I will not be a computer to a computer.

And that is why I am a computer science major.

Though it sounds contradictory, comp sci is the class where I think least like a computer. Any class with a problem set (chemistry, calculus, astrophysics) devolves into trying to find the preprogrammed path: correct equations, correct numbers, correct manipulation, correct answer. It’s right or it’s wrong. Do what they want you to do. 

Psychology feels similar, though there’s not an equation in sight. The tests and quizes are all multiple choice. Oh, you could write an essay, but that’s the ethically required alternative if you opt-out of six hours of being a guinea pig. They sit you down at a computer and try to implant false memories, or make you feel like a racist jerk, or generally manipulate you using buttons you didn’t know you had.

And then, there’s computer science. I’m studying data structures, which basically means boxes inside of boxes with directions that lead you to other boxes. Where a math or science problem asks you to reinvent a solution, a comp sci question asks you to rediscover a solution. How does one find the first box in the second half of a list? How does one print out the contents of every box in a tree in numerical order? These ideas and processes are abstract and general enough that I’m not digging up something buried by the professor, but rather by the way the universe works, and the interaction between simple ideas.

Or alternatively, the professor gives you a set of quantitative criteria – rather than a number to find – and lets you find your own way to get there. There are lots of complicated (and subjective!) design choices in a program of even 100 lines. And – here’s a novel concept – he trusts you to find your own solution. Computer science is the only class where there’s more than one way to do it.

Further reading

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