Bill Gates has been fixated on programming since age 13, when his school got its first computer terminal. “The machine was huge and slow, and it didn’t even have a screen,” he writes on his blog, Gates Notes. “But I was hooked.”
He spent as much time as he could learning about computers, hacking and coding. “That introduction to computer science changed the course of my life,” says the Microsoft co-founder.
Today, half a century later, Gates still believes that “everyone can benefit from learning the basics of computer science. The questions it teaches you to ask — How do you accomplish a task? Can you find a pattern? What data do you need? — are useful no matter where you go in life.”
Other successful individuals agree with Gates, including his wife Melinda. As she said in 2017 during Computer Science Education Week, computer literacy is an “essential skill” and computer science has the power to change the world: “The more we encourage different kinds of people to get interested in technology the better that future will be.”
And if Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian could give his 20-year-old self one piece of advice, it would be to stick with computer science.
He took the one CS class offered at his high school in Columbia, Maryland, and thought he might become a programmer, he said during a Facebook Live Q&A hosted by 1850 Brand Coffee. But when he got to the University of Virginia and met a few computer science majors, he lost confidence.
Looking back, “I wish I had the confidence and the conviction to actually stick with it and keep with it,” said the 35-year-old, who ended up majoring in history and business.
“I’m thrilled I got the history major, but I think if I had done the computer science major instead of the business major it would have actually helped me a lot more, career-wise,” he said.
The major worked out for Ohanian, who sold Reddit within two years of launching it and became a multi-millionaire at age 23, but his advice to students today is to take at least one computer science class and try it out.
“I took a bus when my book came out and visited 82 universities — this was back in 2013 — just to evangelize to as many college students as I could, learning to code, even if it was just for giggles,” said Ohanian. “It’s the most valuable thing you can do for your career.”