Why I didn’t pursue Computer Science in University

I entered SJSU in fall 1983, with a declared major of B.A. Physics. But I assumed that I would probably go into computer science. I had spent much of my high school time with my nose glued to either one of the Apple II+’s in the computer lab, or the Atari 800 system (that I was able to afford on my paper route money) learning programming, computer technology, and lastly 6502 machine language.

So, when I began school, I took the basic physics and physics prep (Calculus, Differential Equations, Vector Calculus) and mixed into that introductory programming classes.  I started with Basic (and it was a lot different than the Basic on my Atari), then Fortran, and then I moved to Assembly language. It should be noted that at this time, there weren’t microcomputers on the campus, and all our coursework was done on the time share mainframes in the various CSU schools.

I actually did well until I hit assembly language. We learned it on a PDP-11/70, and the language was called Macro 11. I took it at the same time as I took Ordinary Differential Equations, and the second semester of the introductory series of physics, so it was a pretty heavy load.

I thought that my experience with 6502 assembly language would pave the way, but I was mistaken. Up until this point, I truly thought that my calling to computers would guide me to change to computer science as a degree, but that started the doubt.

The other thing that caused doubt was that a pretty foundational course was learning to program in Lisp. I took it upon myself to try to learn it myself, but it was pretty intractable. I just couldn’t get a grasp of the structure, or the logic of Lisp (List Processing). That was the final nail in the coffin of my aspirations of a career in computer science, and I meekly continued down the path of Physics.

Lately, I have again picked up Lisp, and am working my way through the MIT text, “Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs”, and I am finding that Lisp (as part of the Scheme environment) is not as intractable as when I first tried to self teach myself. I don’t hope to become a software engineer or a computer scientist, but it does keep me occupied.

In my career, I have done a fair amount of programming, mostly in Matlab, but some C as well, so my computer interest wasn’t entirely extinguished.

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