“CS has ignited my ambition” – how programming encourages confidence in creatives

CS alum Nina Hesse was looking for computer literacy but discovered a deeply creative discipline.

Nina Hesse graduated from the University of Michigan with an undergraduate degree in Computer Science in 2022 and now works at JP Morgan Chase. Before taking an introductory coding class for first-time programmers, Nina had little experience with computing. However, she soon found that the field provided a welcoming and creative environment for developing her passions. 

We sat down and talked with Nina about her experience as a student who was new to computer science. Here’s some of what she had to say: 

What got me interested in computer science

I first got interested in computer science out of frustration. Everyone in my boyfriend’s family were engineers, and they always talked about computer science at the dinner table. I never had any idea what they were talking about, so I decided to educate myself and take a one credit course, Discover CS, meant to introduce underrepresented groups of students to computer science.

In class, we spent a lot of time learning about the history of women in computer science, and we learned Python. It was so interesting to learn how fun and creative computer science actually is. Before this, I  thought it was all tech support and helping people fix their laptop. But the subject actually brought together a lot of the things that I already loved. I love being creative, and I love art. I never thought that working with a computer could combine so many of my interests. And I fell in love with how compassionate the faculty and staff were and how excited they were about seeing their students succeed. 

Things really started to change for me when… 

I took EECS 183 (Elementary Programming Concepts) and decided I wanted to take a minor in computer science. Then, the next summer I decided to take EECS 280 (Programming and Intro to Data Structures). That’s when I realized this is really what I wanted to do. I felt that the structure of the CS program fit me. Although I learned a lot in my other classes, I had to constantly change the way that I thought about things in order to complete tasks. But with computer science, I felt the assignments completely fit my work style. It was so rewarding to work on something complicated and eventually find a solution. 

Discover CS connected me with a lot of mentors and other beginners in computer science, and I actually ended up becoming an IA for that class later. I was able to mentor others and help them be comfortable with the content and build their skills in the classroom.

A formative experience for me was the career search process

At first, I was scared of going to career fairs or that recruiters might think I didn’t have enough experience or good enough grades to be hired in a great position. But once I started meeting with company representatives and getting further into the application process, I realized that employers valued the fact that I was also a people person. Everyone is looking for someone they actually want to work with. That really changed my perspective, and it gave me a lot of confidence when I was looking for internships and even when I started seeking full-time positions. 

The great thing about computer science is that the field is so expansive and the growth means that soft skills play a large role in getting noticed. Because of this, everyone can have their own path to success as long as you show that you’re a valuable member on a team.

My best advice to someone thinking about computer science right now is…

The most important factor is how hard of a worker you’re willing to be. The successful people in this program are the ones who are willing to put the time and effort to understand the concepts and take pride in their work. Computer science isn’t as scary as some people want you to think it is; it’s an opportunity to show off your creativity in problem-solving.

I’m so glad I chose computer science

I never realized how much I was going to love computer science. I would not have believed you if you told me it would be my major when I first came to Michigan, but it completely matches my working style, and I’ve really loved the people that I met here. 

I’m excited about my career prospects too. I think computer science has really ignited an ambition in me. I feel like I have the tools to do so many cool things, and getting my degree here is just the start. And you can too! What’s great about computer science is how much you can do on your own. You can make a website, you can refactor some code so that it’s faster and more readable. You can accomplish so much individually. You just need to be a hard worker.