Computer science students benefit from interdisciplinary work


Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

Computer science students, we’ve all been there — hunched over the keyboard in the wee hours of the morning. Shuffling between classes in the Dell building looking for study space. Juggling proofs, projects, and algorithms in our heads. Worrying about exam scores, registration and job interviews.

You’re in one of the top computer science programs in the world. You’re here for a reason, and no matter what, you’ll succeed. Just remember that our department is but one piece of the great, big university that we call UT. It’s okay to have interests outside of computer science, and I hope that you explore yours.

Well-rounded students have the advantage in an increasingly demanding job market. A friend of mine, a dual electrical engineering and computer science major, learned practical teamwork and presentation skills from a communications class she took for her engineering degree. She thinks computer science majors should also be encouraged to pick up such invaluable, real-world skills.

Our society also faces new challenges that require interdisciplinary approaches to solve. Sociology professor William Swearingen, while lecturing on sustainability and climate change, noted that engineers are not taught to worry about the ethics or negative effects of burning fossil fuels. In a similar vein, big questions facing computer scientists — digital privacy, digital equity and computer literacy — demand answers that go beyond algorithms and code. We need help from sociology, economics, government and other disciplines that bring unique perspectives to the table.

Computer science is such a wonderful and empowering field. Like Neo from “The Matrix”, it presents “a world without rules or controls, borders or boundaries … a world where anything is possible.” Embrace this idea. Question the status quo. Cultivate your unrelated interests that have nothing to do with data structures, data mining, big data or databases.

Resumes and skills are important, but the ideas and thoughts from your academic fire will last a lifetime. There’s nothing more personally gratifying than daring to dream, discovering new connections and opportunities that were once unimaginable. As one of my computer science professors put it, “it’s a journey” — to discover who you are, and the strange and wonderful interests that make you tick.

Luckily, you’re at UT. From liberal arts to fine arts to business to communication, there’s a department that caters to every niche. And degree plans such as the Bachelor of Science and Arts give computer science students like us the flexibility to branch out and explore. The BSA “(extends) options to (science) students that they (believe) would help them” such as the ability to “take additional classes in other areas or earn a minor or transcript,” according to College of Natural Sciences Dean David Vanden Bout.

The late Edsger Dijkstra, who had a tremendous influence on the computer science department, once said, “It is not the task of the University to offer what society asks for, but to give what society needs.” Society asks for pixel-perfect producers of software — I’m certain there will be plenty of those. But at UT, what starts here changes the world. We make thinkers, not worker bees; people, not robots.

Young is a computer science junior from Bakersfield, California.