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Finding My Passion in Tech

For some people, determining what they want to major in is a piece of cake. For others? Not so much. For most of my life, I was extremely grateful that I was part of the former group: I didn’t need to stress, because I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. From a young age I was obsessed with computers. Whether it was playing games, messing around with Microsoft Office, or talking to my dad about his career in computer science, I was always enthralled. When I reached middle school, I realized that I was pretty set on following in my dad’s footsteps and becoming a computer scientist.

For most of my high school career, I kept on par with this life plan of mine. I took part in a STEM magnet program focusing on computer science, programmed on a robotics team with my free time, and even took a few online computer science classes alongside the ones I had access to in school. When senior year rolled around, a sliver of doubt began to creep into my mind. That year, I branched out some with my robotics team and worked on building and wiring the robot rather than working on code. Since I had a great time, I started to think that maybe I preferred engineering to computer science. So, when I applied to Duke (my dream school), I decided to take a leap of faith and apply as an engineer.

Starting my first semester at Duke was definitely rough, and I felt like my classes weren’t very interesting. It was the first semester in four years that I hadn’t taken a computer science course, and nothing we did in my introduction to engineering class quite did the trick. This is when doubt started to creep in again – except this time, it was the other way around. I started to realize pretty early on that maybe engineering wasn’t exactly for me, because I really missed coding in my classes.

During my second semester, I took my first Computer Science (CS) class and absolutely loved it. Every week, I was extremely excited to go to class, work on homework, or complete projects. It was also at this time that I started to notice another thing missing from my education. I was sitting in my Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) class, and I realized that I really wished I could be taking more humanities. I missed speaking French, writing papers, and other non-STEM skills. While the engineering curriculum required some of those things, it was difficult to squeeze more than just the bare minimum of non-STEM courses into my schedule.

In the fall of my Sophomore year, I decided to take what I considered to be a risky move (although looking back, the world would’ve been just fine no matter what) and stray from the engineering track to try out a few CS classes. I played it safe and took a course required for both ECE and CS students, but stayed away from required core ECE courses. Instead, I started taking French and a few other classes required for CS majors.

Almost immediately, I fell in love with my interests again. Unlike my ECE classes, going to my CS classes didn’t feel like a chore. Taking foreign language classes again allowed me to bond with my classmates over the silliness of the required conversations we had. Additionally, because the classes I took were a little less work-heavy, I had the ability to invest a lot more time into organizations on campus. I started working as a TA for the CS department, joined the executive board of Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering, and Science (FEMMES) to inspire younger generations, and began developing a website for a research lab dedicated to creating accessible CS education for people everywhere.

In addition to being more active on campus, I finally felt confident enough in my major that I actually enjoyed recruiting for internships! I was able to make it to more on-campus resume reviews and meet-ups with engineers. Not only did I get to meet a lot of awesome companies, but I was able to give the internship search my all and landed my dream internship for the summer! When I was recruiting as an engineer, I constantly scrolled through ECE internships that looked dry and boring to me. Sometimes I would search exclusively for software engineering, but then felt like I was wasting my major. From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to be a computer scientist, and the weight of me trying to force myself to be an engineer prevented me from reaching my full potential.

Making the switch from ECE to CS was definitely a difficult decision. Many people, myself included, felt like switching would be taking the easy way out. My friends, family, and inner-self continuously reminded me “You can do it! Engineering is hard, but you’re smart!” However, it wasn’t about being smart, it was about pursuing my true interests. I didn’t stray from engineering because it was hard, I pursued CS because I love it.

To anyone considering making the switch from one major to another, my advice is to listen to what you truly want. Try to ignore which major produces the highest-paid graduates. Try to ignore other people telling you what your interests are or should be. Most importantly, remember that if you have multiple interests, deciding to major in one doesn’t mean you’re giving up on the other! I still plan on taking a few ECE classes, because I do enjoy them. I just enjoy CS more, so that’s what I chose to major in. College is a time for us to explore our interests and life goals, so don’t restrict yourself! Explore classes, take things you’re afraid to take, and don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith!

-Megan Phibbons, RTC Fellow + Duke University Sophomore

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