A literal pitfall.

Computer Science Pitfalls

…and how to avoid them.

Hey! So you’re doing computer science. Congratulations on picking one of the most demanding courses — but also congratulations on picking one of the most rewarding courses which provides you with the skills that the world demands.

In this article, I’ll go through some of the mistakes I’ve made during my first year of studies, and offer ways of not making these same mistakes. This isn’t a to-do list, or a strict regime to follow, by any means.

Use the freshers’ period as a chance to find out who you’re studying with.

The first week or two at university is normally called the “welcome fair”, or the “introductory fortnight”, or something similar. Let’s be real here: it’s known as freshers’ week, and a reasonable amount of people will be going to clubs and pubs. But whether that’s your thing or not, your department will normally hold introductory lectures where you’ll see the professors and also have a chance to say hello to the people you’ll be sharing lecture theatres with for the next three or four years. And since the workload will be low or nonexistent, it’s the best time to do standard icebreaker things — like taking a tour of the city/campus, connecting on social media, and going on pub trips.

You can also use these trips to scout out local coffee shops… they may be of use later in the year.

The saviour of project deadlines.

Maybe do a… little bit of background reading?

I mean, no need to go absolutely nuts on this one. Just reading up on course content before you join the university will be extremely helpful. Reading lecture notes before the lecture is a really good habit to get into, and something I didn’t do that often. It will make life a lot easier for you.

A word of warning though — hold up on buying textbooks until your first lecture for the course in question. You may find that a lot of the textbooks aren’t very helpful, and others you can just find online anyway. UCL’s library offers some books as eBooks as one example, and in another the professor provided two hundred pages of notes for the entire module.

Git good at git (and some other stuff)

So, there’s a couple of skills that will come in handy very quickly during a computer science course. I’d personally recommend you learn how to use Git as soon as you can. Git is a version control system, a set of tools that allow you (and/or others) to keep track of changes made to files, and makes things a lot easier when collaborating on projects. GitHub (a popular service for storing projects) offers a free interactive tutorial for learning how to use Git from the command line; but don’t worry, there are desktop programs that can vastly simplify things for you (although it’s very useful to learn how to use the command line version).

You could even put this into practice by creating a basic personal website. GitHub (again, I know!) offer free website hosting with their github.io service. Create a website at the start of the year and slowly improve it and add to it as the year passes — it’s a simple way of learning HTML, CSS and possibly JavaScript alongside your studies. Mine’s available at mbell.me!

Change the colour scheme and font of your favourite text editor to look like a hacker.

Be open to interning during your summer

By default, most people will wait until the second year to do an internship, but why wait? Working during the summer after your first year is a great way of gaining experience, earning some extra money, and also gaining a lot of new skills and new friends. I could probably write another whole article about the gains you can get from interning, but that’s for another day. Essentially though, you’ll be learning a lot of things that you would not learn in the lecture theatre, and prepares you for life on the outside.

Look after yourself

Take it from someone with firsthand experience, your body can only take so many all-nighters (in fact I wrote a blog post about it). There’s a stage you’ll get too where even Red Bull, Relentless or Bulletproof Coffee won’t save you. The trick is to not get to that stage in the first place. Get a good amount of sleep as much as you can, because it will make you pay more attention in lectures and also make you a friendlier person.

Looking after yourself doesn’t end in the land of Nod either. Getting some exercise is a good move too — student union gyms tend to have dirt cheap membership prices, or you could even start running or cycling. You’ll be fitter, healthier and gives you something to Instagram about. Make sure you eat well as well! Save the terrible food and pizza for hackathons.

It’s 5AM and I feel fiiiiiiiine

Join your local Tech Society, and go to hackathons!

Introducing yourself to the community will mean that you have a whole network of friends, advice and meetups. Tech companies are keen to recruit the few tech students out there, and will put on events, talks and workshops to get their brand known. Many pizzas will be had (as well as other equally delicious foods). Many connections will be made.

On top of that, tech societies are epicentres for events, socials, and projects. Some will be part of the computer science departments, whereas some are not (KCLTech, Imperial College’s DoCSoc, TechSoc). You’ll find them at your local freshers’ fair, with tonnes of swag and probably showing something cool.

Pssst. If you’re joining UCL, you can reach TechSoc on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Medium. Shameless plug completed.


Currently studying and thought of something I’ve missed? Send a response below and share your advice!