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I'm a 17 year old university senior who's hyped about jumping into the computer science workforce && Ask me Anything!

mikol profile image Mikol Aspinwall twitter logo github logo ・1 min read

Hi! I'm Mikol Aspinwall, and I'm two months from graduating with my B.A. in Computer Science, and I'm working on a slew of side projects. I've been reading on for awhile, and it's been pretty beneficial to me; a friend encouraged me to do an AMA on here, so here I am.

Ask me Anything! Alternatively, all guidance, advice, and general wisdom nuggets are gladly accepted.

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I feel like Computer Science (and by feel like, I mean as someone who DID NOT study it) gets into a lot of theoretical concepts (correct this if I am wrong 🙃). Do you have a clear idea of what direction you'd like to go career wise?


Honestly, I didn't expect the theoretical load that an undergrad computer science course would have; there have always been people who can grasp that stuff better than I can, and a lot of the time I'm more down with actually doing something than thinking about the theory (which bites me from time to time). I'm juggling three general directions; I either want to be a CS professor, do good fulfilling work with NGOs, or something startup-y and entrepreneurial. Hopefully there's some way to blend all those things?


My guess is you'll probably dip your toes in each of them and maybe find one that suits you better than you thought!

Like if you would have asked me if I would be a web dev when I graduated college, I would have laughed in your face hahah!


When you say you're working on side projects, are they side projects that grew out of your studies, something you collaborated on through some online community or things you're developing solo which have no connection to your course? Are you doing them because you have a particular aim in mind (like to build up a portfolio) or just for the fun of it?

Also, what's a B.A. in Computer Science? Apologies if I am 30 years out of date and from another side of the planet, but the B.A. that I know about is an arts degree!


A B.A in Computer Science does seem like an oxymoron, doesn't it? I attend a small liberal arts college with a computer science program; so the program concentrates a lot on real-world application for justice and general worldly good. We're also expected to take a variety of classes that open our horizons; religion, peace/justice, social issues, arts, and so on. I chose this as I think it's important that even though I'm set on computer science, I should realize how many other worlds are out there that are just as in-depth as my own.

Studies and solo, mainly to build my portfolio, but also to familiarize myself with tools. I recognize that I'm at a disadvantage since I haven't as much time to work on my own things, and also to build professional connections. Luckily, I also really enjoy what I do, so it's a little for fun too (:


What are you developing right now? Webdev? iOS? Android? AI?


My biggest projects right now work with Flask for web (a custom CMS designed for elderly volunteer accessibility), working with NFC on Android and iOS (virtual tour of my local area), as well as learning ARKit. I'm a TA, so I'm taking a deep delve into ML currently in order to write the coming month's labs - I've got a lot on my plate and I often end up mixing stuff


Nice! I wrote a fun research paper + code with Android NFC in my Cryptography CS course.
I've been meaning to checkout ARKit. Any recommendations for getting started there?

I'm a big fan of Angela Yu and all the content that London App Brewery has to offer. I worked with their course on Udemy to learn Swift initially, and they also have a new course in ARKit. I'd recommend you check it out!


ML as in Machine Learning or ML as in SML/OCaml/F#-type things?

It's really too bad those acronyms collide...

Machine Learning, but that other stuff seems really exciting! I worked a little bit with Haskell, and I'd like to learn more about functional programming; if my Googling serves me right, SML has to do with functional stuff.

Aha! I'm on the opposite side - my knowledge stops short after k nearest neighbors :)

You're correct - it's a language family, and if you've used Haskell you know the drill! SML is a more academic language, OCaml and F# are more widely used - think Haskell-like syntax but with a relaxed purity restriction.

In either case it sounds like you've got your work cut out for you.


What perceptions do you have about the industry prior to being in it? Any particular opinion on sizes of companies? Or start ups vs established companies?


So far, I've gotten the privilege to work with a Silicon Valley seed-stage startup, a traditional NGO, small business, and at my university. I love the thrill of the small startup; wearing so many hats on a daily basis is an exciting high-energy environment where I can constantly gain new skills while also contributing in a meaningful way.

and thank you!


Wonderful that you've been able to try so many different types of places! I wish that for everyone new to the industry. Whether it's while you're in school or in your first few jobs out, two things are most important.

  1. Try different sizes/types of companies
  2. Don't focus on what you're building, focus on who you're building it with. Your first few jobs the most important consideration (besides living wage/location) is who your senior resource is and whether they're afforded the time and resources to actively help you grow.

It's been a long road to where I am today; the tl;dr is that I got grudgingly accepted into an experimental secondary school at 9, and entered uni at 13. Most universities didn't give my application a second look, but the small liberal arts college I attend put their chips on me and allowed to me to attend. I've been full-time ever since, and managed to stumble my way through 4 years of a well-balanced computer science liberal arts education.


I would love to have been able to be finished with university at 18, but than I would probably miss going out and playing soccer with my friends until my mother would come looking for me (which is something I weigh heavily in my personality development)

How did your personal life evolve having this early university start ?

When I started out, I was definitely really awkward. A lot of folks came up to me and infused into my head that I was special and a superstar - probably one of those most damaging paradigms I've ever held. I watched a lot of movies about folks who overcame the odds and worked day and night to figure out who they were and what they could do. I adopted this one-track fierce mindset; and I ended up not valuing the people around me as much. I didn't see people as that important until my junior year, until I met a group of folks who showed me just how valuable relationships could be. As I continue, I hold the firm belief that people are the greatest asset, and that just running on a hamster wheel gets you nowhere. Since that paradigm shift, I have great friends, great folks who support me and believe in me, and it no longer feels like it's me against the world; but rather what I can do to help it.


Me too, and congrats! <3

How do you feel about graduating, and what's your ideal project? (i.e. if you could work on something mostly unconstrained for say at least the next 10 years, what would it be?)


I'm not too excited about graduating; I've grown to really enjoy the small town college experience, and the next step is really scary!

My ideal project is definitely something about automation and connecting people. That's really abstract, and I'm not really sure what it would like, but there's a set of technologies I really enjoy working with that I'd like to see working together in some way (BLE, Blockchain, NFC, and Flask); so maybe finding some way to mesh those different stacks together to make a really cool project? A Cicada-esque AR puzzle game seems exciting...


Some blend of being able to teach, and doing Swift development. I've never done a programming bootcamp before, but it'd be awesome to be a Swift bootcamp instructor!


Finding new projects to work on and being free from academics from a little bit - my college town is a really small town, and I've gotten the chance to work on a really cool project with my local Historical Society. Short-term, I'm super pumped about working with people and history in order to digitize a really important thing!


What's your favorite project you've done thus far (and why)?

Congrats on the B.A. :D


My favorite project is one that I'm actively working on right now; I live in a small college town, and several organizations have reached out to each other and to me that they would like to build an open NFC-powered network for the city where participants can use NFC in order to access geo-specific data, depending on different small business needs. My work is dealing with building the underlying infrastructure, so the Historical Society might use the framework to post information about historic sites, while the Boys & Girls Club might use the framework to host interactive scavenger hunts. I love this project because it services my community so directly, I'm going to get to work with several different stacks, and I get to work with so many different organizations to try to build the best product for everyone.


That sounds like an awesome project! I've always loved NFC as a technology and using it for something like this sounds extra fun!


17 years old and a senior. Wow that's amazing. How did you get there so early?

Sloan, the sloth mascot Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community View code of conduct

You're a 17 years old student - obviously without tons of industrial experience - and not well-known for anything in particular. What questions would you expect from this AMA?


I read through the other thread; and I understand why it might seem that this AMA doesn't really add much value. I'm not an expert in things that I do, so I don't have much technical expertise to offer. However, I do feel that my academic and career experiences offer a unique perspective into the different journeys of programmers; just getting to this academic stage has been a struggle, as people are quick to assume that I don't have what it takes. I'm sorry for the discourse that's happened because of this!


Hi Mikol,
I don't think you did anything wrong, so I don't think you should be sorry.
Sorry if I offended you personally. That was not the idea.
See, when you emphasize that you've been through some struggles, that may give your thread a certain tonality. For example, that your AMA might be interesting for people finishing college at 15 or high school at 12, because you have some experience to share and help them.
Ok, as this is still an AMA: could you share some of career experiences that you mention? The ones that would offer unique perspectives.


I hope this question is meant slightly differently than it comes across. The question of what questions would you like/hope to answer is a valid one. The questioning of what someone fresh and new to this field might have to offer others is disappointing. Credentials are not what adds value.

Sloan, the sloth mascot Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community View code of conduct

Well it’s both. I’m really curious what the person expects to see as a reaction; and I don’t see much to offer. I’m sorry it disappoints you. True, credentials by themselves don’t add value, however I don’t see anything adding value here at all.

Classic DEV Post from Aug 4 '19

You're not worth hiring unless...

Mikol Aspinwall profile image
programming enthusiast, BA at 17, dev@*