When a non-CS major takes CS

April 20, 2018, 1:30 a.m.

When I began my freshman year at Stanford almost eight months ago, I was pretty set on never taking a computer science class. I’d never coded before, and I’ve always considered myself to be a little technologically challenged. Moreover, I didn’t even know what ‘computer science’ meant, and I was perfectly okay with never finding out. So, arriving on Stanford’s campus was a bit of a culture shock for me. I was suddenly asked whether my major was “techy” or “fuzzy,” and I was surprised by the amount of people who were CS majors. Looking back, the numbers aren’t completely crazy, considering our proximity to Silicon Valley and the fact that we live in a technological age. Nonetheless, my first quarter at Stanford made me reevaluate my preconceived notions about CS and wonder what it was that made it such a popular major.

After seeing many of my dorm mates take CS106A and emphasize that it was one of the best taught classes at Stanford, I decided to see what all the hype was about for myself. I’m now three weeks into my first CS class, and I’d like to take some time to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned thus far. There’s a line from the spectacular film Ratatouille that truly encapsulates my experience: “Anyone can cook.” In the movie, Remy the rat challenges the stereotype of a typical human chef and exemplifies the importance of following one’s dreams. In terms of CS, this line can be changed to “Anyone can [code].” And like cooking, there will be some people who are naturally great coders and some people who are not so great. But that doesn’t mean someone can’t work hard to become a great coder, just as one works hard to become a chef. Most importantly, code has no bias. No matter who are or where you’re from, code treats you the same.

Last Friday, I submitted my very first CS assignment. Teaching Karel the robot tricks like making her world into a checkerboard or finding the midpoint of this world may seem simple on the surface, but I can attest that coding is a lot harder than it seems. I spent three hours working on my Midpoint Code, yelping in sadness when Karel kept crashing into a wall, only to discover that my mistake was a punctuation error. I had put a “ >”  instead of a “<” in one line of code, and that had made all the difference. Despite my struggles, my first week of CS taught me to think of problems from new angles when I couldn’t figure them out. I was surprised by some of the creative solutions I came up with and was proud of the code I turned in. Diving into a subject I knew nothing about was scary to say the least, but my experience thus far has taught me that trying new things is absolutely worth it. Though I don’t think I will be majoring in CS, I definitely see the appeal and salute my fellow ‘techie’ trees. I also appreciate the opportunity to learn at least the basics of programming. And I know that if an army of Karel bots comes for humankind, I will be prepared to fight back.  


Contact Ayushi Tandel at atandel ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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