You have a big lab due in a couple of days, and despite wrestling with the assignment for days and trying desperately to manage your time, you feel like breaking down. Almost every compilation leads to some sort of error. You start to wonder if computer science is even the right major for you. You worry about upcoming deadlines and exams of your other classes. Panic ensues.
You are not alone. This is a situation many computer science students find themselves in. The last thing you want as a programmer is to burn out, and associate coding with bitterness and anxiety. Here are some tips to endure those difficult moments.
1. Step back.
When you’re at the brink of being overwhelmed, the most important measure you can take is to step back. Stand up, move away from your keyboard, do some stretches, take a walk, stay hydrated, and rest your eyes if you’ve been staring at your screen for more than an hour. Your mind needs this break to refresh itself. Some may think that time spent not coding would only set them back, but I argue that taking a breather would not only give you the mental break you deserve, but also allow you to perform much more efficiently. It’s up to you how much time you want to give yourself, so use your own judgement. Typically, five to fifteen minutes is enough for some to recover their energy. However, another equally valid option is to shift your focus to another non-tech related project, and resume coding the next day, if possible.
2. Remember your roots.
Remember how rewarding it was when you finished your first coding project, and how far you’ve come since then. Remind yourself why you’re studying computer science in the first place. Finding your motivation to code gives you the resilience you need to push through until the end.
3. Listen to music.
This is entirely up to personal preference, but music is a great tool to keep you engrossed and establish your flow. Avoid songs with lyrics or loud instrumentals, as they can get very distracting. I personally recommend video game music, as they are designed to not overly distract the player and keep her engaged in the task at hand. LoFi, classical, and jazz are also all viable options!
When you sit back in front of your computer, break down what were you overwhelmed by. Is particular function giving you trouble? Are you understanding the assignment properly, or did you just dive in without a game plan? Break down your issue into smaller units. Be prepared to do a lot of Google searching and Stack Overflow scrolling!
5. Take advantage of your resources.
Don’t pat yourself in the back for solving a problem you could have solved in half the time if you had just asked for help. If you find yourself stuck, consider going to tutoring sessions or office hours. I suggest to follow through this step after reflecting, because it ensures that you have an organized thought process that you can calmly ask a peer or professor. If it’s late at night and you don’t have access to either option, post your issue on Stack Overflow or a language specific subreddit. Or, better yet, shoot a question at the Women RTC Facebook group page!
Many of these tips may be obvious to some, but I think it’s important to keep these in mind when you’re not thinking clearly and on the verge of panicking. It’s essential that you do not panic! Learning to handle situations like these can be helpful during technical interviews, where it truly matters. And again, remember that you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if who you’re asking is an entire community whose mission is to empower fellow women in computer science!
Jenna Rim, 2019 RTC Fellow, Rewriting the Code – Empowering College Women in Tech