Mythbusters, Computer Science Edition: do I need prior experience to major in CS?

Welcome to the next installment of Mythbusters: Computer Science Edition! It’s time to debunk Myth #2: if you didn’t start coding in high school, you might as well forget about studying CS because you’re waaay too late to the party.

This. Could. Not. Be. Less. True. Exhibit A: Me!

I took my first computer science class as a sophomore in college, with zero prior exposure to the subject. I ended up enjoying the class a lot, and I decided to major in CS. It was–and still is–a really challenging major, and it certainly would have been nice to have a stronger background in CS before I started. But not having that exposure is far from a deal breaker.

A lot of concepts in CS are hard to fully grasp, which means you often see them repeatedly in different CS classes. A main challenge in starting “later” than others is that you may need to spend some more time wrestling with the concepts that people with more experience have seen before.

There are tons of resources to help you learn. Office hours are a staple of any CS course. Office hours are run by Undergraduate Learning Assistants (ULAs) who have taken the class, as well as graduate Teaching Fellows (TFs). From 7-10pm on virtually every night of the week, Office Hours are open for any student to come and get their questions answered about homework or lecture topics.

Office hours have been awesome for me because I get help from people who have been in the same situation. They’ve helped me look at problems differently from what I encountered in a lecture. Since that very first CS class, I have learned so much from attending office hours.

Professors also host office hours at least once a week. I used to be really scared of going to a professor for help–it felt so intimidating, and my relative lack of knowledge made me feel inadequate. It can be hard to ask an expert for help! But once I got over my fear, I realized that my professor really wanted to see me succeed, and the questions that I thought were dumb were actually common points of confusion. He was willing to meet me where I was. As long as I was willing to put in work, I would progress.

In short, don’t let your academic background stop you from trying new things. Before I took a CS class, I was almost positive that the subject was beyond my reach. College is about learning after all, and you may end up surprising yourself.