The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Meet the major: Computer Science

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University of Massachusetts student Hamza outdoors in a mountain landscape

If you are interested in computer science at the University of Massachusetts, but are not sure what it looks like, take a look at what Hamza Shahzad, a sophomore majoring in computer science at UMass Amherst, had to say about it.

How did you decide to major in computer science?

I took AP computer science in high school, and that's when I really fell in love with it. And then it was just really exciting, and I was good at it. I could see myself doing it in the future. And so, when I applied to UMass Amherst, I knew that was the way to go.

Why did you decide to come to UMass Amherst?

I chose UMass Amherst because I wanted to be a part of a school that was growing and that really had investment from not only, let's say the state government, but from the top of the administration and the teachers. 

What are your classes like?

Last semester, I took a class where I was programming and I learned the programming language C. And that was super interesting. It actually became my favorite language. It just presented different challenges, and the class was taught in a way that really made you think about how you did things, the way you programmed, and whether it was safe enough, if that makes sense.

Do you have a professor who has influenced you?

Last semester when I was taking the C programming course. That professor had a pretty big impact on me because of his attention to detail and really caring about the small stuff, which might be easy to overlook at times.

What about your classmates? What are they like?

I think if I had to use a word to describe my classmates in the computer science major, it would be collaborative.

I have this image of comp-sci being very individual focused and I'm learning that it's the opposite. There's so much collaboration going on with ideas, and just helping people.

And for me, what was pretty enjoyable was meeting up with a lot of my classmates, and sitting down with them and being like, “Okay, how do we approach this problem?” And realizing that it's people coming and giving their time and being like, “let's work together.”

How many languages do you know?

So, I know C, the semester before that, I learned JavaScript, and before that, the intro computer science courses here teach you Java. In my free time, I've participated in hackathons and I've used Python there. I'm also in the ACM Machine Learning Interest Group, where we use a lot of Python to do artificial intelligence algorithms.

Talk to me more about the Machine Learning Interest Group

After you meet your requirements in the computer science major, it's pretty open in the fields you can focus on. What that allows us to do is really get into our niche in the computer science major. And those clubs allow us to delve into something we really love or are interested in, and complement that with our education.

We have things like game design. We have cybersecurity; we have something called pentesting. It's similar to cybersecurity, but you're actually doing hacking, and you're doing it ethically.

What is great about it is that the officers are so dedicated to teaching people this subject, because it's a graduate level subject. To have seniors and juniors who are there  trying to help you figure it out and wrap your head around all these complex ideas and trying to get the conceptual understanding, it creates a supportive environment to develop those niches.

I know it’s early in the process, but what kinds of career options does your major have?

Graduating from UMass Amherst with a computer science degree, I have a lot of options. There's the field itself, the computer science field is evolving pretty rapidly. UMass Amherst has the Bay State Programs, which are plus one master's programs where you get a bachelor’s and master’s with five years of college. I'm not sure if I would do that yet, but what I'm personally looking forward to is becoming a software engineer in one of the major cities on the East Coast.


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