By Chiamaka Anamekwe, Intern at ADAVIRTUAL Business Support.
There was a time ‘computer science dropout’ seemed synonymous with ‘successful tech entrepreneur’. The likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Paul Allen dropped out of the infamous course, all to go on to found the biggest companies in the world today. Whilst there is no direct correlation between dropping out of computer science and founding multi-billion dollar businesses, I’ve always wondered why exactly so many have gone on to do so.
I decided to reflect on my time as a computer science student, and think about some of the lessons I’d learnt throughout the experience. Whilst these lessons are by no means exclusive to computer science, it seems some of them just tend to be more prominent. Without further ado, here are some of the most important things my degree taught me (disclaimer: ignoring the guilt of watching Netflix with 3 unfinished assignments looming over my head didn’t quite make the list).
Surrounding yourself with great minds can push you to greatness
I remember my first year of university I was surrounded by people who had been coding for the majority of their lives and at that point I could probably count the lines of code I had written in my entire life. The course is notoriously difficult, and thus, is where you will find some of the smartest people you have ever met; I’ve met people who were building computers at 5 and working on software used by millions before they could legally drink. I felt so far behind but I was determined it wouldn’t remain that way. Call it pride but I wasn’t going to be the girl who dropped out the ‘man’s subject’ because it was too hard.
I could easily have backed away from the challenge. Looking at how much you still have to do and how hard it will be can be extremely discouraging but I realised something at that moment which probably transformed my time at university – I might not get this opportunity again. Here I was, surrounded by people a lot smarter than me, who were in the same position I was. I needed to use it to my advantage so I essentially became a sponge, soaking in all the information I could. I reached out to classmates often, discussing everything from the current coursework to their side projects, and beyond the classroom, I was working to catch up on the years I seemed to have missed. Would I have pushed myself like I did had I not felt like I was behind? Probably not. That may just be the competitive spirit in me but I truly believe surrounding yourself with greater minds can push you to be greater, provided you adopt the right mindset.
The same goes for life. If you want to be better, learn from better. If you’re running your own startup or small business, find people who have run their own business and have done it well, and learn from what they did. Reach out to them if you can.
Networking is more than an awkward dinner event
If you’re like me, when you think of networking, you probably think of a dreaded evening event filled with forced smiles, bad jokes and a bunch of people you don’t know. Whilst this is a form of networking, it is far from the only option. When I was reaching out to fellow classmates, or talking to people I’d met at events I’d attended, I wasn’t thinking of it as a networking opportunity but it is. These are times when genuine connections are built, with people you actually want to have a conversation with. Reach out and get their contact details and there you go – you’ve built your network! Now it will feel a lot less strange to reach out to them at a later date for whatever you wish to discuss. I’ve met people at pizza nights who I ended up running a society with.
Learning to learn is an essential skill
Computer science is hard. If I haven’t mentioned it earlier, I’ll mention it now. There is a lot to learn, and (frustrating for some), most of what you learn is changing as you learn it. Our professors would frequently tell us how they had to go back and update their slides when the information became outdated, and no doubt some of the things I have been taught will soon change. If I just learnt the way things are and expected to graduate ready to take on the world of technology, I’d be in for a big shock. It’s drilled into our minds early on that we are not being taught a specific skill but rather how to learn skills. Whilst at a high level I may be learning C programming, I’m really learning how computers work, and how programming languages are structured. This is knowledge I can then apply as I’m learning Java, or Python or any other language. It probably took me a couple of months to get to grips with my first programming language but now I could start coding in a new language in a matter of days. This isn’t specific to just technology though – this is a fact of life. Darwin’s survival of the fittest is as true now as it was way back when. Those best suited to their current environment are the ones who survive and prosper. If you want your business to survive and prosper, think about your current environment and what you need to succeed in that environment. Learn it, and apply it. Now repeat. This is a never-ending process, which is why learning how to learn, and learning how to learn fast is so essential.