Two years ago I never would have imagined myself working as a software engineer in a tech company in Silicon Valley. I was a history major in undergrad, and after college I concentrated my energies on another love of mine: theatre. I loved people, I loved creativity, I loved critical thinking, I loved the idea of a job where I could have a direct impact on the world—how could I love computer science?
But after talking with friends, poking at the field a bit, and, now, working on the cutting edge of tech with the passionate, talented engineers at Axcient this summer, I know I’m in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing for me.
I used to think being a computer scientist, or a programmer, or a software engineer meant sitting at a computer day and night, with loud music blaring from my headphones, not interacting with others, hunting down that one misplaced semicolon that was keeping my program from running. So when I first shopped a programming class at Stanford my freshman year, I shrugged my shoulders and zoned out. Five years later, when I shopped CS classes as a post-grad, my perceptions of myself and of the field of computer science had changed, and I found myself completely enthralled and excited.
Shortly after graduation, I tried codeyear.com, and within 30 minutes had made my first “program” – a simple function that I am somewhat ashamed to admit was entitled “InsultYourExBoyfriend”, or some variation (I’m happy to say we are quite civil now!). The important thing is I’d thought of something – a silly, silly thing, granted, but I’d thought of it – and then made it! And that’s when I caught the bug.
That’s when I realized that computer science, this thing I thought was totally uncreative and devoid of any true critical thinking, was entirely creative and the purest form of critical thinking I had yet to experience. In short, I began to see the field for what it is: awesome intellectually, directly connected to people and their lives, limitless, and ripe for exploration, expansion, and application. Whatever I could think of, I could make, as long as its logic was internally consistent. It was like discovering I could build castles in the sky that interfaced with things on the ground, in the real world. I could work with thoughts, and watch those thoughts come to life, fruition, their full potential within the amount of time it took my program to build and run.
The different applications of technology opened in front of me, and I could see it as a tool for the first time, and a tool that was fun to use. Coding wasn’t just a means to an end, but an enjoyable means to an end, and a means that I could potentially see becoming an end in itself, because I liked it that much!
I knew by that point that my sudden passion for coding did not doom me to solitary work in some basement somewhere. My friends had shown me what being in a collaborative, open-plan start-up looked like, and I could see that there were environments that would connect me to others not just through my product, but through the process of creating that product, as well. The options for work environments were almost as broad as the field itself.
Many people cut themselves off from computer science for the same reasons I did. But if you find yourself with the itch to explore, there are a number of resources to get you started. I’m a late-starter, and I think it’s only too late when you’re not willing to try something new.
Here are some of my favorites so far:
- Stanford Engineering Everywhere (free video lectures of courses in their entirety!)
- If you want to get even more academic, check out tech courses on Udacity, Coursera, or other sources of online classes, i.e. Foothill College, just to name one I’ve come across. Stanford also has a center that lets you take full on undergraduate classes in a variety of subjects as a professional/post-grad, the Stanford Center for Professional Development—that’s what I’ve done this last year.
Poke at it, dabble, see if you like it. If you feel intimidated, know that, as one wise and encouraging T.A. once said to me, “No one comes out of the womb speaking Java.” It takes time to feel good at it, but it is doable. It’s just thinking and playing with thoughts and ways to express them given the tools you have at your disposal. If you find yourself not getting it from one source, try another—it’s possible that it’s not being explained to you in the right way. Know that you can do it, if you like it, and be open to liking it—things are not always what they seem.
Raine Hoover is an engineering intern at Axcient. She is studying computer science at Stanford University and has never eaten a hamburger.