Preparing for a Computer Science Degree (Part 1): Should I attend a conference?

This is part one of the series How to Prepare for a CS Degree.

Introduction

As an adviser to prospective and accepted students, I often get a questions about how a high school student can best prepare for a college education in Computer Science, Software Engineering, or related programming degree.

Today’s question is:

Should I attend a technical conference?

Question

Dear Mr. Pile,

We met during the open house, and we spoke briefly after your presentation. I am very interested in programming as a profession, but as you had mentioned it is a fairly competitive major, so I am currently looking for ways that I can enhance my application. Recently I was invited to the [Insert Any Technology Conference Name], and I was wondering if you had any opinion of this program, and whether or not you would recommend it.

Thanks for your time,
[Student Name]

My Answer

Dear [Student Name],

I’m not familiar with that particular conference, but I would encourage any opportunity to learn more about technology. The most important thing is to ensure that the conference is going to be useful to you at your current skill level. With that in mind, my advice is to browse through the list of sessions and see if there are enough presentations that are interesting to you to make it worth the time and money.

While these conferences can be really great, they aren’t all worth the expense. Sometimes you can get just as much from attending a local meeting of programmers or technology interest group. Almost every city has month gatherings for programmers. For example, check out http://www.meetup.com/ and choose “tech” from the pull down menu.

Finding any way to push your own technology knowledge forward is going to help. I also encourage learning as much as you can on your own, even if it is just experimenting with programming. There are countless books and internet sites that will help you get started. Consider programming languages like Python or Ruby. They are great languages for learning on your own.

Next week, “What High School Courses Should I Take?”

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