September 22, 2023

Advice I’d Give To My Younger Self – Starting A Computer Science Degree

This article was first published on Muna Aghamelu's tech blog.

Hi! My name is Muna. I graduated with First Class Honours from University College London (UCL) in 2022 with an MEng in Computer Science. It wasn’t an easy feat at all. In fact, I am yet to have my official graduation (it is happening this coming September), but I thought it’d be good to provide some advice to my younger self.

I think it is important to document your journey so that others can learn from it. I do hope this article is insightful and serves as encouragement for anyone who does stumble upon it.

The next black girl getting onto the course is not your weight to carry.

  • As the only black girl in my entire CS (Computer Science) cohort and only seeing another in the year above me, I convinced myself I had to do well so my university could admit more black women. Struggling to complete assignments and learn new concepts is already enough pressure. You do not need to add an extra mental challenge to yourself. You earned your place. Now just enjoy learning. Your love for learning new things is what got you onto this CS course!

Long hours in the library will not mean you solve a problem sooner.

  • You are used to studying for long hours, studying hard, and being determined. You were probably the only one in your GCSE or A-level classes, so you constantly had to prove yourself. Imposter syndrome is nothing new to you. But university is a time to grow with your peers. Studying in a group and figuring things out with others is a way to study more efficiently. Also, please prioritize your rest! I know it’s exciting, those late-night coding sessions. If you are in the flow, please keep going. But sometimes it’s okay to call it a night and have another look at it with a fresh face.

Use Notion to type your lecture notes and block out time to review them.

  • At UCL, the lectures were content-heavy. This is by design. Many of the exams are based on the content of lecture slides, and it may seem impossible to understand it all in one lecture. So, block out some time during the weekend (even if it is just 1 hour) to review some things in the lecture slides. Try to use spaced repetition too. This will save you from trying to memorize content closer to the exam period.

You do not need to get 100% on that assignment that weighs 5% of your final grade.

  • You may want excellence in everything you do, but you have to work smart. If the assignment is not worth that much, prioritize the ones that do. Only give that extra effort if you have the time to do so—not at the expense of your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Please, work smart. You do not want to burn out so quickly. However, if you do have the time, go for it! These years are shaping your mind to become an amazing problem solver, the foundation of every software engineering/CS-related career.

Start doing Leetcode and applying for internships early!

  • Focus on that algorithms class; it’s probably the most important class you’ll take! I made a rookie mistake of not knowing what Springweeks, Leetcode, and internships were until late into my second year. I thought… I’m in! That’s it. I will be able to get a job upon graduation. That is not the case. Please start looking into gaining experience alongside your degree during the summer. You never know where your internship may lead you upon graduation. Even look into building some Full-Stack Web/App development projects in your downtime.

Keep talking, you may find a common interest.

  • People in your course are your friends. “A kindly turn of speech attracts new friends, a courteous tongue invites many a friendly response—Ecclesiasticus 6.” Keep an open mind. A smile and “how are you finding this lecture?” goes a long way. Sorry, but you may have to get used to being the first one to initiate a conversation. You never know; that one person God encouraged you to speak to may become one of your motivating forces to keep going.

You do not have to go to every ACS event.

  • You may want to find “your people.” In a university like UCL, diversity was lacking, which is why societies like ACS exist. For me, I felt that at UCL, the differences were clear not only in terms of race but also class. As someone from a working-class background, a single-parent home, I found that my differences with others stood out not only because of race but also because of my financial background. And also my mindset around living frugally. I moved to London, so I also had to factor in that I was living in an expensive city. The need to socialize does not always have to come from following the crowd. You may go to one event and find someone you click with. You can also just do activities that do not cost much, such as visiting an art gallery, going for a picnic, or inviting them to your accommodation and cooking a meal for each other. Be smart about your finances. You can try to do things like Stint (I hope it still exists) or braiding someone’s hair to earn some extra money for social activities outside the social scene on your course.

Have Faith.

  • I am a Christian, and I thank the university for improving my prayer life. It can get really hard and lonely. But I took comfort in knowing that I am here because it was by design, and God wants me to succeed. I can succeed knowing that I need not lean on my understanding. Whatever keeps you grounded, keep practising it. Whether it’s box breathing, reading your Bible, yoga, exercise, or calling your loved ones. Please take some time in the day to connect with yourself and remind yourself that everything will be okay, one day at a time. Trust the process. You’ve got this. I am so proud of you. Now keep studying hard and listening to your spirit!

This article was first published on Muna Aghamelu's tech blog.
Article Tags :
Muna Aghamelu

Software Engineer & Artist | Instagram: @muna.ko | Website: