Why I Majored in Computer Science

Aldo Ruiz Parra ’25

My first exposure to computer science was in high school through classes where I learned the basic foundations of computer science and block coding. This sparked my interest in exploring technology, leading me to join my high school’s robotics program. Arriving at Pomona College, I intended to explore different academic disciplines, but I kept computer science in the back of my mind. It was not until I finished Introduction to Computer Science during my first semester that I discovered that I wanted to major in computer science. The structure of the assignments and challenging course nature not only honed my problem-solving skills but also left me with an insatiable curiosity to delve deeper into the field.

One of the factors that led to my decision to major in computer science was the supportive faculty and the nurturing learning environment. Through office hours, I built meaningful connections with CS professors who provided valuable guidance and support throughout my academic journey. Through mentor sessions, I had the opportunity to connect with other students, both peers and mentors, which enriched my learning experience as we tackled problems together. These positive experiences and relationships allowed me to excel in classes and stay curious while learning advanced concepts in computer science.

Another aspect that attracted me to computer science was the diverse range of opportunities offered. The department arranges the curriculum in a way that strives to balance practical applications and theoretical foundations. There are a variety of electives, from AI to human-computer interaction, that allow us to explore our passions. My favorite part about the discipline is the various subfields and industries one can break into with computer science. Some of those subfields include cybersecurity, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, computer networking and much more. Whether you aspire to pursue your passions in the industry or graduate school, computer science equips you with a well-rounded education and problem-solving skills that prepares you well for a multitude of career opportunities.

Gloria Lee ’24

I was first introduced to computer science as a senior in high school. At that time, I did not think too much about it and brushed it off, thinking that it was not something I was meant to pursue. As a freshman at Pomona, I had a tough time deciding on my major. I purposely cast a wide net and took a variety of introductory classes in different fields during my first year. It was spring of that year when I took CS051 and was reintroduced to computer science. Despite the challenges of Zoom University, I looked forward to the long CS051 labs and enjoyed working through puzzles that invited me to think deeper. It was exciting to slowly learn how to translate the logical blobs in my head into something tangible on the screen.

This learning process would have never been as enjoyable without the immense support I received from the CS department along the way. What I love most about CS at Pomona is the collaborative community it cultivates and how easy it is for me to seek help (e.g., through learning communities, professors’ office hours, etc.). Professors and student mentors are always willing to answer my questions, big or small, and they are truly invested in helping us learn. Without this community, I honestly could not imagine myself as a CS major.

I love that learning CS in a liberal arts setting allows me greater flexibility to simultaneously explore other fields that interest me. I am also extremely grateful for the many opportunities I've had to explore CS through a variety of means. As a research assistant, I had the chance to work with Professor Eleanor Birrell in security and privacy research, and this helped me realize just how big CS is as a field, along with the many unique opportunities it offers. Studying CS abroad provided me with a broader perspective and gave me the wonderful opportunity to learn from professors around the world. Reflecting back, I am so grateful to have stumbled back upon CS during my first year, and I believe that all these experiences at Pomona will shape me to become a more critical and well-rounded developer in the future.

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!