For me, going into Computer Science came as no big surprise either to myself or to my family and friends. I’ve loved using computers for as long as I can remember – I started using computers at the age of three. We had a 386 at home, complete with beige CRT and a dial-up connection – I can still recall the Turbo button on the front, and that the PSU had a gigantic red power switch. Before I had even turned four, I had learned how to boot my computer games in DOS, and it wasn’t long before I could install programs by myself from floppy disk.
Fast-forward to the late 1990s: My current gaming obsession was the Creatures series – a rather advanced AI simulation game that used machine learning, and allowed for experimentation on a number of fronts including genetic modification of game creatures, and development of new rooms and objects for inside the game. I had been exposed to computer programming already at that point; I had done a few projects in VB6.0 with my dad, ranging from building an MS Paint-like drawing application, to writing programs for our Lego Mindstorms kit. I hadn’t done much programming without adult assistance, but that changed with the release of Creatures 3 in 1999. The games had a built-in scripting language that allowed players to create new content to load into the game, and as I got older, this began to seem much more interesting to me than the gameplay itself. I printed off the entire documentation for the scripting language and kept it in a binder, and built a whole arsenal of new plants and toys for my creatures to play with. I loved the feeling of creation.
Creatures slowly began to lose its appeal to me as a teenager, and in 2002, I stopped playing (and also developing) in favour of alpha-testing an online MMO called Game Neverending. While Game Neverending eventually failed, it was modified by the development team into what later became Flickr, and was eventually sold to Yahoo. During the Game Neverending alpha test, we were fortunate enough to get to interact through in-game chat (and even in real life for a brief office visit in Vancouver one summer) with a mind-blowingly brilliant group of people, including but hardly limited to Stewart Butterfield, Caterina Fake, Cal Henderson, and Cory Doctorow. Their collective creativity, intelligence, and success truly inspired me, and I knew absolutely that I wanted to be a part of something like that.
By the end of high school, I wasn’t entirely sure what degree program I wanted to enroll in – I was torn between CS, Engineering, and 3D Animation. I’ve always had artistic hobbies, mostly drawing and photography, and throughout my public education, I was always under pressure to follow what I “really” wanted to do. This was the greatest hindrance in my entrance to CS. I encountered so many people who were convinced that since I liked to draw, that I must really want to be an artist, that eventually I came to believe it.
I very nearly went into a multimedia and design program, but I always felt too much hesitation to actually apply to a program, and so after my high school graduation, I decided to take a break, and let adventure find me. It didn’t take long at all– I was recruited by a friend to work for a local web development company as a designer. In the two year period following graduation, I moved out, fell in love, moved across the country, and generally adventured (mission accomplished!). Between working as a web designer and dating someone who happened to be an extremely passionate CS student, learned a great deal about about computers in addition to the standard life-lessons one encounters at this age. Rather than going on typical dates, we often spent our evenings fixing broken hardware or Linux installs, or attending user-groups and conferences. Unfortunately our relationship didn’t last forever, but neither did my delusion that I was anything other than a computer scientist at heart. Working with picky, demanding clients was killing my love for my artistic hobbies, and I felt like I needed to do something more real. After a particularly fascinating OWASP meeting, I realized that computer science was what I was destined to do, and so I ended my break from education, and started attending university that fall.
I’m currently completing my Bachelor’s degree, and I can’t imagine myself doing anything other than CS. The challenges are amazing, and there’s never a shortage of new and fascinating things to learn. I should also note that I love being a woman in CS; I always feel accepted and respected by my peers, and I’ve never heard any complaint from the men about female presence balancing out the gender ratio.
Lydia Krupp-Hunter is in her second year at the University of Ottawa, after attending Thompson Rivers University for one year. She is a member of the UOttawa Computer Science Student Association, and has spent her past two summers working for the Federal Government. In her free time, she enjoys photography, reading, baking, and Dance Dance Revolution.
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