By: Mia Myklebust
An interview with Dan Laush, Informatics student at the University of Washington
It can be difficult to choose a college major, but one of the best ways to figure it out is to talk to people in different careers. In this installment of our “Day in the Life” series we talk with a computer programmer about what it’s like to purse a career in computer science.
How did you become interested in computer programming?
I think I always knew I would be interested in computers, from the first time I got to play on an extra work computer my dad got to take home. When I started learning to code and different programming languages, I liked how I could build things and see right away the direct effects of what I changed.
What do you do on a daily basis as a computer programmer?
I solve problems. I help information get from point A to point B. I figure out the best way to get something done, then I figure out the fastest way to get something done, and then I find a way to make those two work together. There’s a lot of coding, but I’m on a team that works together to solve bigger problems than I could by myself.
What is the most challenging part of being a computer programmer?
In my particular job, sometimes it’s making different technologies or programming languages play nice with each other. Other times it’s trying to figure out just what needs to be built – when you’re trying to solve a problem that’s never been solved before, there are countless ways you could do it, but what’s the best way?
What is the most rewarding part of being a computer programmer?
Watching people use the things I build.
What are things high school students can do now to prepare them for a career in computer programming?
Teach yourself a programming language! It’s fun, free, and gives you a head start before you get to college! Studying programming or software in college is an invaluable experience, but all the best programmers I’ve heard of started by tinkering in their own time. The internet is full of tutorials about every programming language imaginable, and sites like Coursera and Khan Academy have full-blown classes you can take (totally free!) about Computer Science if you learn better in that setting.
Do you have any advice for students trying to decide if computer programming is for them?
“Computer Science” is a really, really, really broad term! Some people dive deep into computer systems, down to how a CPU actually sends commands to the rest of a computer’s components. Some are specialists in computer networks, programming the technologies that keep us connected 24/7. Some people walk the line between designers and programmers, doing a bit of both. Some people who studied CS work to understand how users interact with systems and figure out ways to make systems better, on the front end with the design and on the back end with the infrastructure. This is a maturing industry and positions are getting more and more specialized, so there’s lots of different kinds of work to be done. Good luck!