Power Dynamics

This week I started taking some programming and math classes as pre-requisites for my Comp. Sci. Degree and, as I suspected, they’re really difficult. Why am I working so hard (and spending so much money) to get a degree in Computer Science anyway? Well there are a few reasons:

I need a marketable skill in order to compete in this job market. The job market for recent college grads in the US is DIRE. I was really lucky to find a job when I first graduated from college, finding another one has been truly challenging. I was unemployed then underemployed then unemployed again, accruing debt the whole time. With this degree at least I’ll be accruing debt with a purpose. Even if I can’t get a job that is different from one I’ve had before, I’ll probably be able to automate it somehow. Do it faster and more efficiently with the help of computers.

I think women and minorities are underrepresented in technology which affects the products we have the world we live in. Women and minorities have always been underrepresented in technology, what’s most worrisome to me now, is that our numbers are actually going down. There are half as many women in tech now than there were in the 80s. I don’t know how technology would be different if it were designed by women, but if I don’t participate in it, I never will.

I’m really uncomfortable with not knowing how computers work. More and more, we spend most our time on computers and dealing with technology. If knowledge is power, I am not comfortable giving that power and control to someone (or something) else. It’s MY computer, it should do what I tell it to. It’s not a person, it doesn’t have free will, if it isn’t doing what I tell it to it’s because I’m not saying it correctly. Computers have astounding potential, but if I’m not using it, what the point?

I need the knowledge to work on the (geography) problems I care about. In high school I fell in love with Calculus, in particular, I remember spending hours working on one problem, how best to display a sphere (3D) on a page (2D), a problem of map projection. I was (and am) convinced that there is a way to minimize distortion with the magic of calculus. Taking more math classes now I am getting excited about different problems that I can use computers to solve. Problems with access to information (geography/IT/translation), women’s issues, 1st world problems, 3rd world problems etc. Computers can help.

These (compelling) reasons aside, I’m not a computer scientist and I’m not really interested in becoming a programmer (unless I can make a lot of money doing it, which is possible). Partly I’m using computer science to help me figure out what I really want to do with my life. It’s hard going through all these math and programming classes, and to be honest, I might not last. But I think every minute is worth it, each class is one more computer skill that most people don’t have, a leg up on the competition. Plus, the harder it is to accomplish something, the more pride I feel when it’s done. With math and computer science it’s more than pride, there’s a power in mastery, when you can take a tool that almost everyone uses in a general way to do something specific and helpful to you, you make it your own.

“Between the ages of 20 and 40 we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”

-W.  H. Auden via Gretchen Rubin

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