Lusanda Vilane’s Computer Science Journey

Think 2017, a young girl in braids, dreamy, that first flight to UCT couldn’t haven’t taken any longer. Music blaring in my earphones, I am very particular about my music, it has to make me feel good or sound great if it’s going to be depressing😂😂

Anyway back to this girl, time for registration and moving in my new place, all that goes well but I don’t register for what I applied for (business management) instead I register for computer science. Initially I had applied for computer science but during matric year my IT marks weren’t so great so I underestimated my ability to be accepted for computer science and then changed the application major. Now that I’m at UCT I’m told my marks are good enough for computer science so I register for it without thinking twice or telling my parents.

Getting started at UCT

I had done IT all of my high school so my first computer science class was a breeze, I knew what strings, integers and variables were. I left class feeling good, like I got this. My first semester marks reflected this prior knowledge from high school, I did well. Then comes second semester, specifically program testing, the one topic I didn’t understand, how it worked always baffled me. The challenges began there. I just want to talk about recursion for a little bit because I still am not a hundred percent sure about it, I’m done with my undergrad in computer science but if you’d ask me to write you a recursive function I’d have to go via Google or YouTube for some tutorials first.

Falling in love with tech

Second year was definitely harder than first year, mainly because I had failed a few other courses in first year and had to repeat them, computer science was one of the few courses going well for me so the fear of failing again slightly crippled me. Mobile app development however was a favourite topic, it wasn’t easy but new things always excite me. Creating an app that I could install into my phone and show to my friends was mind blowing! The mobile design guidelines and standards were also interesting to me, I actually use the 80/20 Pareto law in my life because of that topic.

Overcoming obstacles

Third year *sighs* not being too negative about the year but group work is not my forte, Lord knows how I’m planning on getting a job, anyway I learned that I thrive under pressure, the adrenaline forces me to go big or go home but my group members were the opposite of me. They were great people but I’m not too sure all of us enjoyed the experience of working together. I saw bears Academically in the first semester of third year, I saw them too in second semester but I didn’t think they were as bad as first semester was.

One thing I never forget about that semester is never to use a programming language/ framework that your supervisor is unfamiliar with, do that at your own risk, at least get written consent because people forget what they said to you. This is in no way to disrespect my supervisor but my degree almost went up in flames because of memory loss.

Like I said I saw bears in third year, let me take you to this year (2020) when I had to write supplementary exams for both semesters of computer science.

A flood of tears, a swamp of music, hot cheeks ( I had only seen hot cheeks in movies before this day), heavy breathing, steamy eyes and a shaking body. The morning of 14 January 2020, I was to write CSC3003S. A nightmare of a course, no matter how many times I watched lecturer videos and YouTube tutorials I seemed to not understand the content enough to answer questions.

I wasn’t crying because I was afraid to fail the course, I was crying because I’d have to tell my brother I failed, no one believes in me the way he does, in his head I’m the best programmer to walk the earth. I cried because failing this exam would mean my father paying another hefty price for the course. I cried because I would have to face myself later with this scar on my track record of passing computer science and convince myself I can do it despite having failed 2 times already.

I called my mother crying, she prayed for me over the phone, I’m glad to say I passed that exam.

Taking a break

The journey has come to an end, for now. I will be doing my honours in computer science next year (2021) but I’ve had this whole year of 2020 as a break before I have to code again.

This weight came in many forms, pressure from my own goals, pressure to be the first child to graduate, pressure of being a woman in STEM , pressure from imposter syndrome, pressure from my grandparents wanting to see my graduation day, each of these took turns throughout the journey to create me. Blood, sweat and tears are not just it, there was tooth grinding, self doubt, fear, late night studying and walks, dreaming in code and hair cutting, yes I got my Britney moment before my supplementary exams, fear can do that to you.

“The journey has been beautiful overall, resilience and courage have been carved out of me, I feel like a diamond created under tons of the weight of the earth.”

~ Lusanda

I’ve spent this year break to explore my other interests and recharge my battery, there are more challenges in being a woman in STEM outside being able to retain information and spew it out again. I’m using this break to remind myself that I belong at every table that I’ve chosen to sit at, even computer science.

Life outside of CS

Among the many things I’ve done this year my proudest is starting my podcast “I don’t like your tone”

“ I don’t like your tone”

In this podcast I discuss issues and topics that I feel are important, I also celebrate African people and all this is done with love and banter. If this sounds like your type of content please click on the link 😊 https://anchor.fm/lusanda-vilane

“This journey has made me welcome failure with open arms and try again with an open heart. I have to credit this to believing in myself, my mothers prayers and my friends support system. I conquered computer science! I did that! To honours!”

~ Lusanda Vilane
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