Xinkun Nie: Grew up in China, and came to Cynthiana, Kentucky as an exchange student in her junior year of high school. Attended Harrison County High School, and later, Sayre School in Lexington. One of the thousands of students who benefited from AdvanceKentucky, an initiative of Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation in partnership with the National Math and Science Initiative, Kentucky Department of Education and others. Graduated from MIT majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and is currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at Stanford University. Here is her story posted with permission.
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a computer scientist. I grew up wanting to helping people like my mother who struggled to balance between spending time doing house chores and pursuing a higher education in her thirties. Wouldn’t it be cool to have robots that could help her do repetitive tasks? I thought to myself. Later did I realize that to have “really intelligent” robots that could be capable of cooking and cleaning all in one, I needed to study computer science. This dream eventually led me to attend MIT.
While in college, I learned that computer science spanned much more broadly than enabling intelligent robots. Ever wondered how your YouTube videos are delivered to your computer screen? Ever been curious about how eBay and Amazon recommend you new items to consider buying? Or, like me, you might care a a great deal about doing social good, in which case you might be pleasantly surprised that computer algorithms can analyze sex ads to track down human trafficking, and they can also process satellite images to map which town is below the poverty line. Computer science can even be used to diagnose diseases and accelerate cancer research.
All of these amazing applications of computer science start with your first programming class. Besides learning how to write beautiful code, which is quite an empowering experience, there are two extremely valuable things you can learn. First, you will learn how to think like a computer scientist. You will learn the concept of "abstraction”, which is essential in computational thinking. Second, you will learn how to become a good problem solver. You will learn how to break down problems into smaller pieces, and tackle each by itself or break it down into even smaller pieces. Whether or not you decide to pursue computer science as a career, you will benefit a lifelong time from your computational thinking and problem-solving skills.