English to Computer ScienceWritten on October 2nd , 2017 by Jason Oh
People are often more surprised than not when they hear that I earned my undergraduate degree in English Literature/Literary Theory—not as a fact in and of itself, but when considered alongside my graduate degree in Computer Science. There is a perception that these disciplines are diametrically opposed, where one is a hard science and the other is something that seems entirely otherwise. Though this was not a course I’d deliberately charted out in undergrad looking forward, in retrospect it is easy for me to see the path that led me between these areas of study and through the course of my career.
Due to my parents being first-generation immigrants without a strong grasp of English when they arrived, they always emphasized the importance of reading (and, of course, diligent academic study). This was to the extent that once I was of reading age, they strongly encouraged (ok, let’s just say forced) me to read 5-7 books every 2 weeks (the library loan period of books at that time). Fortunately, I had the freedom to choose the books I wanted to read, so that made this activity-under-duress at least bearable.
As a result, I developed a great love of reading and the English language, so much so that I became a voracious reader and was placed in advanced English classes from middle-school onward. Since I thrived in the study of English, I naturally gravitated towards it more strongly than other subjects. When it came time to go to college, my parents expected me to study pre-med/-law, and though at first I opted to go the pre-med route, it was as a secondary priority to my English major. I eventually ghosted out of pre-med and moved all of my focus to English, specializing in Literary Theory.
It was in college that I discovered reading literature was very different than being able to write about it well. It took concerted effort and pain to up my writing game, but, once out of the crucible it was a step-function change in how I thought about writing, logic, narratives and literature. When people ask how it is I made the shift to study Computer Science in graduate school, though part of it is probably due to my innate rational/logical nature, the other part of it was because I learned the hard discipline of logic in what appeared to be a “soft” discipline.
At the end of the day, my belief is that logical thinking is neither limited to, nor an exclusive feature of, hard sciences. Logic can be expressed in many forms—literature and code are just two of them.