Why I Majored in Computer Science

Sean MacPherson ’21

During my first three years of high school, I stayed far away from computer science classes. I thought of computer science [majors] as geniuses staring at small computer screens coding the inner workings of magical items like my laptop. I told myself that computer science wasn’t for me.

In my senior year of high school, I conjured up an urge to start learning about web development. I built my first project, a basic website that found soccer fields nearby, and became drawn to computer science by the prospects of being able to create a product that aligned with my interests in a short of amount of time. I learned as I went, and building the website proved to be such a rewarding experience that I was intrigued enough to give computer science a solid chance.

After taking an intro class during my first semester of college, I was instantly hooked. I learned that computer science was so much more than my younger high school self thought it was. I found it was less about having a natural knack for the subject and more about committing myself to constant learning.

Since transferring to Pomona my sophomore year, I have discovered an amazing community of professors and students to share my passion for the subject with. I have met driven, excited Pomona CS majors applying computer science to their own unique areas of interest. Linguistics, theatre, cognitive science...name a major and it’s highly probable that a Pomona student is finding a way to apply computer science to it. I’ve also had the opportunity to work on a variety of rewarding projects outside of the classroom, such as helping to organize the 5C Hackathon and working with a professor on training models to capture the underlying topics in research papers. My time thus far as a computer science major has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my college career and I feel like I have just scratched the surface. I am so excited by where it will take me.

Mui Tanprasert ’21

Falling in love with computer science (CS) was a gradual process for me. I wrote my first python program when I was 13; it was something simple, not super interesting. Over the next few years, I began coding in C/C++ for programming competitions and getting involved with software research and development projects. When I was 15, I came to the U.S. for the first time to present an applied neural network project I did with my sister at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. I was excited, fascinated and intrigued by the cool people and equally cool projects that I saw there. That was the first time I thought maybe CS was something I could do for the rest of my life.

I came to Pomona as an intended CS major, but I was ready to explore. CS classes were not offered at my high school, so I had my first actual CS class in my first semester here and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have taken four more CS classes since and am taking two now. Some of them I struggle with more than others, but because the professors are always willing to help me take the most out of the class, I come out of every class feeling a little wiser. As much as I have enjoyed classes in other disciplines, I never felt quite as in-sync with any of them the way I did with CS. After finishing CS introductory sequence, I realized that I simply love to code and declared myself a CS major.

My favorite aspect of CS is its capability to turn my instructions into actions with incredible precision, reliability and efficiency. Thus, all practical fields in CS interest me. Outside of class, I worked in a governmental artificial intelligence (AI) research lab in my home country last summer, and am currently working on two research projects, one in natural language processing and the other in human-computer interaction. This is also my fourth semester working as a teaching assistant, and mentoring fellow CS students has been an absolutely rewarding experience. Majoring in CS at Pomona opens so many doors for me to dig deep into what I am passionate about. I am thankful for all that has brought me here and excited to see where the doors I enter will take me.

Abdul Ajeigbe ’22

I chose to major in computer science because it affords me the opportunity to explore both of my passions: solving problems and producing creative experiences. Through code, I can generate ideas that solve user-specific problems, design and ideate possible solutions, and then execute them. Ultimately, engaging in this end-to-end experience is fulfilling to me because I get to not only imagine an experience but also bring it to fruition.

What I enjoy most about the Computer Science Department is the healthy collaboration. In class, professors often encourage us to talk with one another to better our understanding of concepts and solve problems. Outside of class, professors sometimes assign peer projects and offer additional support by providing extensive office hours and mentor sessions. At these mentor sessions, students work together to master challenging concepts and complete different projects. Everyone in the department—both professors and students—is truly excited to help and collaborate with others.

This past summer (2020), I worked on a RAISE project with the Hive and three of my peers. Using the human centered design process, my team and I redesigned the virtual community experience and came up with Screen Breakers. My specific role on the team was designing and developing the website. Although I had no experience developing websites beforehand, my CS experience at Pomona prepared me to learn new coding languages. Using React, a JavaScript library, I was able to successfully build my first website and share an impactful project. Since the completion of my RAISE project, I have developed more websites and grown more confident in my coding abilities. To read more about Screen Breakers, check out our Medium article.

Abigail Andrews ’22

My first exposure to computer science came my first-year of college when I enrolled in Introduction to CS in Python on a whim. Almost immediately, I realized that I enjoyed the sort of puzzles and work in my CS class abundantly more than the sorts of logic and problem solving in my other classes; even more, I became excited when I realized that these small scale problems, I was solving within a few lines of code could be scaled up to larger, more impactful projects.

The best part about CS at Pomona College is the support from professors, teaching assistants, and peers. Mentor hours are a great opportunity to get help outside of class and collaborate with peers. The professors are super approachable and always make sure that their students feel supported.

Another great thing about the department is how easy it is to get involved. I have worked several semesters as a teaching assistant for the intro class as well as done remote research through the RAISE program with one of my professors. My research focused on user perceptions of privacy and security across mobile and desktop applications. I am super grateful to have discovered and developed my passion for computer science at Pomona! I don’t know that I would have ever taken a computer science class had it not been for Pomona’s liberal arts approach to education and flexibility to take classes in a breadth of areas.

Naomi Amuzie ’22

Technology wasn’t emphasized or really accessible growing up—my school had a small computer lab shared between grades 6-12. Consequently, “computer science” wasn’t in my vocabulary until maybe senior year of high school. I was mostly focused on ethics in international relations and economics at that time due to my transformative semester experience at The School for Ethics and Global Leadership during my junior year. I was steadfast on this track until a close friend recommended I look into computer science to see if I’d be interested. I ultimately decided to PERM into Introduction to Python in the fall semester of my first year while also taking economics. Towards the end of my first year, to my surprise, I found myself more in favor of computer science. Though the work and concepts were difficult to grasp, I felt supported during mentor sessions and energized working alongside my peers. Above all, I saw a future of possibilities.The computer science major is a door to many different fields and applications. Over the past two summers, I have scratched the surface with internships developing mobile applications for task management and financial machine learning models. At Pomona, the major is comprehensive—equipping students with necessities and flexibility to explore their interests in electives and outside the major. Because of this, I’ve also been able to engage in Africana Studies courses, where I have been able to apply my CS knowledge to develop a greater sense of self and understanding of our world. Pomona’s liberal arts education has allowed me to engage in a rich intersection of my interests and ponder: In what ways has technology been used to perpetuate long-lasting systems of oppression? How can it be used as a tool to liberate us from these systems? And what roles can technology play to help build a brighter future?

Currently, I am a fellow at Code for Equity with Impact Labs where my team is brainstorming and building ways to answer these questions through the creation of a digital social space. I’m looking forward to similar projects throughout my doing and what lies ahead for our future.

Khadija Jallow ’22

I was introduced to the realm of computer science through robotics in high school and then took a coding class once I got to Pomona, it was really fun for me to program in that course, so I wanted to continue pursuing it. I also was thinking about how rapidly computer science and technology in general is being integrated into our society without much regard for its impact on people which is also what prompted me to major as I became more curious about the effects of CS on our society. I enjoy that we have smaller class sizes and can connect with professors easily. It is really helpful in these courses.

My freshman summer I did a SURP with Prof. Chen which combined my interests on social issues with CS. I was able to look into the correlation between demographics and the amount of local revenue given in public schools in any given county in the U.S. It was a very intriguing project that allowed me to apply the skills I learned in my courses onto real life questions and issues. This semester I am also working on a data science project through the NYU CURP program where I will be doing research on topics dealing with predictive policing, ethical artificial intelligence (AI) and such.

It is very easy to just see CS in only a technical light but as a discipline that affects people's lives significantly, I believe that it is important that we keep in mind who and what we are coding for and the consequences it will have. What keeps me in this discipline is the want to have a positive impact on communities using the tools CS provides and critically analyze these tools as well.

Jansen Comadena ’22

I chose to major in computer science because I think being able to write code is a valuable skill to have and I enjoy the challenge of working through various problems and thinking of all the possible ways to find a solution.

My favorite part about the CS Department at Pomona College is the amount of support that is available. It might not be the largest department, but the faculty and students that are part of it are a tight-knit group.

Last semester, my final project for Natural Language Processing was probably my favorite CS project that I have worked on up to this point. My group members and I used web scraping to gather data from the "Am I the A**hole?" subreddit page. We then trained three different machine learning models with this data and tested for which model would be best at correctly predicting if the person writing the reddit post we passed in was an a**hole or not.

Clarissa De La Garza ’22

Initially, computer science was not a major I had in mind, but after taking the intro course for fun, it was one of the few classes whose homework made me excited. From that point on I think what made me declare CS as a major was the amazing students that I have had a class with; we have been able to laugh at our long nights and produce some amazing code that I still look back at and feel shocked we did. If the people in my major are any representation of what I will walk into after graduating, I am beyond excited for the friendships I will build.

What I have enjoyed most about the department has been the number of female professors I have had. They are easily a constant motivation and reminder of what it is to be a boss, humble and determined, plus walking into Edmunds Hall every day and seeing them is always encouraging. This also made me more comfortable speaking up in class, expressing my confusion and joking around with everyone; I always believed that because CS is a serious field, I had to be a serious CS-er, but my professors have always made my non-serious-self feel comfortable and accepted.

This past summer I was able to intern with Lyft as a front/back-end SWE; my project revolved around corporate discounts that are given to employees for different companies. What was so great about my time at Lyft was my mentoring group and the duality of my task. My mentor and manager were so chill and bright, I was able to joke around and get to business within the same meeting and when my internship was over it was hard to come to terms that I wouldn't be seeing them every morning (cheesy I know). My project was also super cool because I was able to work both the front and back end components of the project; being able to connect systems together, setting up a webpage, and making them all talk to each other helped me not only learn a lot about how big companies store and manage data but also led me to find my love for front-end work.  What was most contagious however was the knowledge all the employees had and how casual they were about it; their big brain energy was contagious and encouraged me to learn more about the company, my project and staff.

I remember thinking, after my intro CS course, how in the world were all the upperclassmen were surviving those high-level CS classes—I couldn't imagine myself in their shoes because I never thought I would get past the intro levels.  Here I am now doing what I thought I couldn't do, CS is not easy, but it is a new field of study that gives you so many spaces and areas to find and reinvent yourself. There are still moments of doubt, just like what I encountered my first year, but you will find yourself continuing to work and learn within those moments and before you know it, they turn into memories.

Nirali Devgan ’22

Computer science was always something I was interested in growing up but as I arrived at Pomona, I wasn’t sure if I truly wanted to commit myself to it. The department’s approach to the subject and the way professors introduce material were pivotal reasons to why I fully understood all the interdisciplinary applications of the major and opportunities post-grad I could have not just in something like software engineering, but across industries like government and language processing. There is a real ‘liberal arts’ take to the major at Pomona, professors from the get-go emphasize a focus on theory as well as computation; you walk away from each class feeling that you can not only implement the concept or algorithm you just learned but also fully explain the logic and steps on getting there.

Something unique to Pomona and a CS department among colleges across the country these days is a smaller, tight knit community of faculty and students. I've developed a relationship with every professor I have ever had, notably had dinner with a couple CS profs at their house and gone on walks with my econ professor about career advice and the current market. All the anecdotes you hear throughout the admissions process are true: students get lunches and dinners with professors, meet and babysit their kids, work on short-term and long-term research projects together, and keep in touch way after graduation. By far the most important and rewarding part of academics here.

Jaden Kim ’22

A few of my friends convinced me to take an intro CS class with them and I ended up really enjoying it. Thank you, friends.

I really like the way CS makes me think of problems as giant puzzles. I enjoy design and music production as well, and I feel that the line of structured thinking between all three overlap in pretty similar ways.

This past summer I worked in Professor Joseph Osborn's lab with Chanha Kim on a Python package called YARDS which is a tool that allows users to generate synthetic data for training deep learning models. We ended up publishing a paper on it and were able to present it at AIIDE (an AI and digital media conference).

If anyone reading this has connections to get me an internship, I'd really appreciate it.

Jared Mejia ’22

When I arrived on campus at Pomona, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life, much less which discipline to focus my education on. Surrounded by engaging professors and brilliant peers, the constant flux of exciting ideas from psychology, economics, philosophy, mathematics and more, left me bouncing from one subject to the next, unwilling and unable to settle on just one. Of course, recognizing the practical use of being able to code, I made sure to include a few computer science courses in my schedule. Even so, I dreaded the thought of becoming just another programmer monotonously coding all day and playing the dismal role of just another cog in the machine—surely that was not the reason I had come to Pomona.

As I delved deeper into the subject, I realized computer science was much more than I had previously anticipated; it was problem solving, discovery and the opportunity to redefine what is possible. Rather than a standalone discipline operating strictly within a vacuum, the burgeoning field impacts the lives of the masses, and hence is interwoven with numerous other areas of study. This ties in nicely with the liberal arts education at Pomona, which offers diverse perspectives to weigh the ramifications of software developments and amalgamates varying dimensions to complement the technical side of studying computer science—key ingredients often lacking at engineering schools. Furthermore, the professors of the department are always supportive and go out of their way to make time for their students' questions. They are always receptive of feedback and they do everything they can to meet the individual needs of their students.

So far, I have had a wonderful experience studying computer science at Pomona. I have enjoyed working as a teaching assistant and serving as a department student liaison—both unique opportunities for an undergraduate student that have given me a chance to build community while strengthening my own understanding of the material. The classes prepared me for a summer internship at a large tech company and I am currently working as a research assistant for Professor Anthony Clark on transferring robot learning from high fidelity simulation environments. Conducting research has been an exciting challenge and has allowed me to extend upon my technical skills while formulating thoughtful solutions to difficult problems. The experiences I have had studying CS at Pomona have been transformative and have fed into my curiosity—the joy of learning such exciting concepts never ceases. Thanks to the professors and students in the department, I have discovered my passion for CS and feel eager and well prepared to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science following my undergraduate studies.

Zintan Mwinila-Yuori ’22

Coding was a fun pastime I decided to explore without much reason in middle school. After approaching my then Information Communication and Technology (ICT) teacher, I was encouraged to learn how to code from a PDF book he gave to me. I thoroughly enjoyed this even though many of the concepts I tried to learn flew right over my head. It wasn’t until high school when I realized computer science could possibly be a career path for me. I decided to explore CS further in high school and realized that I actually had a passion for coding and computers in general. I decided to major in CS to be able to see what specific areas of the broad field of computer science I am actually interested in and whether this is a path I am willing to take beyond college.

I love how open the professors are about the work they do in the field of CS apart from the classes they teach. Even though the classes are good, and I learn a lot of foundational skills from them, I think that learning how these professors apply their knowledge in the real world through research and projects solidifies most of what I learn from the classes. Seeing what they do and having open conversations about their work lives helps me to see what some of the possibilities are when I think about my own career in CS.

During the summer of 2019, I worked on an auto-grading bot for CS151 (Artificial Intelligence) with Professor Joseph Osborn and one other student. This was my first internship-like experience and having taken only the second class in the CS intro sequence, I came in not knowing much about anything. I learnt basically all the technical know-how needed for this project on the job. Professor Osborn had a lot of patience in explaining what the project was about and mentoring me as the summer progressed (he had to explain it about 23 times before I finally got it). By the end of the summer, after successfully creating and testing a workable version of the bot, I felt much more confident in Python, flask, shell, how to read and write documentation, version control among other skills. I highlight this experience because I believe it was a very formative time for me and also because, the skills I learnt put me in a good position to eventually intern at Google the next summer.

I’d just like to say thank you to all the CS staff and professors, students in the budding black and brown in CS community, the CS liaisons and ITS HPC for encouraging me on this sometimes treacherous yet enjoyable path. I don’t think I would have come this far without you all. Thanks!

Magali Ngouabou ’22

Fortunate accidents. I took the intro course the second semester of my first year in order to complete the math requirement and because some of my friends encouraged me to give it a shot. My intro professors, David Kauchak and Alexandra Papoutsaki, were some of the best teachers I had ever encountered. Finally, I found it fun to solve most of the different problems (except the ones involving recursion) and it just felt really great getting a program to work. As a result of all these pretty fortunate events, here I am today.

Right now, there is a lot of work being done to make the department more welcoming to students who are underrepresented in computer science. Criticisms have recently been taken well and I think student voices matter a lot right now. There are more systems to support struggling students, or at the very least to have their voices heard, so I hope prospective students keep on speaking out to improve the department.

I got a research opportunity at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University to study diversity in open source. Open source is increasingly becoming a pathway into the tech community, and for many, has started or bolstered their tech careers. Black people are severely underrepresented in tech, so I’m looking into what the Black experience has been in this opportunity-laden space, seeing if open source is a welcoming and inclusive space for Black folks interested in participating.

I want to see more people who look like me flourish in this field. It’s absolutely fine to turn away from this major if you have concluded it’s not for you. But I hope you reach out or talk to someone who can support you first and I equally hope the department provides more encouraging people to talk to. Most of us have had very frustrating/tearful nights in Edmunds (the building where the computer science department is housed), but many of us have made it through them, many more of us will, and we will probably come away from them knowing something we didn’t before (hopefully something good).

Phuong Nguyen ’22

I took my first college computer science class in the second semester of my first year, and I found plenty of joy in coding and solving problems. I still remembered the excitement I felt when I finished a Python program to solve Sudoku boards in just two to three minutes. It was an impressive achievement to me, considering my ability to lengthen the duration of each game to the unit of hours. And the more projects that I build – developing a web application to connect students and mentors, writing programs to analyze and extract data, creating word models – the more I appreciate the beauty and potential of harnessing computational power to effectively create positive values for the communities that I care about. I also enjoy solving technical questions and finding multiple creative and efficient solutions to them.  I must admit the solutions don’t always pop up in my head immediately, but I love the learning process either way.

All of my computer science classes at Pomona so far have been really fulfilling and rewarding. I have strengthened my coding ability and theoretical background after asking lots of questions and receiving a lot of support from my professors and mentors. My academic advisor, who is also a CS professor, has always supported me in both my academic and professional careers. Her guidance and seemingly endless patience with me have helped me land a software engineering internship in the summer of my sophomore year, which is such a transformational experience. All of my CS professors have also been really amazing, and I believe they all want their students to have the best learning experience.

I used to be scared of computer science, thinking I’m not smart enough to major in CS in college because I didn’t start coding early. However, I had the courage to take that first college CS class and continue doing what I’m passionate about. I sincerely appreciate my professors, mentors, and friends at Pomona, whose support has allowed me to overcome my fear and realize that I can, and I will, become a computer scientist. Maybe I already am one!

Ilana Shapiro ’22

I’ve always loved to solve puzzles and the logical and creative thinking that goes into them. I didn’t realize for a long time that this is the sort of thing computer scientists do every day, but when I took my first computer science class in my junior year of high school, I was hooked. It’s so satisfying, after putting hours of time and effort into a particularly difficult program, to finally see it work! However, in addition to computer science, I’m a serious flute player and love music. I intend to complete a double major in computer science and [music with a concentration in] flute performance. I came to Pomona because I felt, as a superb liberal arts school, it was uniquely poised to offer me the best of both of these worlds.

Pomona has not disappointed! I have felt incredibly supported by both departments during my time here, and the quality of learning has been extremely high. Pomona has made me feel prepared for a career in computer science, whether I choose to pursue a Ph.D. or move directly into industry after graduation. I constantly feel the need to push myself in my classes as I continue to be inspired by my professors and what I’m learning. Last summer I completed my first computer science internship, where I worked on iOS apps, and I have Pomona to thank for being able to go into that experience confident and well-equipped.

The instruction and access to professors is excellent, and the small class sizes here are amazing. I’m taken aback when friends at well-known larger schools tell me that their same computer science classes have 2000 people compared to my class of 20. Pomona also is truly a community of interdisciplinary learners, which I feel is vital to a computer scientist. I’m so grateful to Pomona for the vast opportunities it has given me and the spectacular people I’ve met here, and I’m so excited for what’s to come!

Stefanos Stoikos ’22

I chose to be a computer science major because of the array of opportunities it offers. Also, technology is embedded in our lives and having a degree in computer science allows you to understand it and change it for the better.

The Department of Computer Science at Pomona is very supportive. The professors care both for the subjects they teach as well as the students they teach them to. Classes are small and conversation is promoted. This way, you can get a better understanding of the topic and ask insightful questions. Mentor sessions are a great place to not only facilitate the information taught in class but also meet and collaborate with other like-minded individuals.

Over the course of the summer, I had the chance to research multilingual sentiment analysis using Machine Learning and successfully publish a paper at the COLING Conference in Barcelona. In addition, SURP allowed me to develop a mobile journaling app prototype. I am currently continuing this project with the goal of promoting everyday journaling into people’s lives.

Allison Wu ’22

In high school, I was a product management intern for one summer. I really clicked with the job and knew that it was a career I wanted to pursue. My mentor had suggested majoring in computer science, as it would set me up with the best background to be a product manager out of college. Before entering college, I took an introductory computer science class to gain exposure to the subject before potentially majoring in it. I loved how I got to problem-solve and be creative, and I loved how quickly I could build useful and fun programs. 

Once in college, I continued to remain interested in the major. One of my favorite parts about being a computer science student at Pomona College is the support and the people. You can find many computer science students studying and writing on whiteboards in Edmunds, the computer science building, every night. There is usually always a mentor session happening where you can get help. I cannot imagine getting through some of my assignments or study nights without my amazing mentors and classmates to crack jokes and keep me sane.

Since majoring in computer science, I have continued to pursue internships in product management. My knowledge has especially helped during one of my internships with a startup through PCIP, where I had to work beyond my scope and help the engineers. I was well-prepared thanks to the great education I have received at Pomona. 

I have really loved my time as a computer science major at Pomona. My favorite thing is that Pomona allows me to identify myself as more than just a computer science major. I am a student with many interests, like music and leadership, and a member of Pomona-Pitzer’s Women’s Water Polo team. I feel lucky to have had time to explore other interests while still having a successful and enjoyable computer science education.

Sean O’Connor ’23

I chose to major in CS because the intro course got me excited about what computers can do. My final assignment for Intro CS was making a program that processed hundreds of thousands of data entries to find what times people are more likely to call 911. Trying to accomplish the same thing by hand would probably have taken years, but the script finished running in under a minute. Those sort of moments still feel surreal to me, and it feels like every semester shows me more about the incredible things computers can accomplish.  

While the major can be challenging, the CS faculty are invested in students’ success and willing to give the support you need to succeed. I love the problem-solving process and the sometimes-mind-boggling ideas we get to learn. I also appreciate how many different things you can do with a CS degree.  Almost every industry uses software in some way, from healthcare to automobiles. And technology is at the heart of critical social issues like privacy and surveillance. I haven’t figured out exactly what I plan to do with my degree, but it’s exciting how many options CS gives you.

Last summer, I studied the rollout of the California Consumer Privacy Act. Before doing the research, I didn’t know that almost everything we do online is tracked and sold to companies called data brokers, who compile extensive profiles about us including sensitive information like health conditions, sexual orientation, political beliefs and more. CCPA took effect in July, giving California consumers the right to opt-out from having their information sold when visiting websites. We looked at how top websites responded: how many implemented the newly required Do Not Sell mechanisms, and what sort of designs they used. We then performed a follow-up study implementing some commonly seen designs on our own experimental website; we found that many companies are using designs that prevent users from opting out.  Some parts of the study were nerve-wracking, but also exciting. For instance, having never touched any sort of web technology, I had to build a website that accurately logged data from thousands of people. I learned a lot, and it was rewarding to be part of work dealing with real-world privacy issues.

Don’t be intimidated by CS! If you’re even a little bit curious about the field or learning to code, I’d highly encourage you to not worry and just give it a try. You don’t have to be a math prodigy or some kind of technical wizard to succeed. I had a lot of doubts about whether I’d be able to major in CS; I was always more of a humanities person, and I transferred into Pomona at 25 years old having never taken a college math or CS course. But here I am now on this page. Just make sure to use the many support resources available—go to mentor sessions, office hours, and talk to your classmates every week! There can definitely be a learning curve to the field, but CS 51 tries to ease you in even if you’ve had no prior coding experience. And if you struggle in the introductory CS sequence, know that it gets a lot more manageable after you develop the skills from the first two courses.

Also, feel free to reach out (look me up on LinkedIn or the Pomona directory) if you have any questions or want to chat about CS!