a steep hill learning to walk the walk and talk the talk. I kept my mouth shut more than once because I had no idea what people were talking about, hardware this and network that. Then one day a fellow computer science student in my undergrad program admitted being bad at programming. I thought: how can you be bad at programming and still be in computer science? How can you admit that out loud and not get kicked out of the program?

And that’s when I understood that computer science was a very wide field with lots of nooks and crannies. Theory, systems, application. Virtual reality, video games, algorithms, compilers, artificial intelligence, image processing, data management. Java, C++, Python. No one was good at everything in computer science. I had my limitations, but I could make choices to find my niche and ultimately be good at what I do.

If there’s any wisdom I can pass on to students considering computer science it is to give it a try, even if you don’t think you’re “the type.” There’s a subset of computer science that will fit who you are and will benefit from your unique perspective.

A few weeks ago, I caught myself telling my husband, “I wish I was a scientist.” And then I started laughing: I have a bachelor of SCIENCE and a master of SCIENCE in computer SCIENCE. “Wait, I am a scientist!” My husband, also a programmer, gave me a doubtful look.

I guess it’s true what they say, programming is an art.

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Ariane is a programmer married to another programmer. Together they have two little girls who don't stand a chance against their nerdy lineage. Ariane can also be found writing about STEM travel at Geekling's Guide to the Galaxy.