Caroline Adams is an unlikely computer science major at Rice University. “I came in undecided, in Humanities. During registration, I signed up for Psychology, Linguistics, Math, and Spanish.” She thought she might add a CS class as well.
Adams said she went up to Scott Rixner, the professor talking to freshmen about their CS options, and asked if COMP 140 was a programming class. Three years later, she still cringes. “Now I can see why he was so offended,” she said. Rixner corrected her assumption and explained that programming was part of the course, but that the focus was on algorithms.
Then Rixner became her advocate when she enrolled in his course. “He really encouraged me,” she said. “He’s the only reason I got through that class, and he’s the reason I became a CS major,” she said. That first class took a lot more work than her other classes, and initially she didn’t enjoy it.
Adams said, “It was really hard for me, and I was embarrassed. We’d get five problems to solve and my team would maybe get through three.” Neither of her team members ended up sticking it out, and Rixner offered to move her to another group.
The change helped turn around both her progress and her enjoyment of the material. But Adams still felt isolated. “I had no friends in CS, and there were only one or two CS majors in my year in my college. I kept taking the classes, but part of me had this doubt: did I want to keep doing this?”
After two years, Adams got her break. “Last summer was my turning point,” she said. “I had an internship at IBM and I was good at it.” That summer, she roomed with a new friend, a woman who was majoring in CS and had become active in CSters (pronounced “C-stirs”), a club for women in computer science at Rice.
“Allison [Gardella] encouraged me to join the group, to interview more, to go to more events, and to go to Grace Hopper,” said Adams. Through CSters-sponsored activities, she met additional CS friends and learned it is okay to struggle. “I made it so much harder on myself those first two years, by not having friends in CS,” she said. The women showed her how to keep going. “Yes, you may struggle, but you use the class resources – including your professor – and you push through.”
While attending the Grace Hopper Conference for Women in Computing (GHC) she got an offer. “Texas Instruments called me. I was confident enough to negotiate their offer.” Although she was talked with tech companies at GHC, she said both of her summer internships came out of the Rice Career Fairs.
Adams is still exploring different specialty areas in the tech industry. She said, “I like the front-end better than the backend, and this summer I’ll be working on testing.” Her advice to new CS majors is to ask everyone about tech career options and to make friends in the CS courses. “I wish I’d had a plan and that someone had told me to ‘make friends in your major’ because it would have made all the difference.”