How I learned computing Part II

In my freshman year, I took Intro to Programming, Data Structures, and Computer Fundamentals courses under the Department of Systems & Computer Science. The knowledge from gap-year hours I had spent poring over the chapters of Teach Yourself C++ in 24 Hours really helped me grasp concepts that were new to my classmates. They would come to me to explain an assignment, ask how I knew these things, and whether I had taken programming classes before. I also knew JavaScript from taking a gap-year class at a computer institute in Lagos called Aptech. Still, the States seemed so advanced, like the place people (like me!) went to gain hi-tech knowledge, that it took a while for me to get used to having my classmates come to me for programming homework help.

In the summer before sophomore year, I got a position as a teaching assistant/lab technician at aforementioned Aptech. What do I remember — daily traffic to get to work, the bond I had with the teachers/instructors I worked with, how half of these teachers were female and it was normal, spending hours writing scripts in JavaScript to change the color of the screen, generate random numbers, build a pyramid of *’s of height X, where X was a user-input integer, and being toasted by lots of male students, one of whom, a lovely Angolan guy, I would briefly date (summer romances are no fun).

By sophomore year, many of my classmates had cell phones. I did my assignments by myself in my dorm, or sometimes in the iLab. They did theirs as a community and though they would often try to reach me, it was hard without a cell phone, and if programmers have types, I am certainly a solo programmer. This also had downsides, like the time in Operating Systems class (senior year) when I wrote my own classes for binary operations to carry out multiplication and division, not knowing those classes were already defined by default and all I had to do was call the classes. My classmates and I had a good laugh on that one.

In the fall of sophomore year, everyone was interviewing for internships, and I did, too. This still happens to me now, but I would spend almost as much time trying to figure out whether opaque or transparent tights looked most professional with my skirt suit, and how to wear my hair for an interview, as I would on practising data structures or how to write a quick Dijkstra’s algorithm. I don’t think only female students did this, as my male classmates would also turn up to interview waiting rooms or job fairs looking like they’d put more thought into their appearance and grooming than on regular school days. Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, the Wall Street companies, I sent my application to several, and I attended some interviews, of which I can only remember Microsoft and Goldman Sachs.

For the Goldman interview on campus, I remember being admonished for rating my programming skills a 3.5 out of 5. The interviewer told me at the end of the interview: “Your GPA is 3.94/4.00; you should not rate your programming skills so low,” and I learned how too much humility can be a negative thing. For the Microsoft interview, I remember them saying the interview dress code was casual, and me turning up in a Lacoste polo shirt, curious to test out this casual/business casual dress code thing.

I flew to New York for the Goldman Sachs round of interviews, and joined a team that summer that ran and maintained proprietary accounting software in-house, written in Java. I wasn’t very good at Java, and I struggled quite a bit. After two summers there, I didn’t want to see a line of Java code ever again (thankfully, a decade or so later, Java seems to have faded into obscurity). I had an excellent two summers working with some nice, dedicated people, and learning how what amounts to a small IT startup within a large investment bank, works.

Wide-eyed Technology Division interns at Goldman Sachs NY and our managers at an after-work event.

By this time, I had experience with five or six programming languages, particularly thanks to Structure of Programming Languages, a 300-level class I took in junior year, where the professor gave us the introduction to a programming or scripting language in one class (Perl, LISP, and one or two more), and we had a project due in that language two or three classes after. Then one big end-of-semester project, and an exam that felt like we were writing the SATs, with how regulated the exam environment was. I just looked at my transcript again and saw I got an A in that class, and I didn’t even remember that, just how demanding the class was.

How I Learned Computing Part I

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