The Changing Climate of Computer Science
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By Samuel Fung

Longtime Bay Area native Samuel Fung grew up in San Francisco’s Richmond District and attended George Washington High School. Sam went to the University of California, Berkeley, earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering.   … [Read More About the Author]

Gone are the days where you could walk on to a college campus as a freshman and hope to learn computer science for the first time.  With the ever increasing popularity of computer science, especially in places like California – home to Silicon Valley – you would be hard pressed to find space in a beginner’s computer science class.  It is no longer as easy to just take a university computer science course on a whim because of how in-demand these skills are.  In an environment where college degrees can differentiate the truly talented from the amateur programmers, you can bet that there will be a lot of competition for those classes.

Universities often receive way more computer science applicants than they have space for.  At one particular university well known for computer science, the amount of prospective computer science students has doubled to well over 1000 students in the span of just a few years.  That means the university has to set up more classes, enroll more computer lab assistants, and give the professors a much higher workload than what they are used to.  Even then, very few places on campus hold 1,000+ students on a regular basis, so lectures sometimes have to be webcasted in separate rooms just to not create situations that violate fire code.

Given this scenario, it is easy to see how inexperienced students can get lost and struggle in their attempts to study computer science.  When you need to ask a question for help, you often find that lab assistants have little time to spend on individual questions due to the sheer number of students, and after class office hours have students lining up outside the door.  Many of your peers will be far ahead of you and it can often be discouraging to ask simple “beginner questions” that most people expect you to know by now.

For students that often graduate near the top of their class in high school, it can be disheartening to fall so far behind. That feeling, along with living in a dorm full of new faces, potentially staying hundreds of miles away from home, and not to mention the other college classes that are probably much more difficult than in high school,can make the thought of learning this wonderful field of computer science that everyone is talking about a nightmare.

In order to avoid this scenario, students need to prepare early on to really strengthen their skills as computer scientists and build their fundamental knowledge as quickly as possible.  If you do not think you are able to hit the ground running day one of your college computer science class, you will most likely not survive, much less get into the major in the first place.

So what can students and families do to prepare?

There are a lot of big name summer programs and education startups that would be more than happy to take you in and teach you, for a price.  Online resources become more plentiful each day, and students are starting to learn computer science at the middle school and even elementary school level.  So how do you sort through all of the noise and come up with a computer science plan just for you?  What computer languages should you start with?  What classes should you take?  Which one of the summer programs will actually teach computer science, and which ones are just in it for the money?  How do you stand above all of the other competitive students?  How do you ensure success in college, and eventually, your career?

It can be overwhelming for students and families to come up with a plan to succeed, and that is why it is extremely helpful to have someone on your side planning out your schedule from the beginning in order to best prepare for what is ahead.  At ThinkTank Learning, we help students create that plan so that they are set up for success throughout their education career.  We aim to provide adequate resources that help students take computer science related courses, sign up for good computer science programs, and eventually create their own “signature projects” to impress the admissions officers and get accepted into those increasingly competitive schools.  Even better, by the time a student is creating his or her own projects, he or she will be ready to tackle the chaos of college and not fall behind.

At the college level, computer science is no longer a “no prior experience required” major.