…unless you want a job in software engineering, might want to major in CS, or are genuinely just interested in computer science.

But wait, you might ask! What other reasons are there?

I’m thinking about the comments I’ve seen on here (and other places!), largely from people a generation or two above mine, saying that “you need to have a solid understanding of computers,” and that “employers want to see that you know a little bit about programming,” so therefore everyone should take CS 134.

To me–a CS grad currently working in tech–this is about the same as saying “employers want to see you know how to write, so you have to take a 300-level tutorial in philosophy.” The initial statement is true–it is very important to understand computers and a bit of programming, and it is important to know how to write,” but just as a 300-level philosophy tutorial won’t be appropriate for every student and certainly isn’t necessary in achieving that goal, nor is it the only or even best way to achieve it.

Yet so many people believe that taking intro to CS is absolutely critical that hundreds and hundreds of students sign up for CS 134 (Intro to Computer Science, for those who don’t know). Looking at the CS course availabilities for this upcoming semester is absolutely bonkers: there are 3 lectures with a limit of 90 students each for 270 students total in intro CS during the spring 2020 semester, with a corresponding 6 lab sections of 18 students each (…is it just me, or does the math not add up there?)

Looking quickly through other departments, I can’t find any other intro course this semester that is in quite so heavy demand. Econ 110 is 3 sections limit 40 = 120 students. Stats 101 is 2 sections limit 50 = 100 students. Psych 101 has no limit but expects 160. Semester two of intro to Art History is cancelled (…wait, what? anyone know more about that?)

Having been a TA for CS 134 only a few semesters ago, I can say with a good amount of confidence that a lot of the students in 134 did not need to be there, and regretted it.

I’m obviously not talking about the students who really think they want to major in CS, or who want to be “employable” in the sense that they really think they might want a career in software development, or even those who are just vaguely interested in mathy stuff and thought CS might be fun–or even those who weren’t sure what they were getting into, but who, in the spirit of the liberal arts, thought they’d try out something totally foreign to them. (I was one of the latter kind of students who signed up for CS 134, and look at me now!)

I’m talking about those who’ve been told how critical CS is to “the workforce,” who sign up for a CS class because they feel like they should and they feel like it’ll make them more “employable,” and for no other reason.

You know what they find out? That CS is a lot more about the science of computers than it is about the hot things like app development and startups and web design and big data. Certainly, you won’t touch on those things in CS 134. 134 is about building a theoretical and practical foundation for CS–so you’re learning about things like object oriented abstractions, and recursion, and the basics of data structures, and the underlying mechanics of computers. I, and many others, found those things incredibly fascinating and went on to study them in a whole lot more depth. Many of the students I TA’d found them totally pointless and not at all “useful” towards whatever they were hoping to get out of a CS class, because they didn’t understand what a CS class actually was.

I absolutely love CS, but please–if you’re just taking it because you feel like you “should,” because some older folks tell you that you need to “know computers,” you might end up really regretting it.

(What should you do instead to “know computers” and increase your “employability”? Well, there are tons of things, but I swear that if I’ve learned anything from entering the workforce, it’s that no matter what industry you go into, holy shit is knowing Excel helpful. Even just knowing a few basic commands and formulas and, oh boy, macros??? is enough to convince everyone that you are an absolute master of computers. There, just saved you the misery of getting through CS 134 if you went into it for employability.)

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