One way to look at life is as a series of choices: good ones, bad ones, ambiguous ones, stupid ones. I’ve made tons of terrible ones (including the one to eat an obscene amount of jalapeno-flavored potato chips last night) but also smart ones. One of my smartest, bestest choices was to choose to major in computer science at the University of Texas at Austin. If you haven’t guessed it, today is the day I sing praises and wax poetic about UTCS. You should have seen it coming because as a graduating senior I am experiencing all kinds of extra-potent school pride and pre-nostalgia.
To backtrack a little: I didn’t come out of the womb calculating the big-O time complexity of things or making scratch animations or games. I didn’t really even know what computer science was in high school. And due to a stunning combination of naivete, idealism, and a bigger lack of self-awareness than I care to admit, I actually started off as a chemistry major at UT. It only took me a few weeks to realize what a grave error I had made and I switched to computer science in my second semester. And the rest is (happy) history. Of course, a large part of what made my experience as a computer science major so great is the A+ computer science program at UT.
There’s all the obvious reasons to love UTCS– the ones you can learn via Google or even through a CS Ambassador campus visit. You’ll learn that UTCS has stacks (on stacks on stacks) of opportunities. There are great classes that offer both theory and industry-practical options taught by great professors. And great professors means tons of opportunities to get experience with research—even starting as a freshman! Academics aside, there’re also a bunch of computer science students orgs, with something for everyone. Just to name a few, there’s Freetail Hackers which puts on HackTX, Women in Computer Science which works to make UTCS a more inclusive space—especially for women—and the Turing Scholars Student Association Honors Program for those that want more academic rigor. Google will boast about how our program consistently ranks in the list top 10 computer science programs globally and how an education from UTCS is on par with a computer science education from places such as Stanford and MIT. Even if rankings can feel a bit arbitrary and subjective at times, companies definitely recognize the weight of the UTCS name. The College of Natural Science’s Science and Technology Career Fair which draws in hundreds of companies each semester is just proof of that. It’s not uncommon for freshmen to get internships, even with big 5 companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. And if you’re an instate student, all of this comes at an incredible price point. However, while I definitely see how all these factors contribute to my education and experience here, they’re not even my favorite part of UTCS.
To me, being a UTCS student means being part of a community. In a school as big as UT where majors boast thousands of students, it’s easy to become starved for the sense of belonging that a community fosters. It definitely exists, but usually in the form of various student orgs and groups, and it can be something that’s hard to find within your major. As a chemistry major, I never felt any kind of true connection to the students around me. I went to class, listened to lecture, sometimes studied with my peers, rinse and repeat. But the minute I walked into GDC (the Gates Dell Complex), the building which houses the UTCS department and program, I felt a strong sense of community. It was like walking into a beehive: everyone rushing about doing their own thing, but fitting together with the people around them like puzzle pieces, all working towards some greater goal. And even as a transfer student, I found myself being incorporated into it all. I think a large part of it has to do with GDC itself. It’s a fairly new building that opened in 2013 and most people will say it’s gorgeous. It’s a wonder of warm wood, glass, sunlight, fancy furniture, and contemporary flair. What’s so great about the building is that the designers and architects actually all worked together to make it a space that fosters collaboration—and the intent shows. The building is a perfect canvas for the student body and department to paint a community on. There’s lots of openness and spaces, such as student labs and bridges filled with couches and tables that actively foster collaboration. Which is great because contrary to the isolated-dorky-programmer stereotype, computer science and programming are actually very collaborative fields. The entire faculty and staff, all the research labs, student computer labs, computer science student org offices, and most computer science classes are all within GDC. Not to mention that most company events occur in the building too. All of that together activity concentrated in one place, really pulls the student body together. Even though I have plenty of stressful memories of working on projects for hours on end at GDC, I always feel like I belong when I walk in and that I’m a part of something. I know I’m bound to run into friends to chat with or work with everytime I pass through the doors. Even though everyone jokes about GDC being their “true home,” sometimes it actually feels like a home of sorts. *cue warm, fuzzy feelings*
And, Austin is AWESOMESAUCE! (do people still say that?) My love for Austin is deep and boundless. All I can say is, before moving to Austin, I didn’t really understand the concept of “loving” a city for its personality. Now I’m kind of am tempted to lie to people and tell them I just grew up in Austin all along.
Of course, it’s not all gumdrops and roses. The program has its flaws and has room for improvement and growth, but theses aren’t issues unique to UTCS or a computer science department. No program in any major anywhere in the world is going to be perfect; every single one is constantly working to improve. UTCS isn’t going to spoonfeed you awesomeness and groom you for tech-world domination. But, it's going to try its hardest and provide you with as many tools as possible for you to successfully reach whatever goals you set for yourself. And that’s why I think everyone should want to come here and be a proud UTCS-er and why UTCS should occasionally take some time to count their lucky stars.
Happy Friday! :)