5 Things I Wish I Knew as a New Computer Science Student

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When I entered college, I barely knew anyone who programmed, and I didn’t have any family or friends who worked in the field. As such, I encountered things in my freshman and sophomore CS classes that surprised me. Below are some things I wish I knew when I was entering college as a freshman intent on majoring in Computer Science.

A lot of people will have more experience than you.

When I went into my first programming class, I had less than a year of casual programming experience. My next course in the introductory sequence, though it ended up being one I enjoyed, was considerably more difficult, and suddenly the skill gap between me and my peers became obvious. While there were some like me, who struggled but ultimately managed to get their projects working while learning a lot, there were others who saw the projects as easy, and talked about finishing them far more quickly than I could.

I began to doubt my ability to do well in the major, and after another semester that was even more challenging than the last, I often wondered if it was worth continuing on in the major when I was so far behind so many people. I’m glad I decided to stay in the major. When I feel self-conscious, I try to think about how much I’ve learned since entering college. While making comparisons between yourself and your peers is inevitable, just remember that you probably didn’t start with the same level of experience.

Of course someone who’s been programming for five years is going to be quicker than the person who’s been coding for one. This experience gap between classmates is such an issue that, as part of its efforts to increase women’s participation in Computer Science, Harvey Mudd College offers different introductory classes for those with different levels of experience.

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