Interested in computer science but it's difficult to get into programming? Watch

Yuuelpre
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Hey there! I'm thinking of applying for computer science at Cambridge, but I just can't seem to get into the programming part of computing. I really enjoy learning theory through reading, and I also love doing small algorithmic challenges, but I am stuck on 'projects' to do that gets me into actual programming. Would this hinder me from getting a place at all? (I read Cambridge's site that no prior computing knowledge is required, but I've also seen that Cambridge values super-curriculars and I'm not sure what to do if I can't get into programming)
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sigma_108
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(Original post by Yuuelpre)
Hey there! I'm thinking of applying for computer science at Cambridge, but I just can't seem to get into the programming part of computing. I really enjoy learning theory through reading, and I also love doing small algorithmic challenges, but I am stuck on 'projects' to do that gets me into actual programming. Would this hinder me from getting a place at all? (I read Cambridge's site that no prior computing knowledge is required, but I've also seen that Cambridge values super-curriculars and I'm not sure what to do if I can't get into programming)
Hey there,

As you've correctly stated, Cambridge indeed does not need you to have any prior knowledge of programming. Despite this, I can understand your concern and so I can recommend a few things you can do.

Firstly, it's good that you already enjoy algorithmic thinking and challenges. This is basically all programming is. You work the logic out and then use the language as a tool to express what you've figured out. Fortunately, learning a programming language is not as tedious of a task as you make think it to be. I personally started on http://codecademy.com with the free python course. As you go along make some simple tasks for yourself to solve. I, for example, made small utility programs to help me with different things (for example a password generator or a program to output Fibonacci numbers).

You don't need to program if you want to add to your list of super-curricular activities. I think a lot of CS applicants will have programming as a skill that they'll mention so I doubt it will really distinguish you from the rest. Personally, I'm going to read around the subject, talk about the books and topics I find interest in and then write essays on them. Of course if you want to learn to program go for it but don't see it as something that holds you back.
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ltsmith
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if you're capable of doing well at algorithm challenges you're more than capable of being a good programmer.

you'd be surprised to know that many software engineers would struggle to write code that checks if a string is a palindrome
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Yuuelpre
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(Original post by sigma_108)
Hey there,

As you've correctly stated, Cambridge indeed does not need you to have any prior knowledge of programming. Despite this, I can understand your concern and so I can recommend a few things you can do.

Firstly, it's good that you already enjoy algorithmic thinking and challenges. This is basically all programming is. You work the logic out and then use the language as a tool to express what you've figured out. Fortunately, learning a programming language is not as tedious of a task as you make think it to be. I personally started on http://codecademy.com with the free python course. As you go along make some simple tasks for yourself to solve. I, for example, made small utility programs to help me with different things (for example a password generator or a program to output Fibonacci numbers).

You don't need to program if you want to add to your list of super-curricular activities. I think a lot of CS applicants will have programming as a skill that they'll mention so I doubt it will really distinguish you from the rest. Personally, I'm going to read around the subject, talk about the books and topics I find interest in and then write essays on them. Of course if you want to learn to program go for it but don't see it as something that holds you back.
This is extremely assuring and helpful. Thank you so much for your detailed response!
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Yuuelpre
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(Original post by ltsmith)
if you're capable of doing well at algorithm challenges you're more than capable of being a good programmer.

you'd be surprised to know that many software engineers would struggle to write code that checks if a string is a palindrome
That's also really surprising to know! I've always found algorithm challenges really fun, but I just can't seem to put it to use practically.

And wow, that's a shocker :eek: It gives me a lot of confidence though, so thank you!
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ltsmith
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(Original post by Yuuelpre)
That's also really surprising to know! I've always found algorithm challenges really fun, but I just can't seem to put it to use practically.

And wow, that's a shocker :eek: It gives me a lot of confidence though, so thank you!
lots of top software companies hire engineers on the basis of their algorithmic problem solving ability (e.g. google, facebook, amazon, Microsoft, apple, Bloomberg, palantir, ...)

it's not the most practical topic but it's important to understand fundamentals to become good at the subject. for example, all doctors need a strong understanding of anatomy and physiology but they don't necessarily use that knowledge everyday unless they're a surgeon. anatomy and physiology is to medicine as algorithms and data structures is to computer science.

your algorithm and data structure knowledge could be very useful in fields like high frequency trading where you need to write code to perform stock (or currency) trades in the microseconds. lots of implementations of algorithms and data structures in programming languages are not up to the task so you'd have to rewrite them all with this in mind. the techniques to make them run that quick are often very difficult to come up with and when people come up with them, they are often not shared and put behind layers and layers of legal barriers.

watch this talk if you're interested

Last edited by ltsmith; 4 weeks ago
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