Renee: Journey of a creative, quirky programmer

The start of my journey

Computer Science was in no way what I saw myself going into at the beginning of my university career. In fact, I started off my time at UCT with double Science majors in Biochemistry and Human Anatomy & Physiology. I look back now and think I was definitely crazy with that choice, because no way could my vegetarian stomach stand dissections, nor did I even enjoy Biology at university. High school Biology was great, but nowhere near what uni brought to me.

I went through first year (which was essentially split into two years, because I joined the EDP) and in my second year (of my first academic year) I decided, why not try out CSC1015F (first year, first semester CS) as an elective? Mind you, at this point I hadn’t much coding experience. While I did have experience in WordPress web design, and some CSS and HTML, I didn’t know what a variable was, nor a loop, nor any idea of what other programming languages were even available! It’s safe to say that I actually hated the course, insanely. It was hard to follow the content and the assignments and tests put me in my place as well. While there was an option to decant to the year long version of 1015, I told myself that it was just an elective, so I would push through, finish it off and go back blissfully to my Cell Biology and Biodiversity.

Come end of the semester, results day, and damn, I actually did well somehow? I absolutely did not see that coming, but I was definitely there for it. It gave me a huge boost in my confidence and I decided to give the second semester CS course a shot too. With my basic knowledge from first semester CS, I found the next course much simpler. I was able to grasp concepts and found a lot of fun in crafting ideas to play out in code. One of my lecturers was Associate Professor Michelle Kuttel (who happens to be my current honours supervisor 😊) and she said to us:

“Coding is the closest thing that there is to magic”.

~ Associate Professor Michelle Kuttel

You can type out some code and (other than the bugs) see things work out magically before your eyes. Those words have stuck with me till this day, and the more I learn and am able to create, the more I resonate with them!

It was at the end of second semester that I decided to drop one of my Biology majors (Human Anatomy) and replace it with Computer Science instead. I’m incredibly thankful for that last minute decision to try out CS as an elective, as well as the support my parents gave me (without which I wouldn’t have made it through my crazy years of university, to where I am now) when I decided to pick it up as a major. Without that, I have no idea where I would be right now, or if I would even be enjoying the path which I’d taken to study.

Imposter Syndrome

I’ve gone through most of my degree severely doubting my abilities and knowledge. I would always feel relatively inadequate in my skills, in comparison to classmates, which often brought me down significantly. I got to a point where I truly wondered how I would find employment someday, or even make it to an honours level, because of my lack of confidence. It was only until the end of my second year doing CS that I learnt about the term “Imposter Syndrome” as well as the fact that most other people feel it as well! It’s pretty much equivalent to the green-eyed monster, but I guess this one is red-eyed, constantly showing you flames and putting you down.

There’s honestly not much that I could do to get rid of it, other than seek comfort in my strengths and abilities. I used to have the mentality that if I did badly in a class test or assignment, I wasn’t fit for studying this course. That was a mentality that I worked hard to get rid of. I remind myself (and you reading this) that you don’t have to remember every single concept which they teach to you over the years. Having your foundations are the most important part and if two years after studying it, you forget how to work a binary search tree or what a finite state machine is (or the dreaded recursion), that’s totally okay! The concepts are all still hidden inside your brain, to be brushed up on for your honours course, technical interview, or whenever next they are needed in your journey.

I still often feel imposter syndrome to this day, but I’ve embraced that it’s a normal part of this life, as well as being a woman in a largely male dominated field.

Finding out what I enjoyed… very late in my study journey, but that’s okay!

While I knew I enjoyed Computer Science, it wasn’t until my third year that I fully knew what I wanted to actually be working on, as a career, someday. For my final year project, my group and I made use of Angular, a front-end web development framework, and it stuck with me! I thoroughly enjoyed the creativity of front-end development, being able to code things and watch the components arrange themselves on the page. At that point I realized, front-end, and web development in general, is where my heart was.

Come my honours year, I was lucky enough to land a development project with a large focus on usability, and front-end development, which I thoroughly enjoying working on, besides some nights of coffee, coding and stress before meetings or hand-ins. I was lucky enough to get a chance to work with the lovely Zukiswa on the WiCS website revamp! It was such a fun experience and I’m thrilled to be writing a blog post for this very site.

Something I’m truly passionate about is encouraging other young girls (starting with my little 12 year old cousin) and women to join the field. We often look onto it as heavily male dominated, and either feel discouraged to pursue it, or just don’t even think of it as an option. I have an Instagram account (@galistudies) where I love to share my creative side and share my study journey, while showing people that a programmer can be female, creative and completely quirky at the same time.

Where I am at the moment is currently completing my honours project, tutoring, as well as planning for the future. These are crazy times which we’re currently in, but I’m so grateful to be where I am right now.

“All of the doubts, red eyed monsters, CS prac tests and assignments, and killer class tests were 100% worth it!”

~ Renee Panday
(Fun fact: this pic was taken right after Break the Rules, an event which is a must attend!)
%d bloggers like this: