my path to computer science

June 01, 2021

welcome to comp sci

In my final year of high school, I learned to code for the first time in my computer science class. Sitting in front of the blinking IDE with angry red squiggles and incomprehensible error messages, I struggled to learn Java. Everything seemed so foreign to me—and even when I finally began to grasp the concepts, I could never understand why I was learning this. A lack of class projects meant that I was learning how to use strings and arrays without seeing any meaningful application.

I was confused, and honestly, I couldn’t see myself pursuing this in my education—I couldn’t see myself making the impact I’d dreamt of having with a career in tech.

Then, COVID came.

My family in China, and in particular, Wuhan, was placed on lockdown with the rest of the country.

I used WeChat to videocall my grandparents and relatives every day, who were unable to leave their apartments for months, utterly grateful that I’d been able to teach my grandparents how to use the app on their tablets and phones just a few years prior.

My high school classes and extracurriculars went online. How do you manage to coordinate a banquet and club tryouts online? How do you sing in one final choir concert without seeing the rest of your fellow performers? How do you deliver the news that our national competition had been cancelled? How do you perform and host recitals for senior centers when no one can enter the building? How do you continue to teach your piano students without sitting next to them to fix their posture and demonstrate techniques? Slack, Google Meets, Zoom, Messenger, FaceTime, iMessage, Canva, Instagram, WeChat, Canvas, Facebook, and more.

We found ways to make it work.

These experiences taught me to appreciate the technologies that I’d previously taken for granted as they allowed me to stay connected with the people that I cared about, regardless of if they were on the other side of town or the other side of the Pacific. I was drawn to the way technology could bring people together and decided to give this whole coding thing another try.

Frankly, I was a little bored at home. By this time, I hadn’t gone outside except for my stupid-early morning walks. I had exhausted our collection of puzzles. I had baked so much bread.

I decided to give computer science another try and started with web development.

I learned HTML, CSS, and JavaScript by playing around on Codecademy and freecodecamp.

Even the experience of placing an image on a static HTML page was incredibly gratifying. I’m a visual learner, and this was exactly what I needed to see to fully understand what I could do with computer science—at least, what other skills I’d potentially need to build out a cool project.

I committed to UCLA in April and decided to switch into the computer science major. I spent the summer working on projects (or at least, learning how to make side projects) and participating in different hackathons. During my freshman year and this summer, I’ve been working on new projects of my own and learning to lead teams.

From a composting community tracker to a team building web app, I’ve learned and built more than I could have ever imagined.

I’m so grateful for the resources and mentors that allowed me to finally settle on a college education in computer science and guided me along this path.

I’m excited to use my tech education and interest in social impact to continue working on truly meaningful projects that help bring people together and create communities, just like the ones that have shaped me into who I am today.

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word chaos by catherine hu, a computer science and geography student at ucla with a terrible sense of direction and a passion for storytelling.
you should follow her on twitter (apologies in advance for the mediocre jokes).

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© 2021 | made with 🤍 by catherine