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My 61A Experience

Disclaimer: this post was originally intended to be serious. However, that version was boring. So I tweaked it a little. To those of you who can’t take jokes, I apologize in advance.

For some reason, everyone wants to know what I did when I was in CS 61A. (Either that, or they just like distracting me from lambda expressions.) I’m not going to lie – I was actually a pretty decent student. Who would have thought?

To be honest, I came in expecting the worst. I’d heard horror stories about the EECS standard: students going multiple days without sleep; projects that only the professor could debug; people who would go down into 2nd floor Soda and never be seen again. My dad, an orthodontist who didn’t go to Berkeley, kept telling me that all of my future peers had been programming since they were 8 years old.

That scared me. And since failure was my nightmare, gruesome visions of getting an A- (/dishonoring my family) quickly set me down the dark path of studiousness. You can guess the rest. I watched 87% of the lectures, occasionally did the readings, and usually started projects before the day they were due. My happiest dreams were the ones that began with John DeNero, my lord and savior, proclaiming “Lecture 7. Announcements!”.

At the same time, failure was no longer my nightmare. Instead, I found myself waking up, shouting, drenched in sweat… after writing a program with an abstraction violation.

In many ways, it paid off. My experience was nothing like the stories I’d heard. I always had a lot of sleep, and most of my peers couldn’t program even after they’d finished the class1. Best of all, I managed to get John DeNero’s autograph.

But in a second sense, it ruined me. Since I was always in the library watching YouTube videos, I lost all twenty thousand of my very cool friends. (CS 61A was entirely at fault for this.) Also, my superior grades made me delusional and so, so cocky. I had a lot of points in glookup, so naturally I assumed I was a better person than everyone else. Thus, I became confused when others didn’t kneel at my feet and attempt to feed me grapes. Actually, I still occasionally wonder why people don’t do this for me.

On a more solemn note, I just want to say that grades aren’t everything. I had them – but even though I woke up every day and ate granola bars while gazing at my GPA, it never made me feel all that great inside. It turns out there are more important things in life, like Pokémon… and helping people. Plus, when you’re in computer science, no one (except graduate programs and the L&S GPA cap) actually cares about your grades. They care about what you know, and what you can do… and grades don’t always reflect that as well as you’d think.

Anyway, back to my favorite thing to talk about: myself. On the whole, I’d say that 61A went pretty smoothly for me. Not because I’m some kind of savant, but because I had no friends2 and therefore nothing to do but study. To sum it up, the secret to doing well in 61A is to have no social life whatsoever.

Of course, I’m joking there. In the end, it’s about how much you want it. If any of you really wanted to learn CS 61A (or, sorta correspondingly, you wanted a good grade), you could study all day every day and I’m sure you’d meet your goal. You could do what I did: stay on top of the assignments – and do a lot of past exams – while also making sure to understand everything as you go. Study hard and enjoy the material, you know? If you put in the work, you’ll be fine 61A-wise. I guarantee it.

But it’s all a spectrum. Maybe for you that cost is a little too high to pay… and if that’s the case, you don’t have to pay it. It’s not the end of the world if CS isn’t your thing, or you just don’t happen to test well. After all, if you’re anything like most of the students I’ve seen and talked to, I know that I would hire you.

1 I’m just kidding. They knew how to make a program print “Hello, world!”.
2 Again, I’m not being entirely truthful here. I had lots of friends. For sure. Until I discovered the beauty and joy of YouTube, at least.