Being able to surprise yourself can be essential to finding your path in life. Hear from Charlotte Andry about her gradual, experimentation-filled arc toward a computer science degree in this HOW ("Her Own Words") column.
- Her Own Words (HOW) series
If you could go back in time and tell middle school Charlotte that her present-day self is going after a STEM degree, many different emotions would come across her face. Confusion, because she’s such a music geek and wouldn’t want to waste time with difficult things. Excitement, for the money a STEM job would bring in, but also worry about how much work it would take to get there. Curiosity, wondering if she would even be successful at it.
When I got to high school, I was put in a computer science class that would change my perspective. I didn’t know what the class would be like, but I figured I would be fine because I had some knowledge about tech, from Siri to Jarvis (if you know, you know). I figured we’d just play around with different technology, but we got to do so many other things, from 3D printing to game design! This helped me discover that I loved the fact that it wasn’t easy, but could be figured out with some time and work. I learned how to use context clues to figure out next steps for my projects. By the time I had finished the class, I had already heard that if you liked problem-solving, CS would be a good career path. When debating which major to choose, I took this as a sign!
Fast-forward to my freshman year of college. I was attending Malcolm X, one of the City Colleges, trying to connect with people in any way that I could. Sometimes I found success, sometimes not. I never had a class with the same people more than once, so each semester I tried to make friends that lasted beyond the classroom. I also focused on my main goal, which was to get my associates degree and take general education courses. I only ended up taking two or three programming classes, which did their job in getting me started and giving me a basic understanding. But I needed more.
I feel as though I didn’t truly get started with computer science until I got to UIC. What really got me in there was a week-long Break Through Tech program where we worked to come up with a potential solution to food insecurity in Chicago. I was challenged to use what I learned to help my community, not just to complete an assignment. All the people I met were excited to be there and excited to learn. The professor who led the group was passionate about computer science and making it accessible to everyone. She took the time to talk about her research and different ways to apply CS degrees in real life. Once I completed this program, I decided that I would transfer to UIC, and I knew that this experience would be more of what I was expecting.
Since transferring to UIC, I’ve had a blast. One of the things I was most nervous about was being behind in my CS classes or being the only junior in them. I quickly came to find out that most of my classes were a big mix of people in different life stages, so that wouldn’t be a problem. The projects that I’ve been able to do are different than what I was used to. These are more applicable projects I can get excited about — projects that use real-world data. (My previous projects were very textbook-y.) I was excited to see how much more I could do with advanced classes. Transferring to UIC has given me the excitement about CS that I had been looking for.
During all of this, I got the chance to be more involved with Break Through Tech Chicago, which has proven to be a big part of my CS journey, community-wise. I’ve been introduced to so many people through the program! In every class I’ve taken since I’ve started, I’ve known at least three other people from Break Through Tech. Together, we bond by talking and complaining about our shared experiences (in a lighthearted way). I was even asked to be a teaching assistant because of my experiences with Break Through Tech. It’s been cool to have this as a full-circle moment!
For people who are just getting started, or who are considering joining the computing community, I would HIGHLY suggest that you get as involved as you can without overwhelming yourself (which may just mean one club or so, and that’s ok!!!). I know for myself, community is extremely important, so being a part of Break Through Tech has helped me. It could also help you a ton when you get to more of your CS classes. You’ll have people you know, which’ll help when it comes to hard projects or looking for project partners.
All my experiences lead me to ask myself, “What’s next?” I have a software engineering internship with Mastercard for summer 2023! It’s been amazing to see the work and time that I’ve committed pay off. I also find myself interested in three other areas of computing: web development, user experience and user interface design, and data visualization. Who’s to say I can’t do all of them at some point in time? It’s encouraging to know that just because I’m going after software engineering right now, it doesn’t mean that it has to be my end-all and be-all! So, who knows what’s next for me? Stay tuned …