This is a phenomenal question Justin! Hope you're enjoying your second year in your CS program :) Personally, I've allowed my curiosity and interests direct my "niche". While yes, I agree there are just so much to learn within a certain time frame, instead of being crippled by the depth of stuff to learn, just pick something interesting to you now and roll with it.
For me, I've found that finding super small projects to work on for a little while is a really good way to explore things. Although tutorials are nice, what really excited me about learning new programming stuff was when I was able to take what I was learning and apply it to something that I wanted to exist in the world.
As you work on your projects, you might find yourself being pulled towards a certain set of programming tools. Don't be afraid to embrace that. Since it'll help you only become faster in solving problems in the future.
Celebrate your tiny wins. I think for me when I was a student and even now, when walking into unknown territory while programming is to celebrate the tiny wins. Eventually all those tiny wins will add up to having momentum and confidence to dive deeper into more complex things.
Don't be so hard on yourself if things get hard. Programming is hard. Just remember to ABC -- always be coding. It only gets easier the more you do it. As you keep practicing, you'll discover your niche. You might also find that with different seasons, you'll dive into different niches.
Another strategy could be what you desire to do post school. If say for example you want to become a web developer and build web applications, look into technologies surrounding that path. If you want to become a mobile developer, have a look into tools around that path. A technique you could use to determine relevant tools is to look up job postings at companies you think you'd like to interview for one day. See what they are building with and look into learning those tools.
Super excited to hear more about your journey. Please do share it with us here or via your own personal blog :) Also please do not be afraid to ask more questions. Reach out to folks you admire on the web and ask questions.
Thank you for the advice and insight Michael! I'm currently delving into computer graphics since the careers in that field seem interesting, but I'm also keeping myself open to other fields and see what truly interests me!
No problem Justin, happy to help :) Anything in particular within computer graphics that you're specifically interested in?
I’m actually interested in animation! Especially since I grew up watching and loving PIXAR films. Specifically, I’m interested in tool development, where I want to collaborate with the animators, and designers in developing tools for their needs :)
That's awesome! I once pursued an education in character animation and actually got to visit Pixar and Siggraph. It was magical :) I never finished the education for character animation but enjoyed it very much and befriended folks who went on to animate for animation studios.
Do you do any animation yourself? Does your current school have any animation courses or opportunities for design students to cross-collaborate with CS students? Perhaps as a senior project?
That’s awesome! What made you not finish? For me, sadly I haven’t done any animation at all, maybe once I get a hang of OpenGL and how it works, I’ll move into actual animation. And I’m currently at a community college right now, hopefully transferring soon! The school I’ve applied to does have computer graphics classes, so I’m aiming to take those classes. I’m just keeping my mind open to other possibilities of careers or paths to take, especially since I live in the Bay Area! Being such close proximity to Silicon Valley, there are a lot of opportunities, and possible careers I can go into
It was insanely expensive, as I was living in SF at the time. Also one of my professors, whom I respected, once told us, "One of these days you're going to have to ask yourself, can you see yourself doing this for the next 30 to 40 years?". I went home and asked myself that question and the answer was no. But definitely had a great time since I learned a lot and met some awesome friends while there.
That sounds like an awesome path. I didn't use being in the Bay Area to my advantage. It's an exciting place to be in cause of the resources as you pointed out. Take advantage of it :)
Have you ever read Creativity Inc? It's more about the business of Pixar and it's backstory, but I really enjoyed reading about Ed Catmull's journey as a person who created graphics tools to becoming President of Pixar and Disney Animation. He goes into detail about his early career and how it eventually lead to where he is now. Also was cool to read that he came up with Z-buffering.
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