Being from a math background, when I think about what interests me the most about computer science, I don’t come up with a specific course or a really cool piece of software or anything else related directly to the field. What keeps me interested, excited and coming back for more isn’t something tangible or even something you can create. This wonderful thing is a sense of accomplishment.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this post – and what I could say that would line up with the given themes and questions, and truth is I spent a lot of time frustrated and trying to think back and come up with a good story about a cool project or an interesting discovery. The thing is, that never happened. And then one day I decided to think about math instead, and what I liked most about my experience in the field so far. That’s when I remembered the crazy 6 hour study sessions on a Sunday at school, working with some of my friends to try and get through all of the assigned practice problems we should try before our exams. And then I remembered my life around this time last year, when I was in school and not on a work term. Those days were spent constantly thinking about assignment questions, hoping to come up with an idea that just might work. And then consulting with the rest of my “mathies” to see what they had come up with and if we were any closer to finishing our assignment from hell. We would then finish one assignment and realize the next one had been handed out two days before.
But, as depressing and frustrating as those days could be, there was a lot to get us through them. The first thing was that you were never alone – there was always at least three of us sitting together, working on an assignment and sharing our pain. And shared pain even seems to do a great job of bonding people together and great friends. The next thing was probably what I consider the most important to keeping me going – the incredibly AWESOME feeling of finishing an assignment, or even just a difficult question and knowing that it was hard, but you did it! You solved it! Pretty much nothing in the world compares to that ecstatic feeling, at least for me.
I realized the other day that these are also exactly the things I love most about computer science. When programming something, the answer or best algorithm is not always obvious. But, thinking of the smartest one, coding it and watching it improve something definitely creates the same feeling of awesomeness and provides a sense of accomplishment as proving a difficult theorem does in math. And the similarities don’t end there. While I was in Extreme Blue this summer, for a large portion of the term I was convinced we wouldn’t get anything real done by the end. I was afraid all we’d have would be some ideas we failed at implementing, but in an attempt to be the bright and cheerful team member I was most of the time, I kept my fears to myself and focussed on helping myself and everyone else be productive. And I found that similar to my math assignment days, I could definitely bond with my teammates over the pain of the software we were using which didn’t do exactly what we needed it to, or the pain of having our pitch get shot down for the billionth time. However, that pain was quickly forgotten after we presented our final pitch to executives and had some incredibly smart people curious and asking questions about our project – that worked!
In the end, working with other people allows me to come up with way better ideas than I ever would have entirely on my own. This in turn leads to more opportunities for me to get that sense of accomplishment that keeps me motivated and excited about what I’m working on. And this cycle of challenge, collaboration, communication and ultimately creation is what I love most about computer science and what keeps me constantly searching for new ways to feel accomplishment.
Nikolina Beg is a fourth year student at Carleton University studying mathematics with a minor in computer science. She recently completed a work term at IBM as part of an Extreme Blue team. She is currently working at Environment Canada in the Ice Services Division and is interested in learning more about how mathematical modelling techniques can be applied to the sciences. In her spare time, Nikolina likes to play soccer, Croatian folk dance and generally do anything outdoors. She is the former Vice President of Finance of the Carleton University Math Society and the current secretary of the NCR Folklore Ensemble “Croatoan” administrative council. In the future, Nikolina hopes to pursue a master’s degree in applied mathematics. She can be reached at email@example.com