A letter from the editor: Why you should study CS.

We hope everyone has been enjoying the beginning of the school year! We enjoyed a nice break and are finally getting back into the rhythm, with some enhancements to our layout!

Today we’re deviating a bit from the norm, with a personal letter written to our high-school readers, from our editor and primary contributor, Nick Giampietro.

Dear HS students,

Study computer science. You’ve heard some of the perks already, likely from us as well as your teachers, and maybe even your family: you can make good money, you can help people by solving big problems, you’ll be armed to take on the future with an understanding of a technology sought after for hundreds of years, but only about sixty years in the making.

In that short time (short in the scope of human history) it has completely turned the world over. Try to imagine a world without search engines like Google. Try to imagine communicating without cell phones, texting or email. Try to imagine doing preliminary research without having Wikipedia as a starting point. Imagine trying to find your way around a new city without GPS. Can you?

I can’t.

But you’ve all heard this spiel before. What’s gotten me so passionate that I decided to write a personal letter? An epiphany. That this doesn’t convince everyone. It sure didn’t convince me.

Background first: I’ve studied programming and computer science a little bit since middle school. I remember our media class, where we programmed web pages in HTML. Before that, LEGO robotics. In high school, I took a couple programming classes and thought they were pretty cool. But I never took it very seriously. It was kind of a novelty.

What I love is writing, language, and teaching. And that’s what I took seriously. I went to Portland State University, pursuing a double major in Japanese and English, and I loved it. I tutored as a side job. Programming fell by the wayside, and I neglected that part of my life. My closet attraction to programming snuck through in conversations with friends, and with my seeking this job, writing for some great people who want everyone to know how awesome CS and engineering professions are.

Finishing my second to last year at PSU, I decided to go on a road trip with my two best friends. One is studying medicine, and the other is a mechanical engineering major. And there were a few things that happened to me on that trip.

We stopped in Madison, WI for a night, and stayed at an acquaintance’s place (Physics grad students). When we introduced ourselves, it went something like this:

(My friend): “I’m Chris, an undergrad in mechanical engineering. This is Kenny, he’s looking at grad schools for osteopathic medicine. This is Nick. He’s a bum!

Everyone had a good laugh, including me. It’s a running joke that language majors are typically jobless, or are working at coffee shops or high school teachers. I never felt bad when they teased me before, because I knew I wanted to become a teacher eventually, anyways, and because I was doing what I love.

But something stuck this time. And that’s because of the people I’d met on my adventures thus far. During these trips, I met a ton of cool people from all over the world: Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Canada, and plenty of folks from America, of course. Here’s the funny thing: every international person I met, and a huge chunk of the Americans, were all programmers. All majors in computer science. And the international ones all said the same thing:

“I do it because you can get a job just about anywhere in the world.”

They all had different reasons for that: some liked to travel and wanted to be able to do that. Some truly loved it as their hobby. Some wanted to be able to get different kinds of jobs (working at a corporate application company like Microsoft, and then working for a small company trying to invent a new toy, and then working with doctors to find a cure for cancer). And some just wanted a stable, well-paying job, simple as that.

But no matter what their reason was, they all wanted one thing: options. I had a chance to meet with some distant family members. One of them was a programmer, and he told me this:

“It’s not what I love. I love mountain climbing and biking. So I got a job here [in Salt Lake City] next to the mountains and trails. And I make enough money that I can afford to travel and do all the things I love.

“Like I said programming isn’t what I love, but when I was young I didn’t know what I loved. I knew what would get me a good job, and I did that. And it gave me the time I needed to find what I did love, and now it lets me do that.”

A 7,000 mile road trip gives you a lot of time to think, when you’re behind the wheel. And I had dozens of hours to reflect on everything I’d experienced, all the people I’d met, and all the things they said.

And as soon as I got home, I arranged a meeting with a school counselor to figure out a plan to get a degree in computer science.

I’m still going to finish my Japanese degree, naturally. Because I’ve already found what I love and I don’t want to waste my schooling on that. But when I’m in Japan, teaching English and having a great adventure, I’m going to go home, log into Oregon State University’s online campus, and work on completing classes required for a masters degree in computer science.

Here’s what I want you to take from this: you’re not like me. And nobody else is like you. You might or might not know what your passion in life is—what you love. And you might, but it might not be a safe career choice. Or you might just want to keep your options opened, because you’re the kind of person who loves everything and doesn’t want to close doors.

It doesn’t matter who you are, though. A degree in computer science means a good job wherever you go, and that means options. It means time to find your passion, it means a way to travel the world, it means funding for your hobbies. And if you’re lucky, it might also become the thing you love.



One thought on “A letter from the editor: Why you should study CS.

  1. Pingback: Another letter from the editor: Why you should study CS right out of high school. | GetReal

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