We recently had a guest speaker in a computer science ethics class that I’m taking. He was a researcher, and his work was centered on the use and effect of video games in society. We began class with a series of iClicker questions about our habits towards video games - how often we played them, what kinds, and a myriad of other questions.
The first question was easy: How often do you play these games? My answer: Never.
The next few got more difficult. What types of games did I play? What format did I use to play the games (or something like that…?)? What fkdaslfjlkd was my favorite kdshlkdgj? In other words, I had almost no idea what he was talking about.
I think that if I’d taken this survey at the very beginning of my time as a CS student, I would have been quite intimidated. Looking back, similar situations certainly did make me feel out of place. There were new words that sounded like they came out of a research paper constantly, and nearly every day I had a list of terms to Google when I got home that I picked up in the lab.
But taking the video game survey and not knowing a single response didn’t worry me in class this semester. Why? Because I realized that how we’re evaluated in this department will never be based on our knowledge outside of class. I’ve now experienced the fact that everything you will need to know will be taught to you, and in rare cases that it’s not, you can always look what you need to know up.
That being said, there is still value in understanding concepts outside of your immediate classes, video games included. Being in CS and knowing what Google’s newest additions are, going to interesting tech talks, and playing with coding projects outside of class can keep you inspired in CS. It can remind you of why you started the major in the first place when your classes have become unbearably hard. But they come second to your studies.
And that brings up an important point. Many people do not major in computer science because they imagine that they do not have the outside knowledge that they will need to complete the major. This couldn’t be further from the truth. What you need to do well in this field is motivation and a strong work ethic. You need to be good at reasoning. You are not expected to enter with all the answers already determined and you don’t need a library of big words already built up in your head.
Really, it’s a major with very little outside knowledge already required and something that anybody who puts their mind to it can do. There will never be a point where you’re asked to recall a definition that you were never taught. You will never fail a paper because your high school failed to teach you about the Russian Revolution which was apparently kind of important in Animal Farm.
So my advice is not to be intimidated by people who seem to know more than you. You are more than capable of catching up to anyone’s level and expanding your vocabulary a bit. All it takes is some time, patience, and courage.