How school prepared me for a degree in Computer Science
So it turns out that everything I learned in school, from Religious Studies to Art to Economics to Physics, is actually useful.
Shocking, I know.
In school, I remember being *ahem* strongly encouraged *ahem* to memorise Circle Theorems and analyse how Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter in his sonnets. In sixth form, none of my A-Levels included Computer Science (CS).
And while I cannot say that I have used iambic pentameter to write my technical reports in CS (though now that I mention it, it’s quite tempting), a good grasp of English is rather handy. I’m still waiting for an opportunity to compare my notes on Shakespeare’s work at a formal, Downton-Abbey-style dinner.
The point is, however, that what I have learnt in school is not just to prepare me for studying my chosen degree, but to prepare me for lifeeee.
Don’t believe me? Here we go:
Let’s start with the most obvious, shall we? I think it is important to stress that Maths is an important part of Computer Science – something that becomes a lot clearer at university. I studied Maths at A level and Further Maths until AS Level, which have helped me immensely and directly in my degree. We have two maths modules in the first year of the Computer Science BSc/MEng courses, which build upon these A levels.
The physical sciences – Physics, Chemistry, Biology – are useful for multiple reasons. I studied Physics at A-Level so I’m going to talk about that. The more obvious link is to Computer Organisation and Architecture i.e. hardware stuff. Less obvious, but also important, are the soft skills you develop. I found Physics to be my most challenging A-Level as I had to develop a new way of thinking – and this was a painful process that required a lot of perseverance. But I have found that building this resilience has helped me in CS where, once again, I’m training myself to think in a particular way.
Bet you didn’t see this one coming.
Studying Art at GCSE level has helped me in CS. It requires creativity to design a response to a brief – regardless of whether it is a theme or a programming task, or whether we implement that design using paint or code. Studying Art helped me most during the Visualisation module in my first year, which required me to use design principles to effectively visualise data.
Beyond Art, subjects like Music, and Drama are also useful, as they help you become a better storyteller. Storytelling is a crucial aspect of any type of design, as it helps you communicate your vision to others. In CS, we are often required to write reports that explain why we have designed our solutions the way we have. Beyond that, User Experience and User Interaction Design are crucial parts of good software engineering, as it is important to design software that is easy for a human to use.
The Humanities and Social Sciences
Languages, Economics, History, Philosophy…
We are talking about studying humans and society. I don’t think I need to justify why it is useful to study humans and society (unless you’re planning to move to Mars).
In CS, however, I’ve discovered there’s more of a direct relevance than I expected. Artificial Intelligence, in particular, draws a lot from the humanities and social sciences. To start with, it involves an understanding of what intelligence means – which is very much in the realms of philosophy. I’m also studying a module called Formal Languages this year, which involves linguistics. Next year, I’m planning to take Social Informatics, which draws from the social sciences.
Surprisingly, I have found that my Economics A-Level has come in handy in my Software Engineering module. This year, our group software project has been set by Deutsche Bank; our task is to design and implement software that deals with derivatives trades. Funky!
And finally, let me emphasise something:
Yes, in CS there’s a lot of programming involved (duh). But there’s also a fair bit of writing – namely, technical reports.
So any essay writing subject is useful. Knowing how to write references is mega useful.
It all comes together
Generally, I’ve found that yes, there is inevitably some content that I learnt in school that I am unlikely to use ever again. However, the soft skills that I developed by studying that content – analysis, lateral thinking, creativity – are even more important and are relevant in all parts of life.
Computer Science, as a field, is quite special as it draws from so many other disciplines – take AI as an example – and digital technology is used everywhere.
To those studying their A-Levels, I hope to reassure you that yes, sometimes it all seems futile, but all your hard work will pay off. Even when it seems like your subjects are not directly relevant to what you want to move on to do at uni (like me), that knowledge may help you in ways you don’t expect. This is the home stretch. You’ve got this!!! 🙂
More information is available on Warwick’s Computer Science courses and modules.