That Time I Decided to Get a Computer Science Degree

So, apparently my list of Things I’ve Always Wanted To Do just expanded to get a degree in Computer Science. I know, I know. You’re all wondering ‘what the fuck?’ Don’t get too insulting, now. It’s not really that far off base. It doesn’t seem as likely as maybe a degree in writing, but I have that. The only way I can manage to explain everyone’s complete and utter shock is that sometimes I keep my most intimidating dreams to myself–hidden far away, so deep that I can barely find them. That’s what happened with this interest in computers and that’s what happened with boxing. That, coupled with the idea that I was too old to go back to school or too bad at math, led me to be too afraid to try it. Well, yesterday that changed.

But to backtrack, I’ve had quite a bit of experience over the years with software in corporate environments and I’m always the one who can learn how to use the programs instantly and train other people on them. Sometimes I’ve managed issues within the programs and sometimes I’m just good at improving business processes related to databases. It wasn’t something I thought I would like-or be good at-and it wasn’t something my idealistic self thought I would want to stay involved in. But the constant mental challenge kept me busy–it kept my depression and anxiety at bay sometimes. It gave me complex problems to solve and the confidence to manage my own personal problems. I have very little evidence to prove this, but I think it’s making me healthier.

Shocked or not, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I run a blog. I’m also obsessed with technology and the Internet–not just the social media side of things either. I want to know how things work–all of the things. I’ve found myself having conversations with tech savvy friends and being so mesmerized by all the things I didn’t know, but when it occurred to me that I should get to know more about it I dismissed it as something I couldn’t do. The concept of possibly starting a new degree all over was sure as hell not a high priority and the idea of learning to program was definitely scary. Could I do it? Was I smart enough?

I had my doubts.

I’ve met a lot of people who are self-taught in the tech world and most of them are men. I finally admitted to myself that I’m also self-taught and have quite a bit more technical knowledge than I give myself credit for. I proved it in some of my jobs. Hell, I even have more knowledge than some of the men I know who do this for a living. (Not all of them, of course, but why deny that I am good at what I do?)

I’ve been debating since last summer what to do with my life and it’s been an ever-changing journey. I don’t have it all figured out, but I do have some experience with what I like. I also have the luxury of having some time and space to explore my options. Yesterday I just thought “Why not? I could do it.” And after struggling with it at great depths and bothering my friends with my doubt, I decided to do it. If I can’t figure something out, there’s always the tutoring department.

But what if I CAN figure it out? I was in the college Honors program. I’m definitely smarter than I give myself credit for.

What if it comes naturally to me? I already do some of this as a hobby and for work. Why not actually be formally taught?

What if I enjoy it? I have enough experience to know that I probably will enjoy it quite a bit.

Why would I want to live my whole life without knowing what it feels like to try something challenging? I wouldn’t. I don’t.

limitsA few months ago I dated a guy who had previously wanted to be a Computer Science major. How cool, I thought. My second thought was a bit more disturbing and it’s one I had to challenge to be able to show up to class: That’s something boys do. 

When I showed up to class, my worst fear came true. I was the only girl in the class. It really did bother me and it intimidated me. We’ve been taught that boys are better at math and science than girls, while it’s categorically untrue. This lack of any women in the room really played with my doubt that I would be good enough to be in this program. I started thinking maybe they were all better at computers than I was or maybe they knew more than me.

And I was wrong.

The professor asked us who had ever put together a website. I raised my hand. Two other guys did as well. The majority of the class hadn’t. Not only had I put together a website, I manage three and I have managed them at work, too. The professor let us know that it’s okay if we were just starting out because that’s what the class was for.

With my obsession with MMA, I’m on quite the “challenge my limits” kick right now. It just feels like the right thing to do. It feels empowering. I may not be able to do everything, but I want to do the things I’m good at. I want to explore and live so fully that I’ve uncovered all the things that fascinate me about the world. Why stop at just being good at one thing? Why stop learning? Why do one thing and only one thing? I’ve often referred to the lead singer of Bad Religion as my model for life. He’s a college professor, rock star and author. I’m sure plenty of people said he couldn’t do all three things but I don’t think he gave a fuck. Likewise, I have no fucks to give. Writing books will always be my biggest lifelong passion, but I like this other stuff too. And who says writers can’t do other things, as well?

Quite a few famous writers did other things for work. Two of them are mentioned here:

Joseph Heller thrived in magazine advertising by day and wrote Catch-22 in the evenings, sitting at the kitchen table in his Manhattan apartment. “I spent two or three hours a night on it for eight years,” he said. “I gave up once and started watching television with my wife. Television drove me back to Catch-22.”

Wallace Stevens and T. S. Eliot were…successful at mixing poetry and business: While working as a banker, Eliot took literary meetings on his lunch breaks and wrote in the evenings; Stevens, an insurance lawyer, even scribbled scraps of verse at the office and had his secretary type them up. “I find that having a job is one of the best things in the world that could happen to me,” Stevens once said. “It introduces discipline and regularity into one’s life. I am just as free as I want to be and of course I have nothing to worry about about money.”

Proof of last night's class. Lab 1 complete!
Proof of last night’s class. Lab 1 complete!