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You're Not Smart Enough to Code

2019-06-10

I vividly remember the fall of my junior year of high school. Everyone was working hard to get their GPA up while simultaneously trying to figure out what they were going to study in college. After all, what you study in college determines the rest of your career (Note: it does not).

I was lucky. I knew exactly what I wanted to study. Since I was a twelve-year-old I'd been toying around with code. I'd make websites, little very-bad games, and learn whatever the latest YouTube tutorials wanted to teach me. I was good to go.

Oh, except I wasn't very good at math. Actually, I sucked at math. My whole life up to that point I desperately needed a math tutor to have any chance of getting through a class. I knew math was important, but I never had a doubt that I couldn't code because of it.

That was until it was time to meet with my counselor.

The school had three counselors, each assigned a group of students. These counselors were meant to help guide you through the tumultuous time of picking your college and your future. It's a very useful tool for many, and I was excited to take advantage of it.

When my meeting finally rolled around, the conversation started off very light. We talked about how the year was going, my band (hell yeah I had a band), and joked about the ending of Lost. Then we got down to business.

He asked me about where I was thinking of applying. I laid out five or six schools I was highly interested in. They were a little bit above my weight class, but I wanted to give them a shot. We talked strategy when it came to the essay, resumé, and potential interview. Very valuable information that I'm thankful to this day that I got. Then we talked about safety schools.

Safety schools are something everyone needs when applying to college. There's nothing wrong with them, and there's nothing wrong with going to them. My counselor mentioned that I probably was going to need a few, especially given I wanted to declare a computer science major.

That made sense, computer science is extremely popular. More and more students every year are declaring it as a major. What struck me was his next suggestion.

Maybe computer science was too competitive for me.

Too competitive? Okay, so I won't get into a few of my top schools. That's fine. My counselor was trying to get at something a little more dramatic.

Math is the single most important thing when it comes to computer science, he told me. If you're bad at math, you won't be able to become a programmer. It goes beyond not getting into school though, because even if I do, according to him, I'd likely be one of the many who drop the major after a year or less.

What I heard was, "You're too dumb to code".

I left that meeting feeling like someone kicked me in the stomach. I never doubted that computer science was exactly what I wanted to do. I'd been insecure about my intelligence, but never about my ability to code. He didn't only plant a seed of doubt in my mind. He watered it, gave it plenty of sunlight, and ensured it blossomed into a fully grown demon reminding me I'm not smart enough.

Over the next few months, I considered several different majors. History? I love learning about history. That could work. Maybe English? I kept thinking, but nothing sparked the same fire in me that coding did. Every time I started coding, though, the voice of doubt came back.

The time finally came to apply to some colleges, and I had to make a decision. I tried so hard to find something, anything that I thought I would enjoy doing more than computer science. Nothing felt right, and so I applied to every school as a computer science major.

Responses started to roll in slowly. Rejections, wait-lists, and even acceptances on the condition that I was not a computer science major. I could hear the voice of doubt in my head saying, "I told you so".

It wasn't until June of my senior year, which was terrifyingly late, that I was accepted off the wait-list at the University of Delaware as a computer science major.

Four years later, I graduated. I made it through a stressful job search my senior year, and then another just a couple of months ago. The voice of doubt in my head still exists, as I know it does for a lot of us. Just remember, if you're passionate about programming, or really anything, don't give up on it just because people say you're not good enough.

Oh, by the way, I still suck at math.