What we're thinking
January 30: She Innovates. February 6: TartanHacks. February 21: Steel City Codefest. February 28: Mylan Hackathon. Then in March comes SteelHacks. Do you have hackathon fatigue yet?
I’ve never been to a hackathon in my life, but now that I’m involved in the Pitt(sburgh) tech community, I learn about a new one every day. It’s a pattern that pops up all over. I wasn’t aware of any programming clubs at Pitt. Oh wait, now there’s the CSC, WICS, S4S, RAS, and UPE. (Can WICS get a three-letter acronym? Think about it, Neha.) Then I learned about meetups. Just in Pittsburgh, we’ve got Code & Supply, Pgh Tech Meetup, Girl Develop It, Pghrb, Steel City Infosec and a bunch more than I can conceive of.
On the face of it, the abundance of cool tech stuff to do in Pittsburgh is intimidating. Being a programmer is humbling because everything you learn reveals one hundred things you’re ignorant of. That there are more meetups and hackathons in Pittsburgh than I could possibly attend reminds me that I’ll never know it all. Fortunately, that’s also one of the most exciting things about being a programmer. How cool is it that if the Ruby community isn’t your scene, hey, maybe the Python people are? If web dev isn’t your bag of chips, maybe systems programming is.
So go forth and find your niche! Build a robot with RAS, check out a talk at Code & Supply, and hack for a cause at Steel City Codefest. As for me? If you’re going to TartanHacks, I’ll see you there.
I’m psyched that Emily is piloting a mentorship program this year. Her idea is to pair our experienced members with members who are just starting out in programming. Appropriately, the first mentee-mentor pair is Emily and I.
Although I was uneasy about being a mentor at first, I’ve overcome my reservations. Here are some questions to help you figure out if you should be a mentor too.
How can I be a mentor, I wondered, if I’m not a star programmer who has his whole life figured out and 10 job offers from Twitter, Tinder, Grindr et al.? In truth, it doesn’t matter that I’m not the next Sam Altman (But hey, who knows.). It does matter that I’ve been through a few upper-level electives, thrived in my co-op, and spent a year or two simmering in software culture.
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone told you when you were just starting out that you must avoid this and that professor? That it’s ok to feel like everyone is smarter than you because you felt that way too? That when you were banging your head against the wall trying to make a sticky footer and navbar that this thing called Bootstrap exists and it’s pretty nice? Sure, you’re still a student. You may still suck at making software. But you have something to give.
My next reservation was, what does a mentor even do? Do I sit down with Emily and give motivational speeches? That seems weird. Do I make Emily run up and down the Cathedral stairwell while reciting the Java API from memory? Actually, I might do that.
In reality, we’ll meet once a week or so for coffee. She’ll have questions, I’ll occasionally have answers, and I’ll have questions for her. We’ll continue to work closely on club stuff. If we have the opportunity, we might even partner on a side project. The takeaway is that you don’t need a grand mentorship scheme. Find a mentee you mesh with and the rest will follow. Emily’s cool and I’m tolerable, so we mesh.
Most of us are lucky enough to have had teachers, coaches, and friends who have challenged us to better ourselves. My speech coach Ed taught me how to turn an argument into a narrative. My first boss Sarah taught me how to command respect from professionals. My favorite math instructor Jeromy taught me to reason more precisely.
I took so much from these people, but they weren’t flawless Atticus Finch-like pillars of humanity. Ed was famously foul-mouthed and had a chewing tobacco habit that grossed me out. Sarah was a goofball. Jeromy could launch into a half-hour-long reverie of “abstract nonsense” before he realized he’d lost his audience. I’m not perfect either, but I can still help Emily like my mentors helped me.
The Pitt Computer Science Club has been active for about two months now. With the semester half-way through, now seems like a good time to reflect on how we’re doing as a club.
Community: I think that the most valuable thing this club provides is an opportunity for members to meet each other. I’ve met so many interesting people and made good friends from this club. I hope others have had a similar experience.
Meetings and Workshops: Every week, I look forward to the meetings. We bring in interesting talks, but I most enjoy the parts where we open it up to everyone. I’d like to see more presentations from members, but overall I think the meetings are a success.
Branching Out: If it weren’t for the CSC, I wouldn’t have had the chance to check out some cool meetups or meet some local developers. By bringing in more local developers and letting everyone know about tech events, we can help connect Pitt to Pittsburgh’s tech scene.
Projects: Enabling our members to learn by doing was a big priority for us. I’m proud of what we’ve done on our projects so far, but we can do a much better job of organizing them. The Projects Committee is taking what we’ve learned this semester and designing a new system. I’m excited to see how our next batch of projects will turn out.
Focus: We’re ambitious. We want to put on helpful workshops, run entertaining meetings, organize killer projects, and host big events like hackathons. This ambition is laudable, but I fear that we might overextend ourselves. I for one have overcommitted myself this semester. I haven’t been putting enough time into my role as project leader for the beginner security project. In the second half of the semester, I plan on cutting back on some of my commitments to focus on the club’s core mission.
Growth: We could be reaching a ton more students across CS, CoE, IS and more. There are lots of students in these majors who haven’t heard of us but would probably like to join. With the officers focused on the day-to-day, we haven’t put in the time to bring in new members. We plan to fix this by making a new officer position focused solely on growing the club.
This is just my perspective. I can’t speak for all the officers or the club at large. Please contact an officer to let us know how you think the club is doing and how we can improve. Or better yet, come talk to an officer before or after a Monday meeting or find us during the week in Sennott Square.
When I started taking computer science classes at Pitt, I was struck by how helpful my classmates were. Most everyone seemed willing to walk a struggling classmate through a tricky concept or help kill a persistent bug. I’d heard horror stories about cutthroat competitiveness at other departments and schools, but not here. Pitt CS and CoE students are in it together.
So when our president Alex started laying the ground work for the Computer Science Club, I was surprised that something like it didn’t exist already. Did nobody else bother to try? Did past clubs fail because coders don’t like to be organized? Whatever the case, I wanted this club to exist, so I jumped at the chance to be VP.
My vision for the CSC is to build on the strong collaborative spirit that already exists among Pitt CS and CoE students. I want to create a space where we can get together and learn more than we could as individuals.
Our more experienced students have amassed impressive experience from work and side projects. I want this club to be a forum for them to share what they’ve learned. I look forward to watching the veterans step up and lead club projects, helping others get up to speed on technologies that they know in and out.
I also hope that the CSC will be indispensable for new students. The club will be a great way for less experienced students to get up to speed on techniques that you don’t learn in the classroom. I didn’t know that version control was a thing until less than a year ago. If I have my way, our junior members won’t stumble around in ignorance like I did. (Not to suggest that I don’t still stumble around in ignorance all the time. Such is the life of a young developer.)
I’m excited not just for this club, but for all of the activity brewing in the Pitt CS community. Students4Startups is getting off the ground, Women in Computer Science will be stronger than ever, and Pitt’s chapter of the computing honorary society Upsilon Pi Epsilon has been reactivated. Let’s make people jealous that they’re not a CS or CoE major at Pitt.