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How computer science strengthened my problem-solving skills

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Naomi

My name is Naomi. I am a Diller Teen Fellow and I gave a presentation to the other fellows about how computer science strengthened my problem-solving skills. This year in school I decided to take some computer science classes. In school, my strengths lie in the humanities since they have always come easy to me but STEM classes like computer science are more interesting to me since they are challenging. I took an introduction course at school and enjoyed it so much so I decided to take the next course as well. I currently am in a more advanced class and I even decided to join a computer-science based team called cyber patriot which is a cybersecurity team that is run by the airforce. When I started out, I really had no idea how to do any of the things I was excepted to do but I soon learned. Even though I am the only girl on the team, my teammates treated me with respect and helped me learn the things I needed to learn. 

When I initially presented this to the other fellows, I posed a question to the group asking if they are ever faced with problems they feel as though they cannot solve and what was unique about those problems. I received many different answers but the general consensus was that these types of problems were very complex and did not have just one way of solving them. They also were, for the most part, very time-consuming issues. I then posed a similar question asking what their approach was to solving those problems. I got a wide range of answers but many felt as though when they were faced with a complex problem, they felt stuck and did not know how to move on from there. I understood how they felt; before I learned this new way of solving problems, I would also get stuck as well.  I would sit in front of the computer getting more and more frustrated and making little progress. I then learned a process in computer science that I then implemented into other parts of my life. 

Pseudocode is a process that I learned in computer science which is planning out code into small steps before going out and actually writing it. I learned this in the context of coding but I have applied this way of thinking to other parts of my life whenever I am faced with an issue. For example, in Diller during leadership Shabbaton, I led a program and I had to do a lot of work in order to plan it. Instead of looking at the project as a whole, I broke it down into manageable steps, just like I did with my computer science projects. Coding has many specific rules that need to be followed, which is called syntax (the grammar of computer science). In computer science, a small error like putting a comma instead of a semi-colon can break the entire code. Problems like that can also happen in problems that have nothing to do with computer science. If one tries to do everything at once, they will get stuck by minor details along the way, preventing them from being able to formulate a solution. In order to prevent problems like that from even starting, it is helpful to plan as simple as possible in order to prevent being stopped by one insignificant detail when your idea is correct. 

The last question I posed to the group is how they could apply the computer science way of solving problems to their day to day lives. Previously the fellows gave me examples of problems they have been faced with in the past that they felt were insurmountable but found out that it really only felt like that because they did not try to simplify their problems. Since they looked at it all at once, they felt like there was no way that they would be able to achieve their goals. In closing, if you have a problem that you are trying to solve, maybe something big like the female wage gap or something a lot smaller like procrastinating while doing homework (both of which fellows mentioned during the presentation), try the computer science way of problem-solving. 

Naomi Altman is a sophomore at the Latin School of Chicago. She is a Diller Teen Fellow and is a JSC committee member. She volunteers at the Field Museum and is part of the Northwestern Medicine Discovery Program. She also plays softball and field hockey for her high school and is on the CyberPatriot and Science Olympiad teams.