Coding: Programming in high school — is it really necessary?


Sepand Rouz

When one thinks of coding, the smell of Red Bull and the sounds of a keyboard clicking are the first things that come to mind. JavaScript. Python. PHP. These are all popular coding languages that MVHS students have been honing for years. Students at MVHS take AP Computer Science and Java, as well as participate in clubs such as MVHacks to gain proficiency in programming. When students begin taking higher level programming classes in college, they expect the courses to be an expansion of the algorithms and equations they’ve already learned in high school.

But when alumni say that the jump from high school and college is a large leap, they just don’t mean class difficulty. Instead, these students are referring to a newly cultivated interest in programming that they did not previously garner in high school. While these students didn’t have their minds set on programming at first, as they wanted to pursue other fields, experiences in college led them to change their minds.

< Input type=”Computer science” name=”Michael Trinh” >

When customers are  sitting in front of their computers impatiently waiting for someone to help them with their issues on Amazon, a bot, or autonomous program, fixes the complications. Rarely do customers think twice about the engineers who worked on the the software that miraculously resolved their issues. One of these engineers is MVHS class of 2014 alumnus Michael Trinh, who’s now a computer science major at the University of Washington. Over the summer, he interned at Amazon and created code for the company to chat with customers when service representatives were unavailable. While Trinh took programming-related classes at MVHS, he did not like the in-depth part of it, though he admits he did enjoy the “computer” aspect of it.

“[I] just programmed in the class for fun, the programming was easy for me,” Trinh said. “The rest I failed. I had no intention of doing computer science until someone told me UW was good at it. So I applied to computer science on my UW application as my third choice. But now I was really excited because I wanted to get involved with computer science now more than ever.”

The classes Trinh took in the University of Washington — intro computer science class and web programming — gave him a new perspective on programming. When he took these college-level programming classes, he saw the difference between high school and college classes. Because of this, he was willing to put more time into actually learning the science behind computers. Programming is something that he did not do at all during his freshman and sophomore years of high school, but since entering college, he has sought to learn more about it.

He learned what computer engineering really is — or rather what it isn’t. It isn’t just math equations and algorithms. It’s a science, which deals with theories and experiments that are conducted by programming. Since taking computer science, Trinh has become committed to doing what he wants to, and has found joy in doing so.

“I tried taking more classes than average, and there was way more work,” Trinh said. “Before I started doing all the CS stuff, people would say if you go into CS you’ll end up sitting in a cubicle all day programming, which I guess is partly true, but there’s so much more to it, it’s still a science — not just computer programming.”

< KTCS Intern >
< title> Anton Zheng

MVHS class of 2014 alumnus Anton Zheng, now a junior at the University of Washington, has shown that high school interest in the field isn’t necessary translate to success in programming. He now interns at KCTS 9, Seattle’s PBS network, to learn more about programming and journalism.

“There isn’t much on the television programs, so what’s on the website has to be good,” Zheng said.

Although Zheng uses HTML and PHP to create interactives, he did not start coding until his senior year taking APCS.

Zheng work 2
This is an example of what Zheng made in KCTS. Zheng made many projects which use features like this. Applying HTML code to the story, giving it more depth. Used with permission of Anton Zheng.

At KCTS, he uses HTML and PHP to create interactives on website pages. Anton isn’t doing anything programming related yet major-wise, but that doesn’t stop him from programming. He works closely with journalists at Seattle that also also have an extensive programming background, and learns from them.

“What’s really unique about [applying HTML and PHP to journalism] is, my supervisor works back end and front end. He actually had a English major and he majored in journalism,” Anton said. “He went to grad school for journalism, so you realize you meet a ton of different people.”

Cout << Shawn Kang
Cinn << Computer engineer

Although Zheng started coding very late, that did not deter him from doing what he loves. Though he began learning how to code before getting into college, Zheng does not believe students need to know programming to be computer engineers either. Junior at the University of Washington Shawn Kang is the perfect example of this. Although he did not take any programming classes in high school because he wanted to pursue other fields, his mind changed when he began taking computer classes.

“I took the classes sophomore year, and the summer of my freshman year I started to code on my own. So when I took the actual class I didn’t feel behind,” Kang said. “A lot of people I knew already took it as freshman, and they had experience in high school. So, I really thought that I would never catch up to them.”

When Kang reflects on his feelings of being left behind he sees himself grown and stronger.

“I felt like it was too late, because I mean it is in essence learning a new language,” Kang said. But he persevered.

“I really found myself too passionate about computer science to let myself just give it up. I realized how much I loved it over the summer I started to learn,” Kang said. “I had to stop thinking that it was too late, and I made a commitment to learn.”

But even though he started programming very late, he didn’t actually choose to do computer engineering at first. He applied for University of Washington for electrical engineering his freshmen year, bio-engineering in his sophomore year, and now, as a junior, he applied for computer engineering. He initially had his mind set on electrical engineering, but after seeing how big computer engineering was, he wanted to be a part of it.

Everything is becoming faster and automated,” Kang said. “[Programming] will become a mandatory skill. I definitely recommend starting early, but it shouldn’t be everything that someone learns because a well-rounded education really is amazing.”

Students don’t have to always do business classes if they want to do business in college. Likewise, students don’t necessarily need programming classes if they want to do computer science in college. These high school graduate students show that college isn’t necessarily a continuation of what one has already learned, but rather an outlet to expand learning. All three of these students have found success in computer science, despite a previously limited understanding of coding. They may be late bloomers, but that still hasn’t stopped them from furthering their interests in computers.