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Paths Not Taken: Computer Science

So the other day, I got to thinking about one path not taken: Computer Science.

My junior year of high school, I didn’t own a computer myself, but I had read a few fiction books that I liked in which characters used computers, and in general, I loved the computers at school, even if I only ever used them for word processing my English papers. So, realizing even back then, that I would need a day job until I sold my first novel, I decided that I was going to major in Computer Science and minor in English.

And I was confident enough in my choice, that I signed up for Beginning Computer Science, A Code Class, and Interacting with Technology at Cornell University’s Summer College, despite the fact that I had never taken any kind of computer class ever, because my high school didn’t offer them.

You can probably guess where this is going.

I arrived to Cornell to find that most of my non-scholarship classmates were fresh out of prep school computer classes, many of them already knew code, a few of them I would have classified as slumming geniuses, and oh yeah, on the first day, we were informed that the class was graded on a curve. And moreover, there was a rumor going around that if you got less than a B in summer college, then you had NO chance of being accepted to Cornell University your senior year.

I had never been more over my head. But I got A’s in all my classes, not because I was any good at computer science, but because I worked harder than I’d ever worked on anything in my life, I asked for lots of help from the female grad student teaching the course, I studied 24/7 with the only other minority girl in my class (she was Indian and a ton smarter in Computer Science than me), and I did the extra credit, which happened to be an essay. During later correspondence with the female grad student, I discovered that I was only one that had bothered with the essay — apparently future computer scientists aren’t big on writing.

Then I never touched Computer fucking Science again. Didn’t even consider going to Cornell for a second when I got my letter of acceptance the next Spring. But it did teach me everything I needed to get by when I went down by (hopefully) true path of being a writer: Work hard, ask for help, women rock, and always ALWAYS do the extra credit. Because there’s a chance that no one else will.

Still, the other day, I kind of got mad at myself for not sticking with it. I did like Computer Science, even if it made me feel awful and dumb and I would’ve eventually caught up to my better-high-schooled peers. Of all the paths I haven’t taken, this is the only one with a challenge that I’ve backed down from.

But you know what, I’m not dead yet. And I think I’m going to look into taking some computer science classes after I retire. Think I won’t? Just watch me.


Photo Credit: Mary-Frances Main