Why I’m taking CS 106A

Jan. 21, 2020, 1:56 a.m.

I’ve begun to notice two burgeoning factions of students in my all-frosh dorm: the ones who eat, sleep and breathe computer science, and the ones who vow to never set foot in a computer science (CS) lecture hall during their time here at Stanford. 

While I’ve never been an avid “techie,” my interests span multiple disciplines, so it’s always difficult for me to pinpoint exactly where I fall on this spectrum. I’m always left hovering somewhere between these two extremes, bombarded with quandaries from both sides. If CS 106A actually is a right of passage at this esteemed university, can I even call myself a Stanford student if I don’t learn how to code? Or would it be weak-willed of me to hop on the CS bandwagon without considering my own academic calling?

CS 106A has long been regarded as a staple for Stanford undergraduates. But the course’s prominence echoes a message students hear all too often: that you aren’t making the most of your time here if you don’t take advantage of Stanford’s CS department. After all, Silicon Valley is a hub of technological innovation, and a degree in computer science reputedly opens gateways into the ever-expanding world of tech. Especially among my dorm mates, who are exceedingly eager to found a tech startup or seize a coveted internship as soon as possible, this message can be suffocating.

But this mentality has fueled a countermovement: lovers of the humanities and social sciences often try to actively combat the notion that “techie” majors are the only fruitful and worthwhile fields of study. Some have even made it a mission of theirs to never take a CS course during their college career. And as someone who leans toward the humanities over STEM, I wholeheartedly agree with this perspective. 

But there’s still a piece of me that wants to take computer science, not out of obligation, but because I’m embracing college as a place to take risks and step out of my comfort zone. A couple of years ago, I would never have envisioned myself taking a course in computer science; the subject is basically the antithesis of everything that comes naturally to me. But part of the wonder of college is being able to take a step in a brand new direction. I would much rather struggle through a class and receive a well-rounded, engaging education than fly through the quarter without breaking a sweat. 

Some might say that I’ve simply succumbed to peer pressure by enrolling in CS 106A this winter. But I think we need to reconcile the dichotomy between CS fanatics and adversaries. I shouldn’t have to feel like I’m choosing sides in a debate when filling in my class schedule; I’m not betraying the “fuzzies” by choosing to intellectually challenge myself. Stanford has granted me the freedom to explore completely uncharted territory, and I couldn’t be more excited to dig in. 

Contact Eden Gibson at eden3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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