10 Tips to Succeed in your First Year of CS at Purdue

As a disclaimer, the tips I have written here are entirely based off of my own experiences and are by no means the only way to become a successful student. There are a lot of different paths you can take at Purdue, and these tips are based of my own personal path. After my freshman year of college, I spent a lot of time thinking about what made me successful, what I wanted to keep doing as I entered sophomore year. This is what I came up with.

#1 Befriend an upperclassman.

Purdue is a big place with lots of opportunities. Especially in your first year, it can be helpful to have a friend who has been through the program. They can help you pick out classes, avoid bad professors, get leadership positions, understand class material, and more.

There are lots of easy ways to find upperclassmen on campus. Apply for mentorship programs, join organizations and meet their members, or even just message people on social media. (I am an upperclassman. Feel free to message me.)

#2 Go to at least one hackathon.

If you don’t know what a hackathon is, stop and read this article, and then come back.

Hackathons are not everyone’s cup of tea, but you won’t know if they’re for you until you try one. I would say that it’s one of those things that you have to experience at least once. If the idea of going away for the weekend scares you, like it did me, then make that one hackathon Purdue’s BoilerMake, held by students in the CS and engineering departments. It’s a 36-hour event, held on campus, and you can come and go as you please. It’s a great way to try out the hackathon world!

Students hacking at BoilerMake IV

#3 Keep a running list of ideas for side projects/hackathons.

It is always valuable to have a list of projects you would like to work on. I keep a list of ideas in the Notes app on my iPhone. Currently, I have a list of about 25 software and hardware projects, including “pun maker” and “visual health diagnosis tool.” Will these ideas change the world? Probably not. But would they be fun to work on, could I talk to recruiters about them, and will it give me an idea about what I’m interested in? Yes.

#4 Go to SI sessions and office hours.

Supplementary instruction (SI) sessions are classes led by upperclassmen to help students in their introductory courses. Yes, CS 180 has one, and yes, you should go to it. This is your time to ask questions and gain a deeper understanding of the material. A better understanding of the material means a better grade.

Also, don’t be afraid of going to office hours! Generally, professors, graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), and undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs) will all have office hours, so don’t hesitate to go to any of them. They’re a great place to ask specific questions about the material and get help with code. Also, if you can’t make office hours, usually TAs won’t mind if you go to their lab session, even if it isn’t your own (that’s is how I survived the shell project in CS 252).

Take advantage of the opportunities to talk to professors. Whether it be after class or during office hours, interacting with professors will help you get career-oriented opportunities and academic advice for future CS classes. Getting to know the professors will also build a more personal relationship and give you a solid start for recommendations — Rohan Gupta, Sophomore

#5 Start coding projects early.

Many people are not going to listen to this advice, and they are going to suffer. Don’t be one of them.

Your first semester you’ll have probably at most one group project in a CS class- however, that doesn’t mean that you can’t talk with the other students in your class. However, do tread very carefully- professors diligently check for plagiarism/ copied code, both manually and automatically. Make sure that everything you turn in is your own, and that you never show any part of your code to anyone else — even 5 similar lines can show that cheating happened. (If you’re savvy, search up ‘Stanford moss’ to find a whitepaper) In practically every CS class I’ve taken, I’ve been in a group chat with a bunch of people where we’ve shared studying resources and answered each other’s questions to prepare for an exam. — Nicky Semenza, Senior

#6 Go to all the callouts for CS related clubs (and join at least one of them).

There are a lot of different CS clubs you can join (more than just what’s on the CS department’s website) and I highly recommend to join at least one of them. Going to class is great for learning fundamentals, but outside activities are where you learn applications and network with your peers. Even if you don’t end up joining the organization, you still usually get free food.

In my opinion, one of the best clubs to join is Purdue Hackers. There is little to no commitment, and it’s run by a talented and passionate group of students. They hold awesome events throughout the year where you can go to meet new people and learn new skills. Join their Facebook group. Just do it.

I’m also going to recommend the MAGIC and/or ROCS. They are both outreach programs put on by the Computer Science Department, where you get the chance to go to local schools and teach younger students about technology. By participating in them, you receive college credit, practice your technical skills, and inspire children to reach their technology-related goals. What could be better?

Pick a reasonable amount of extracurriculars. My suggestion is 2–3 at most, so you can put in quality time towards them and your academics. If anything recruiters want to see that you are passionate about something rather than doing five random ones for a resume. — Puja Mittal, Junior

#7 Join a club not related to CS.

Some people can spend all of their time on computer science. That person is not me, nor do I want it to be. Make yourself stand out by joining another activity that interests you. For me, it was joining the Salsa Club. They have salsa and bachata classes each week, and attending those was a great way to relax, make new friends, and get some exercise in.

#8 Befriend everyone you meet on social media.

You’re going to meet a lot of people, and if you’re anything like me, you’re never going to remember all of their names. I like to combat that by friending them on social media. If they have an active account, I will gradually learn their names from seeing their posts (also a reason to have a clear online presence).

Make a lot of friends in your classes because they’ll have a lot of resources and you can help each other — Puja Mittal, Junior

#9 Go to the career fair.

It’s easy to believe that just because you’re a freshman, you won’t have anything to gain from going to a career fair. That’s wrong. Career fairs are one of the best places to practice your skills of self promotion and networking. They’re also a chance to learn about companies that you might like to work for. Fair warning: some places will turn you down because of your age. When they do, just go talk to someone else. From personal experience, I can promise you that there will be companies there that hire freshmen.

There are two career fairs you want to go to: CS and IR. Have a few copies of your updated resume (keep it one page and remember it’s ok to include high school activities) and prepare something to say about yourself. This is how my encounters generally went:

Me: Hi, my name is Julianna Stevenson and I’m a freshman in computer science. Can you tell me a bit about your company?
Recruiter: BLAH BLAH BLAH.

I promise I did pay attention at career fairs, but the point is that talking to recruiters isn’t that hard. Just act confident, introduce yourself, and see how the conversation goes!

Don’t judge your CS capabilities by other people. There will people who will be sitting there who have been programming for years and years and there will be people who have never programmed before, and either of those people can be the best programmer you’ll ever meet. It just takes time — Puja Mittal, Junior

#10 Pay attention to the opportunity updates.

If you want to keep up to date on what events are happening in the CS department, one of the best ways is through the Opportunity Update email sent out each week by Patricia Morgan. It includes internship and employment announcements and reminders about upcoming events. Put those events in a calendar, find them on Facebook, and go to any that sound interesting. And even some that don’t.

Get involved…Don’t give up…You’re not as dumb as you think you are. — Ankit Patanaik, Senior