I consider my experience studying computer science as one that reinforces the fact that women are very capable when it comes to studying computer science as a major. Perseverance is the word! Do it afraid if you have too. I didn’t just survive but had a remarkable outcome. If I can do it, you can too!
As an enthusiastic and goal-driven person, I embarked on a journey to England to study computer science at ARU Cambridge Campus. The first week of lectures/labs were one of the most intimidating of my life and some of the male students who appear to know what they are doing, were already ahead of the lab exercises and so I began to question myself ‘how on earth did I end up in this place?’. To start with, I noticed almost all my course mates for the September start were males and there were only about five females including myself. Being the only married woman, only black female; and mother of 3 school-aged children under my care while studying did not make my situation any easier. Initially I felt everyone else, especially our male counterparts, seemed not to have any problems following the lectures, which heightened my fear of failure. To worsen matters, I had heard comments previously about how females find it particularly difficult to cope with computer science and I recalled having been asked questions such as:
- Why are you studying this course? Why not something like fashion or marketing to ensure that you can graduate with good grades and secure a job fast?
- As a mature student, a woman, black, married and a mother of three with all the extra responsibilities, you will need to work extra hard! There are only few female students and none of them have such responsibilities but they still struggle nonetheless.
- Do you think you can cope? It will only get harder! Many people quit eventually!
Hearing such remarks made me feel intimidated and I began to doubt my ability to succeed. And sure enough, it was tough! To the extent that at a point I contemplated changing my course!
I encountered a lot of obstacles. For instance, my coding skills fell short compared to most of the guys; challenge with my presentation skills due to limited experience. Teamwork was not any different as I always had to struggle to convince my fellow team mates especially the males that I can also be a leader by standing my ground and pushing for excellence. But as a very determined person, I decided to push through against all odds to overcome these obstacles, which eventually paved the way for my success. I saw how far I came when I completed my final project which was the greatest challenge for me but yet very satisfying feeling of achievement. And to crown it all, coming out with a first-class degree was an almost unbelievable outcome considering how I started. But then again, anything is possible with hard work, perseverance and a focus on your goal. My faith was instrumental too! Hence, I sure conquered!
I have to give a lot of the credit to the amazing lecturers and faculty staff for their great support and encouragement. They were all so passionate about their modules which in turn got me very engaged and enabled me to reach my full potential by gaining skills in areas that I had always thought difficult such as Software engineering, Networking, Digital security, Image processing, data structures, soft skills to name a few. There was always help available when I needed it.
I would like to motivate and encourage any aspiring female out there who is considering computer science studies and tell them not to hold back, as in my opinion, studying computer science is about determination and hard work. It has nothing to do with gender! If anything, I find women to be very well-suited to pursue a career in this field which requires being imaginative, paying attention to details, creative and good at multitasking. As females these are often our strengths.
Therefore, if like me you doubt your ability, please give it a try. It is fun and engaging! You will love it. You don’t have to be smart. Just be determined and work hard. You will succeed.
Top things that make or break a computer science student:
- Fear- According to T.Hary Eker, “Successful people have fear, doubts and worries. They don’t let these feelings stop them”. So, you may have to do it afraid like me. I faced challenges head-on while afraid.
- Determine to succeed from the start- My determination kept me going. There were times I felt like I couldn’t carry on anymore due to the amount of work at Uni and personal responsibilities but I had to toughen up regardless and find balance.
- Discipline- Stay focused on why you came to Uni and treat your studies as a full-time job.
- Time management- Make sure your study and personal responsibilities are balanced. Be consistent with revision and start your coursework/assignments early. You cannot cope with last minute prep as you will be dealing with lots of coding and report writing which has to be done over and over again. You want to give yourself enough time.
- Attendance and being on time- as every aspect of a module is usually linked to the previous one, missing lectures can have serious implications on your ability to follow the course.
- Ask questions- Never leave without clarifying a topic when in doubt. This has helped me a lot!
- Be a team player- Two heads are better than one. Always share knowledge and seek help.
- Do independent research- For resources and always prepare ahead of lectures, labs and seminars.
- Coding- practice! Practice!! Practice!!!
- Get involved with the computer science society.
Finally, deliberately remind yourself that you are very capable and can succeed regardless!