So You Want to Major in Computer Science?

I sent out a survey to some amazing University of Michigan computer scientists in hopes they’d offer prospective Wolverines advice; they did not disappoint!

By Lisa Kim August 12, 2020
coding on screen

One of the best resources that helped inform my career and course decisions as a computer science major was the advice of other Michigan computer scientists. Since interacting with others can be a little more challenging now, I sent out a survey to some amazing Michigan computer scientists for some great words of advice.

First, I had to ask the all-important question:

Do you like JavaScript?

Sponge Bob and JavaScript

pie chart of responses

As for favorite languages, we had a tight race between C++ and Python, with C++ just barely taking the lead.

On Favorite Classes and Professors

Austin ‘20:
ECCS 485 (web systems) - I think this was my most helpful class. Most classes just teach you fundamentals, but this one actually has you design and build functional web applications.

ECCS 482 (operating systems) - Professor Chen is a great teacher for this if you can get him. Be prepared to work 30+ hours a week on projects, though!

ECCS 441 (mobile app development) - This is super useful if you want to create a startup in the future. Best of all, you can publish your app on the Google Play store or the App Store at the end of the semester!

Anonymous Corgi:
EECS 281 (data structures and algorithms)
EECS 445 (machine learning)
EECS 482 (operating systems)

Drs. P (Paoletti), Dardin, Kutty, Harsha, and Manos are my favorite professors. In my experience, classes that have pushed me the hardest are the classes I find most helpful and learned the most from.

Liz ‘21:
EECS 281 (data structures and algorithms) - Once I took EECS 281, recruiters were immediately asking about the material I knew and it led to my first internship. The professors and instructional aides are absolutely incredible and truly devoted to helping you understand the material.

Anonymous Orca:
281 (data structures and algorithms)

Yan ‘20:
EECS 442 (computer vision) - As a novice photographer who loves taking pictures, it was completely mind blowing to see how cameras do everything from filtering to stitching images together.

EECS 485 (web systems) - This is an essential class that gives you an overall view on how to build different parts of a product. You’ll also pick up on some soft skills regarding how to work with others under time-constrained situations.

On a Career in CS

group networking

Austin ‘20:
For a lot of companies, the most difficult part of the process is getting past the resume screen. Luckily, Michigan students have an advantage since a lot of recruiters love our CS program. Getting involved in extracurricular activities is helpful. If you can, it’s great if you can be a teaching assistant for a class. Research is great, too, especially if you’re interested in going to grad school. Side projects are a good way to show recruiters you’re excited about computer science. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, just pick something that interests you and try to build it.

For the career fair, always apply online. Pretty much every company needs to put you into their HR system, so they will probably tell you to apply online anyway, even if they invite you to an interview after a career fair.

And don’t be afraid to talk to the smaller companies! The smaller companies are super excited to talk to you, and you won’t have to wait in hour-long lines, like at the big companies. Also, recruiters like if you’ve already applied online, because it shows them you're interested in the company.

For interviews, do as much research as you can on the company’s process so you know what to expect. These processes usually consist of a few phone interviews, and end in onsite interviews (in non-pandemic times!).

A lot of these interviews will ask coding problems. The only way to get good at these is to practice. Use resources like Leetcode, Hackerrank, and YouTube. You should also practice these questions with real people, so you can team up with a friend and interview each other.

Anonymous Corgi:
I'd start by narrowing down what part of the field and size company you are most interested in. Then email recruiters and try to find mutual connections via Michigan alumni or friends that can give you a recommendation or set up a coffee chat.

Liz ‘21:
Show your passion! If you’re just beginning your career at Michigan, or maybe don't have much technical experience, showing your passion and desire to learn goes a long way.

How do you want to use your skills to improve the world? What do you want to learn more about at a specific company? Recruiters will remember your excitement.

Anonymous Orca:
It’s okay to not know what you want to do (i.e, work at a start-up vs. work at a financial technology company vs. work at a big Google-esque company). I'm a rising senior and I have absolutely no idea what I really want to do.

Yan ‘20:
I would say always go to the career fair!

On Music

We all know that heads down coding is usually a lot better with music, so long as it isn’t too distracting. Check out these recommendations on favorite songs to code to.

Austin ‘20: Anything on Lo-fi hip hop playlists

Yan ‘20: Woodkid’s Pale Yellow

Lisa ‘20: Anything by Sia, Coldplay’s A Sky Full of Stars

Liz ‘21: Anything Post Malone

Anonymous Orca: Self Control by Frank Ocean (anything by Frank works)

I hope that gives you a little taste into what’s helped Michigan computer scientists succeed. I don’t think that it’s an easy major, but it is so rewarding and, in my opinion, one of the best programs at Michigan.

Special thanks to Austin, Liz, Yan, Anonymous Corgi, and Anonymous Orca for freely sharing their advice. They are all rockstars, both as computer scientists and as people, and some of my best friends; this post wouldn’t have been possible without them.

Lisa Kim
Lisa Kim
Lisa Kim is a recent graduate of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, where she majored in computer science and minored in multidisciplinary design. Lisa is a big fan of doing face masks, reading thrillers, and listening to electronic music, and you can probably find her doing one of those three things now.