Field of Study: 
Political Science and Informatics Major
University of Washington

My name is Cheryl. I recently graduated from the University of Washington where I double majored in political science and informatics. The study of informatics explores ways of thinking about information and technology and the ways people interact with them. It incorporates theory and hands-on technical projects to develop skills to recognize information needs and use appropriate and innovative technologies to design solutions. The goal of informatics is to present intended users with the most transparent, yet useful information or computing experience possible.

As a former technical trainer in a large law firm, political science naturally interested me. I combined it with informatics because of my long-standing interest in computing. Both majors explore factors that influence social problems and processes for improving them. Given the rapid societal growth that resulted from the use of computer technology, I found myself wanting to know more than just how to use devices and information systems. I also wanted to understand how the software and design contributed to the overall user experience. I am continually amazed at the number of complex decisions that are necessary to create devices and systems that are efficient, simple, and seamless to interact with.

Does your disability affect your education?

I have been diagnosed with ADD. The most significant challenges I encountered in college were in my programming classes and in computer lab areas. Tracing large pieces of code took extra time as I kept track of variables that might be renamed in order to hold their values in memory until they were swapped or used and discarded. When I wrote code for assignments, I found that using a larger font, sans serif, helped me find typos or transposing errors that caused my program to crash.

The informatics computer lab was specifically designed to facilitate collaborative, group work. This environment of loud chatter, writing on whiteboards, and scooting around to each other's computers to work together was very difficult for me, especially when I was not involved in the same type of study. Earplugs saved me. With them, I could use the equipment and receive help from my classmates instead of isolating myself in a quiet area, as I usually would do when I studied for non-computing classes.

What are you going to do with your degree?

Since I’ve recently graduated, I’m still figuring out my next step. Generally, I see myself working in a capacity that blends technology and law. This might be in discovery forensics or user protection policy. Discovery forensics uses software tools to find hidden, deleted, or destroyed information that may point to unethical use or illegal misuse of personal or business information. User protection policy is guidelines for the ways our personal information is stored and used by others. It includes standards for keeping information secure, authorization requirements for sharing data, and expected consequences for failing to adequately uphold protective policies.

I really enjoyed studying project management and systems analysis, so I may consider careers in those fields as well. Project management involves starting with an idea for improvement, developing a feasible project, working with stakeholders with shared and competing interests, and keeping a project on schedule and within budget. This can be a complex balancing act. Systems analysis, which may be a part of project management, breaks down existing methods for completing a task into a series of micro steps. Systems analysis is highly analytical with each step being examined to see who, what, when, where, and how is affected by it.

What can I do while I’m in high school if I want to pursue a career in computing?

If you’re thinking about pursuing a career in computing, there are some things that you can do now to prepare.

  1. Take as much math as you can possibly handle. Seek a mentor, study partner, or whatever assistance you might need to help develop a solid mathematics foundation. Math skills help with logical thinking, an important problem solving skill if you’re interested in computer programming or software development.
  2. Help your friends and family who are not technically inclined with their computing needs. You'll learn valuable troubleshooting and research skills and get practice in communicating difficult concepts to computer users without using technical jargon they may not understand.
  3. Build a personal website about yourself and your projects and interests. Keep updating it as you continue to develop skills so that your site develops into a portfolio. Not only can you include it on your resume to prospective employers, it's very rewarding to reflect on your own accomplishments over time.

What traits are important for computing students?

Patience, respect for others’ knowledge levels, and more patience will be important traits to have as a computing professional. Most people resist technologies for a variety of reasons including fear, old habits, and usability problems. As computing professionals, we will always encounter people who don't share the same passion for or understanding of technologies. But it is up to us as computing professionals to develop creative ways to help people whatever their skill set and comfort level with computing.

Why should I study computing?

Studying computing will open doors. I believe that computing jobs will continue to outpace many other industry sectors. Even if jobs are not specifically categorized as IT, most will require technical competencies related to using, maintaining, and/or protecting information systems and computer and web technologies. Training in computing technologies is valuable preparation that will lead to broader job opportunities and more rapid career advancement.

Nearly every industry you can think of uses technology. The knowledge and skills that develop through study of computing will serve well in many aspects of your personal and professional life. After studying programming languages and systems analysis, I now often catch myself becoming aware of how I approach everyday tasks more analytically to decide the most efficient option before I start. Geeky way to look at things? Sure! But, it also feels good when my friends say, "Wow, that's pretty clever, Cheryl!" It helps me remember that the hard work was worth all the ways technical studies changed my thinking and life for the better.