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

A while back, we posted a letter from our primary contributor and editor, Nick Giampietro, telling his story in the world of computer science, and what it’s come to mean to him. We highly recommend it—he didn’t write your typical “study CS because the world needs you!” or “because you can get rich!” story, that’s for sure.

Here, Nick keeps you updated about his progress towards a CS degree, and tells you more about his story.


Dear HS Students,

It’s been a while since I last wrote you. Since then a lot has happened, and I’ve come to realize a number of things about my choices in school. I hope you can learn from my experiences, so you don’t have to go through the same trials that I’ve had to.

Here’s the thing: Like many of you will have to do, I’m taking out student loans for college. Somewhere in the ballpark of $20,000 or more, depending on how you do it (I’d rather not give you an exact number for mine—it’s not pretty). Once I graduate I have to start making payments on those loans. My plan was to pay those back with my salary from the JET Program, a prestigious English-teaching opportunity in Japan which is a great experience and pays well.

And I’ve been volunteering at The International School, teaching elementary school in Japanese, in order to get experience prior to entering the JET program. Like I said before, I decided to get a degree in Japanese—because I love studying it. But only when I got rejected by the JET Program did I realize how few options a degree in Japanese leaves me.

What else can I do with a Japanese degree? I could translate (competitive and not well paying) or be an interpreter (same story), or I could teach in a university (same story again). It’s what I love—but if I wound up doing some work like this, barely making enough to pay back my loans and feed myself, working way too hard so I don’t get replaced, and feeling unappreciated, do you think I’d still enjoy it then?

That’s where I stand right now: facing slim employment options with my current major and, because of that, probably no good way to start studying CS. After all, if I’m overworked and underpaid, paying off loans, where would I find the time or money to pay for more school?

That’s why I’m delaying my graduation one more year. It’s not something I’m totally happy about, but here’s how I decided to do it: I met with PSU’s academic advisers to look at how soon I could graduate with just a Japanese degree, versus how long it would take to get a minor in computer science as well. The reason I decided to do a minor first is because I can get it sooner, possibly get employed with that, and it also counts towards either bachelor’s or a master’s degree in computer science.

After I got that settled, I spoke with a career counselor to talk about job prospects for someone with my background. I went in and met with a career counselor who specializes in computer science and engineering. I showed him my resumé: degree in Japanese, math tutor, chapter president of an English honor society, and a writing internship (the result of which is this blog).

At first he was skeptical: “To a typical engineering firm, this resumé will look distracted,” he agreed.

That’s because, generally speaking, most companies tend to hire people who graduate from high school, get a regular four-year degree, and find work in their field. Engineering and computer science companies are no different. And even though it’s possible to get work without a degree, it usually means lower pay—and my point is to get out of having lower pay. After talking with me more, and getting to know me a little bit, he found someplace that would like my particular background. This particular company makes education software, is based in Portland, and has a number of Japanese clients. Sounds like a perfect match, right?

It might sound lucky, or too good to be true, but in reality there is almost always going to be an engineering or computer science company that’s perfect for you—regardless of your interests or background. You just have to look.

So here’s what I’m not so happy about: yet another year of school to get that minor, and another year’s worth of student loans. But this is what I am happy about: some credentials (read: a minor) in computer science, a good segue into getting a full degree in CS, a possible internship with a great company, and broadening job opportunities because of all that.

But what if I had just gotten the major in computer science—where would I be? I’d already be graduating this year, still with plenty of student loans but also with broad options for work; I’d be in a job market that pays well enough that I wouldn’t have to worry much about my student loans, and I might even have had enough left over to study Japanese in more depth. What’s more, I could have spent all my free time practicing Japanese.

What’s even more, the JET Program might not have rejected me in the first place, if I’d studied CS. After all, someone who can speak Japanese and also has a degree in something completely different looks a lot better than someone who has a degree which says they can speak Japanese, and can speak Japanese.

So here’s what I want you to get from reading all this: things are going to work out well for me, but I want things to work out great for you. If you have a subject you just love, studying CS is probably a better idea than studying that because then you don’t risk ruining that subject you love by turning it into miserable work. Anyways, the computer science industry is very diverse—if you develop the skills you can probably find a company that’s a good fit for you, just like I did.

And even if you don’t know what interests you yet, or don’t think you’ll ever be that interested in a particular subject, studying CS right from the get-go will still help you. It will put you in a place where you have both time and money, so you can either do what you love, find what you love—or, if you’re not that type of person (and there’s nothing wrong with that) then you can use your time and money to just have fun and be happy.

Sincerely,
Nick

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