D-1 Till LaunchCode+CS50X

D-1 Till LaunchCode+CS50X

It’s been almost a year since I last posted anything in this blog. But, the good news is that this post is full of excitement that I cannot wait to share with all the readers of my website.


Image is credited to Hidden Discoveries.

I first remember seeing this paper hanging out at Jimmy John’s restaurant after grabbing few drinks of beer with friends. It was Friday or Saturday night, and the idea of computer programming was certainly not in my mind. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that my friend got into restroom before I did, I may not have looked at this post.

While it was true that I had set learning computer programming as my New Year Resolution and signed up for CS50X (the online version of CS50, a very popular introduction course to Computer Science taught by David Malan at Harvard), I don’t think I would’ve taken it as seriously had I not seen this paper.

Image is credited to Hidden Discoveries.

So not long after seeing the paper, I left my work in time to head down towards Peabody Opera House near Downtown to sit down for my first computer programming course/gathering/meeting/etc [I have NEVER taken a computer science/coding course during my undergrad years; I have, however, played with different languages especially HTML and CSS since high school]. There were close to 1,000 people there! Anywhere from people in still college to seniors in their 50′s and 60′s. It amazed me that so many people wanted to learn computer science – granted, a lot of them were there because of jobs and promising $75K figure that the paper stated.

As I sat through to watch the first lecture again, I was pleasantly surprised that they (LaunchCode personnel) paused the lecture to have us actually do pairing (an exercise that Harvard CS50 did in their first lecture as well) to “count” the number of people there. We got the number wrong (CS50 did too), but it was still fun.

After the first lecture though, I was unable to go to future classes. There were several reasons to this: 1) my current work is very demanding (I’m a PhD student in biomedical sciences) and I usually am at work till 7; 2) I was unable to keep up with watching lectures by the reason #1; and 3) after Scratch – which I did submit in time – I found myself struggling to do the problem sets. I understood the lectures, but I could not really “program.” In fact, I actually ended up not doing anything for a while for this course and switched to reading a book on C language to cover up some basics.

Then, I received an email few weeks ago about Hackathon, and that David Malan and some of TAs – the very ones that I saw on few lectures – were coming to the Hackathon in STL! This re-ignited the excitement in computer science I had, and at this present moment, I have just gone through all the lectures in a period of several days. I feel like I haven’t “crammed” lectures this hard for a very long time. Obviously, I’m still behind in psets, but I’ll get to them eventually (hopefully).

Unlike other people with LaunchCode whose main mission is to find the job, my goal for keeping with CS50X has been very different. In the field of biomedical sciences such as genomics and neuroscience, a major challenge is to understand the wide array (no pun intended) of data that comes to us. Unfortunately, computer programmers do not always know the biology to the level that scientists do, and not all scientists are equipped with computer science knowledge. As a matter of fact, it’s rather interesting that Perl has been the “go-to” language for bioinformatics for a long time, but this language is pretty much obsolete outside bioinformatics (fortunately, Python is in the process of taking over/joining Perl).

Thus, learning computer science serves an useful purpose for the research. But, I think there is another dimension to this, and it’s the simple joy of having the control of computer. We live in the time where so many of mankind is capable of doing amazing things with computer devices. Anywhere from cooking frozen food in microwave oven (you have to “program” cooking time) to playing Flappy Bird on your iPhone (before it was removed from App Store), computer devices are everywhere. Yet, our knowledge of computer tools are so limited, and in some way, it is almost frightening. As Jonathan Zittrain mentioned in one of later CS50X lectures, there are so much about computers, web servers, and programming that we just don’t know. So, it is necessary and essential to learn how computers work even if you don’t want to be a computer programmer.

More to come tomorrow.
PS I’m putting “D-1″ since it’s technically Thursday now.

Follow me at Twitter @jiwpark00

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