The summer before your First Year

So it’s the summer before you are about to start a new subject at a new university and quite possibly in totally new country. You’ve waited anxiously to find out which university you will be going to and now you know, it feels like the start of a new story and you want to get stuck into it right away.

Now, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was supposed to do until that time, there is usually about a month and a half between results day and fresher’s week- and even then loads of people want to spend the summer doing something towards their subject. For some people it’s because they just want to start on something new and quite simply they enjoy it, others may be worried that everyone else may already be comfortable with things on the course and for others, they may just want to get ahead a little bit. All of these reasons are perfectly fine and it’s great that people want to read ahead.

But now comes your next problem: Computer Science is such a vast field of study. Sure the academic side of it is tough, as are all degree level subjects however there is also a very heavy practical side to its application as well. As a result, you may be feeling overwhelmed and wonder to yourself “where on earth should I start?”

Now, having spoken to many people junior to me, in my year and even those above- there are many things you could be doing before you start and I have a few suggestions of my own. It sounds simple but that’s because it really is- do something that interests you. I say this because people entering the first year are of varying skill levels and some people may have more experience than others. This is not really a problem because that is what the point of the first year really is, to bring everyone up to the same level.

While you will learn many things at university, there is nowhere near enough time to learn everything you will want and with computer science that’s basically impossible — but a lot of the skills you will pick up will be transferable, especially in programming languages. So that brings me to my first suggestion, pick a programming language you think you will be comfortable with and start playing around with it. There are so many great tutorials out there for you to choose from that you will not be struggling to find a tutorial out there that suits your tastes. My personal suggestion would be to with something like Python or Java — they can both be picked up over a few weeks but the key point here is that no matter the language you pick, the concepts of basic fundamentals will be the same regardless of the language. So even though UCL never taught us Python, the skills and ideas that it taught me helped me to understand C much more easily when we got round to learning it in the first term- things like conditionals, data types etc.

The next thing you should do is consider taking on a small personal project, it’s a great way to put to use what you are learning or even learn something as you follow something to do. It’s a great way of having some personal satisfaction at the end when you have been able to put to use what you have learnt. Don’t aim unrealistically high, because then you are likely to be disappointed but choose something that holds your interests or you just want to wet your feet in. For me it was learning to make a website using HTML, CSS and Javascript and then a little bit of magic with Bootstrap to spice it up a little. Again this was not something that we were taught in university itself, however having learnt this, it had come in very handy on so many projects that by the end of the year, I was really satisfied with how far I had come. Again, it was about setting small milestones, learning HMTL, then CSS then Javascript and adding something new to my website each time I did- seeing the instant results as well was satisfying as well.

Sometimes it’s worth it to just read around the topic if you don’t want to jump into learning things straight away. Interested in CS related news? Computer security? Hacking? Artificial intelligence? Pick up books, read articles and just try to find out a little bit more about your subject — it’s also a good habit to get into once you are in university because wider reading around your subject will prove invaluable. I was really interested in AI, so I used to read books about psychology and eventually it led to me going on a tangent and reading up on other things but it really did come in handy for me in terms of picking up a book which I could relate to my course.

Now the other thing, which is the most obvious thing too in a sense. Yes, you are going to university to study your subject, but life there is so much more than that. You will meet new people, learn new things, experience different events, explore new places and join different societies. Before joining, try to find new people who might be joining you in the coming year, find out what societies there are and what you can get involved with. Work within your degree is only half of the real work you will be doing, make sure to have a healthy balance too!

If you are very work orientated, then you could look up what sorts of things you could start looking into when it comes to internships and work placements. It may seem a bit early to start doing so but preparation is key and many banks for example, have applications starting in November/December. It never hurts to start getting to know more about where you want to be headed and how to reach these companies — if anything it will come in handy at some point or the other down your student life.

You aren’t going to be some expert on CS before you join and that’s because you aren’t meant to be, that is why you are here in the first place! So in the end, pick things that interest you and look into it more and just look forwards to the new journey ahead!


In summary

  • Try a programming language you want to get to know
  • Find some personal projects to work on
  • Read around the subject — books or even Youtube videos
  • Find out about internships if interested
  • Find out about societies and meet new people!

Some useful links where you can start learning things:

Codecademy— you’ve probably heard of this before, but great for total beginners

Learn X in Y minutes— super bare bones and straight to point for programming languages

W3 schools— great to learn about web design and puts you through many coded examples

Learn Python the hard way— it’s not the hard way, it’s actually pretty neat

Learn Ruby the hard way— what’s Ruby?? Find out!

Learn C the hard way— you will soon C what I mean

Tutorials Point— have a tonne of material on things that will interest you

Bootstrap— if you want a sexy website then this is your best friend

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