What are you doing Thursday night? There’s a new hoppin’ place on campus where there’s Red Bull and kitten videos until 4 in the morning, and all the most beautiful people look all the more beautiful basking in the glow of… computer monitors. This campus hot spot? It’s the computer science lab.
The end of March is coming up, so if your college’s schedule is anything like mine, you’re probably picking your classes for next semester or quarter. Whether you’re majoring in anything from anthropology to zoology, you should enroll in a computer science course. It’s a surefire way to look good to potential employers after graduation, and — get this — it might even be fun!
Face it — just about every job hunter out there these days is familiar with Microsoft Office. How will you differentiate yourself? PowerPoint and Outlook ain’t gonna cut it. Basic familiarity with Python or Java might be the hook that gets you a job. The computer science class is what gets you that hook.
Not only will you learn how to program, which is handy in and of itself, but you’ll also learn to think programmatically — that is, breaking tasks down into successively smaller parts. This is a handy skill in any field. It’s often challenging, especially if you are not very detail oriented, but your problem-solving skills will thank you.
But what exactly will you learn? In an introductory computer science class, you would probably learn Python or Java, both of which are programming languages. A programming language is a set of commands that look a little bit like English that tell a computer what to do — usually manipulating numbers, strings of words or pictures on the screen.
HTML, which you probably learned a little bit of to make your MySpace profile just a little bit more seizure-inducing back in 2006, is not really a programming language — you can do a whole lot more with Java, Python or others.
A really short program in Python might look like:
And the same in Java might look like:
Both programs would add 15 and 92, then print the sum to the screen. As you can see, Python is a little simpler.
By the end of your course, you might have made some simple things, like a tic-tac-toe or a chess game. But you’ll be able to do more than program little video games — you’ll have skills to make tools that are useful in all sorts of businesses. A paralegal might program case management software to keep track of client records. A teacher might write a program to simplify adding assignments to his or her gradebook. Even simple skills like these are in demand: On online freelancing website elance.com, web programming in PHP (another programming language) is the top skill sought by employers.
Even if your career plans are set, it is useful to know exactly what it is that software engineers and other programmers do. For instance, nobody sits in front of scrolling green text like in the introduction to The Matrix. It’s good to know what’s easy and what’s not — asking someone to automatically average of a few numbers is easy. Providing more accurate driving directions is not.
Basic computer programming skills are an easy way for you to differentiate yourself in a tough job market, even though hanging out in the lab hunting bugs in your code is a bit nerdier than hanging out in a nightclub.
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