Before starting computer science at the University of Surrey, I had limited exposure to the field despite having a passion for it. I had no programming experience whatsoever, as programming was something I had never touched before. As a result, I felt very nervous and like an imposter, thinking that to get into the course, I needed to be a programming genius from the age of 5. However, despite feeling daunted, I made the decision with pride to pursue it. Soon enough, I realised that the stereotype was wrong, and no prior knowledge was required. The course was designed to explain the basics slowly and thoroughly, making it accessible to anyone willing to learn. This experience taught me that we are not born computer scientists or programmers, and even some of the best computer scientists started in different fields.
While starting and adapting to the course, I found that putting in some extra hours here and there was necessary, much like learning how to ride a bike. The more effort I invested, the clearer the path ahead became. As I progressed, I experienced an indescribable emotion upon completing my first assignment with all tests running successfully. The support from the lecturers was exceptional, and I truly appreciated the thoughtfully designed course that made the learning experience incredibly rewarding.
During the four-year duration of the course, my first year can be summarized as relatively easy but immensely eye-opening. It primarily involved around learning programming, understanding the concept of applications, and gaining a broad view of the vast computer science industry. We touched various areas, exploring how to code, create websites, and develop mobile applications, all with learning to think in a programmatic way. The course had a strong foundation by introducing the basics of computer science.
In my second year, the intensity of the course escalated, with a multitude of assignments simultaneously demanding more of our attention. This phase focused on exercising our productivity and deepen our knowledge. The pace increased. It was the most critical period of my university journey, as it allowed me to learn about subjects in greater depth and face various challenges due to time and complexity. During this time, we explored fascinating topics like artificial intelligence and parallel computing, offering early insights into potential career specialisations. Additionally, as I opted for a placement year, I spent a considerable amount of time searching for my first job. Nevertheless, the course had equipped me well to embrace these challenges and provided valuable knowledge on job hunting on a global scale.
Finding my first job after completing my studies was undeniably one of the most significant highlights of my academic journey. Seeing the fruit of the hard work felt rewarding, on top of remembering that less than 2 years before, I was still clueless in front of the most basic line of code. The placement year was a captivating experience, as I had the opportunity to work in a multinational company with a global presence. Despite being labelled an internship, it was a full-time job, where I had the chance to expand my network. The experience provided invaluable insights into how businesses operate, project management, and organisation skills that could not be taught solely through academic studies. Working in a leading software development company allowed me to apply the skills I had acquired during my university years. Moreover, I had the opportunity to discover different fields like DevOps and Artificial Intelligence, which proved to be a fabulous and rewarding experience. Collaborating with experts from various parts of the world not only enriched my career but also influenced my choices for my final year project and beyond.
The final year of my studies was truly the cherry on top of the cake. Having spent a year working in the field while still studying, I had grown deeply fascinated by Artificial Intelligence, and I was determined to pursue research in AI for my final year project. Considering the context of the Covid pandemic, I wanted to leverage my expertise to contribute something meaningful to the world. After consideration, I decided on a project that involved using AI to recognise Covid in scans, a topic that had not been globally brought out yet. I was well-equipped to handle it, thanks to the skills I had gained during my previous full-time job. Throughout the year, my focus was centred around this project, and I chose AI-specific modules to specialize in the field. Working on stuff I was passionate about felt like a significant scale-up, and surprisingly, felt smoother than year 2.
The real challenge in my final year was figuring out my next steps after graduation. I began searching for jobs in the market, feeling more confident due to my previous interview experiences during my placement year with major companies that I had sought out myself. I knew what recruiters were looking for, what roles aligned with my skills and passions. I developed a plan on which industry to target, where to work, what company culture to seek, and which field to focus on—AI. As an extrovert, I desired to experience life in London after previously working in a small town nearby. Unbelievable! I succeeded in securing a job at one of the world's top consulting firms, in the AI department. I am immensely grateful for this opportunity and wish the same and more for everyone else, whether they are reading this or not. The key, I believe, is never to compare oneself to others. Each of us has a unique story and journey, and by focusing on our own path, we can manifest what we are meant for—an ongoing battle we all encounter daily.
My overall experience in the computer science course at the University of Surrey has been amazing, I owe my story to my family, people who have supported me, CAESA MENA, the course, the entire environment. Nobody truly can shape stories, only God can, and thank God for everything. Right from the beginning, the curriculum was thoughtfully designed to teach us the necessary concepts at the right time, striking a perfect balance between not underloading or overwhelming us. The faculty accompanied us, preparing each of us to become leaders in our chosen fields, whether it be software development, architectural design, hardware engineering, research, artificial intelligence, or consulting. The degree is highly respected, and the approach to education was shaping us for our future endeavours. The course did not just focus on theory; it exposed us to real-world challenges, providing an accurate representation of what our end goals might look like. Moreover, we were taught the skill of learning how to learn, the process of finding a job, and how to upskill ourselves effectively. Notably, they equipped us with the ability to find jobs independently, educating us on how the industry operates and what employers seek in a leader. If you are considering pursuing computer science, I highly recommend it. Thank you for reading my experience, and I wish you all the best and more in your journey ahead, if you need any support, please feel free to contact me.
By Louai SADRAOUI