At 18 years old I made my decision to study Mechanical Engineering in the The United States. For a person originally from Panama, this was an important decision. I was about to start a new stage in my career at a foreign country far from my family, friends, and the commodities of my home.
My first year was terrific. I met new people, I experienced a new culture, the courses were challenging and, most importantly, I was growing both professionally and personally. As a mechanical engineer student, my classes were related to chemistry, physics, statics, dynamics, and CAD design. I loved all of those courses. However, everything changed in my second year.
By the end of the Fall semester of my second year, my interest in Mechanical Engineering started to change. Static, physics and dynamics were fun and challenging but no longer my interest; but this was not a coincidence. I took my first ever programming course that fall, and by the end of the semester I had tasted the power of software development and the endless possibilities I could do with a computer. I loved the taste of bits, and I was craving for more.
The next semester (Spring) was the hardest semester of my education. Not hard from an academic perspective but from a personal perspective. I had to make the decision to either staying in Mechanical Engineering or switching to Computer Science. The process of switching was simple, just sign few papers at the student office and done. However, changing had consequences. For example, I might lose my scholarship as a result of the change. My scholarship only covered 4 years, and I had already used one-year taking Mechanical Engineering courses that were not valid for the Computer Science degree. And most importantly for me, I had to tell my parent I no longer wanted to continue what I already started (my parent dislike when I start something and not finish it.) By the end of the Spring semester, I had my decision: I was switching to Computer Science.
Fast-forward few years and I graduated from Computer Science within the 4 years (plus one extra summer), did not lose my scholarship, and most importantly, my family supported my decision. (I do have to admit that I did not tell my parent about the change until the last semester before graduation.) I ended up graduating in August instead of May and took courses that I did not really need for the Computer Science degree; but the change was worth it.
- 1. The importance of exploration: Although I thought Computer Science was not for me, I took my first programming course because I was curious to learn more about that domain and I wanted to find out what it was I did not like about programming. Thanks to my curiosity I was able to find out that Computer Science was more than what I thought. This same sense of curiosity and exploration pushed me to take courses from other domains like business, philosophy, and computer hardware and thanks to those experiences I was able to discover by my own what things I liked and what things I did not. Learning from other's experiences is important, but sometimes you just have to go "all the way in" to figure out by yourself if things are for you or not.
- 2. Family matters but it's your future: For me, it is important that my family feels proud of the things I do. Although they supported my decision, I ran the risk of them not being happy with it. However, I knew it was my future, and I knew that whatever decision I made it was going to be me the one who would be affected by its consequences. It is essential to take advise and learn from people who have more experience and want the best for you. But for some decisions, like changing majors, only you know what it is you like and not; what you are passionate about and what you are not.
After graduating from Computer Science, I decided to expand my knowledge, and I went to Sweden to study a masters in Software Engineering. I currently work as an Android developer in Sweden. I often reflect on the choices I have made so far and making the change from Mechanical Engineering to Computer Science has been by far the most important decision I have made. It makes me happy to know that I studied and currently work at something I love and I am genuinely passionate about.
The funny thing is that before even starting the Mechanical Engineering degree I was presented with the option to study Computer Science but my inability to see its value made me choose Mechanical Engineering instead. Don't get me wrong, Mechanical Engineering is a fun, challenging, and meaningful career; however, it is not for me. In conclusion, you never know where life can take you.
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