Mythbusters, Computer Science Edition: is CS a creative field?

Welcome to MythBusters: Computer Science Edition! I am here to debunk some common misconceptions about studying Computer Science (CS for short). While my experience is Yale-specific, much of the information in this series will be applicable to any CS program. If you’ve ever considered studying CS at Yale, or just want to know what the heck CS even is, you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s start with Myth #1: Computer Science is NOT a creative field.

We all tend to group STEM fields such as CS separately from humanities fields, which are considered “creative.” Before I took my first CS class at Yale, I, too, was under the impression that CS wasn’t at all creative–what’s so individualistic about coding?

As it turns out, there are many (many) ways to go about coding the solution to a certain problem. No two programming assignments that are turned in by students are exactly the same. Each person has their own coding style, method for conceptualizing the problem, and method for implementing the solution. It’s sort of like learning an instrument: there are very important techniques you must learn in order to play well, but once you have built a solid foundation, it is up to you to choose how exactly you want to express yourself.

Because there are so many hardware and software constraints to the capabilities of computer or computer language, we often conflate the physical limitations of computers with rigid thinking in the field as a whole. I think this misguided line of thinking is the main source of the myth.

In fact, learning to work within the limitations of computers–and figuring out ways to expand their capabilities–are great opportunities for creative thinking. Because computers are fundamentally rooted in binary logic, computer scientists must approach problems in an extremely logical, building-block manner. This is an interesting challenge, because our brains don’t necessarily compute in this way naturally. If this idea sounds at all intriguing, you should definitely consider taking a CS course in college.

I was initially interested in CS because I loved tackling the problem of thinking like a computer. I ended up sticking with it because I realized that I could take it in so many different directions, and that I could use this flexibility to align CS with my other interests in medicine.