How I ended up in Computer Science

Transfăgărășan road

As I was a child, I was told that I had a great talent to learn foreign languages easily. I learned English at a very early age. I was the best in the class so I guess my parents and teachers were right.

Back then most of the girls wanted to become doctors. But not me, I decided that I want to be an English teacher! I soon gave up this idea because I realized that I don’t have enough patience to teach others. Plus the kids in my class were pure devils and I couldn’t imagine myself putting up with it for more than a second. My former teachers have my full respect!

That was also the time when my mom bought our first computer, a used 286 I still remember. It was purchased for business purposes but we used it more often than her for playing. Pac-Man was my favorite.

After that we always had a computer in the house. It was unimaginable to live without it, even though in that Ceaușescu period we couldn’t find any software or games on the market. Luckily there was always someone with an aunt or an uncle living abroad, who sent them regularly presents, including new games for their home computer. So we could exchange games with our friends.

When I finished the 8th grade and had to apply for high school, my mom suggested that I should give Computer Science a try. It would be the best future for me, she said.

For a child to make such an important decision at such an early age is challenging. Most children don’t know the impact this step will have on their lives. My mom always tried to guide me in the right direction as best as she could but in the same time to give me a certain level of freedom to do what I like most.

Back then I had no idea what programming is, but I liked to play with computers so I took her advice. I was afraid that the exams would be too hard so I chose Mathematics – Physics as well, just as a backup plan. I still remember clearly how the lady at the registration center called the students in the Computer Science class, “weirdoes”. That frightened me a bit. I didn’t know what to expect.

When the results came in, I was devastated. I didn’t manage to get in the Mathematics – Informatics class. I cried! I knew that this is what I wanted. My mom tried to comfort me by telling me to attend the Mathematics – Physics class and I could study Computer Science at the University later on. But that didn’t cheer me up so my mom asked the school to recount my score. This turned out to be a very good idea because my new score was just about enough to switch to the Computer Science class which I instantly did.

In those 4 years of high school, I really ended up hating Mathematics. My math teacher was too demanding and his only goal was to try to fail as many of us as possible. I know that most of the students say this about their teachers but this time it’s really true. Honestly!

I didn’t have such a good experience in the Computer Science area either. The teachers didn’t dedicate themselves enough into teaching us in the class to make our parents hire them for private lessons. My parents couldn’t afford that so I was happy if I could somehow do my homework at all.

I admit that at that time the boys were the genuine geeks in my class. We, the (ONLY) five girls, felt and were treated like the outsiders. Everyone was wondering what we were actually doing there. Why did we pick Computer Science? It was seen as a guy thing.

Nevertheless I knew that this is what I want to do in the future so with my mom’s full support and encouragement I applied later for Mathematics – Informatics at the university. My grades were enough to attend the 3-year college without paying any fees but I only managed to get a paid spot at the 4-year university. Luckily my mom accepted to pay the fees somehow so there I was, learning Computer Science at the university (and also the first in my family to attend the university).

My professors were fantastic and I started liking it all, even math. I was good at it too so after the first year the university offered me a free slot and I got a scholarship. In the 3rd year I started working while also going to the university full-time so I had to somehow manage both in the same time. But I succeeded in keeping my free place and the scholarship up to the end of the university.

In the first two months I didn’t work in the Computer Science area, I actually started out in the mail room. But one day I accidentally met the company’s IT manager who immediately moved me to his department, when he found out that I’m studying in this field. I was very lucky because I could have a flexible schedule and paid holidays when I had the exams.

I spent two years at that company and I am still grateful for having that job while still being a student. It helped me be financially independent, buy my first car and rent my first apartment but unfortunately I didn’t learn much at the end. After several months of training followed by the design phase of a big project which was later postponed and in the end cancelled, I was given the task to maintain the existing applications in Visual FoxPro and Excel. Everyone there was happy to do only that… except for me of course.

So after getting my university diploma and feeling like I’m technically going nowhere in this company in a time when the internet was becoming the next big thing, I started playing around with Dreamweaver, HTML, JavaScript and CSS at home in my free time. This is how I discovered and ended up loving web programming.

Finally listening to my intuition, I began looking around for another job in web programming and the best decision I ever made was joining an Italian company which just opened a subsidiary in my home town. I had so much fun learning advanced Java, MVC and JSP and I am grateful to the company for having the patience and giving me the opportunity to grow.

Unfortunately after a couple of years we started slowly to receive less work (luckily for the same pay) and so I started freelancing in my free time. I started with data entry, then moved on to testing and finally programming websites and applications. It taught me how to manage projects, to work independently but most importantly how to deal with real clients and their sometimes absurd demands in a friendly manner.

Finally the managers in Italy realized that they don’t have time to lead an offshore team and decided to close the company. They offered us one month paid holiday so that we can search for a new job. Finding a job wasn’t difficult and I eventually spent that month learning the Microsoft .Net Framework and ASP.NET for my new position.

So here I am now: one of those weirdoes I’ve heard about 15 years ago, still very much in love with programming, passionate and I’d like to think good at what I do. I’ve worked so hard to get here (still do) and I’m very happy with the road I took, the decisions I made on the way and how my life turned out to be.

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