I was born and raised in Silicon Valley, daughter and granddaughter of engineers. I was surrounded by technology from an early age: my dad taught me to solder when I was still little, and I had a computer–an Apple ][--in my room by the time I was 10. Naturally, with this kind of background, everyone assumed I’d grow up to be... a writer of some sort, actually.
You see, I was all right at math and science (better than I gave myself credit for, anyway), but I was terrific at English. I devoured books--my mother limited my sister and me to one weekly trip to the library--and wrote so well that I regularly won writing prizes in elementary and middle school. Everyone thought I’d be a professional writer: parents, teachers, me.
The inevitability of my writing career lasted until the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school. Like most of the kids in the honors track, I had an interest in taking as many AP classes as possible: it boosted your GPA, and passing the test itself meant getting college credit. Exactly why I decided on AP Computer Science, I don’t really remember. I think it was the only AP class offered in third period. At any rate, AP Computer Science it was. I was feeling unprepared for it, so I signed up for a summer session on introductory programming.
And took to it like a duck to water.
No one was more surprised than me.
I was surprised to find myself thinking “Yes, this. I can do this. I’m good at this. I want to do this.” It was something I’d never felt about writing. I knew I was good at it, but I was always embarrassed by my own writing and had trouble imagining showing it to other people, let alone for a living.
College time came around. My test scores were globally good, but I consistently scored higher on the verbal portions. It’s true that most incoming CS students have score better in math, but it turns out that, contrary to what everyone seems to think, it’s not actually a requirement. And I didn’t abandon English--in fact, I minored in it. Even did better in the minor than I did in my major: I managed something like a 3.9 in the minor (with several A+ grades, a grade I never achieved in any of my CS classes), compared to a 3.5 in computer science. I write this not to brag or anything, but to show how out-of-place I sometimes felt in computer science. I liked computer science more than English, but English came much more easily to me, and there was always the nagging thought that I didn’t belong in CS.
It was only when I finished my master’s and got a job that I realized just how valuable being odd had made me: I was one of the only geeks who could write.
If you want to pursue computer science, it doesn’t matter if your parents, teachers, or test scores say you’d be better at English, or art, or whatever. All that matters is that your scores are good enough for what you want to do.
Teenagers are terrified of being unusual, but it’s being unusual that adults find useful in carving out a career niche for themselves. Cultivate your oddities right and they might well become your secret weapon as an adult.
Nicole has a pair of degrees in computer science, both from UC Davis,and now works in Los Angeles, at a company that has a serious bug upits ass about employees using its name without permission. She enjoyswriting, cooking, cross-stitching, spoiling her niece and nephew, anddressing up as the Doctor at science fiction conventions. Catch herand some of her nerdy friends blogging at www.geekachicas.com.
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