An Ode To Code
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Student Life

An Ode To Code

MATLAB is hard, especially when you're a Liberal Arts Major.

An Ode To Code
Computer Majors

MATLAB, shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Thou art more hot and insufferable.

Three days ago at 8:00 PM, my suitemate approached me at my computer and asked me if I had just gotten back from a run.

“No,”I answered, perplexed and slightly annoyed.

“Oh,” she replied before glancing at the floor and fading into silence. A moment later, she added, “You’re sweating.”

“That’s because—” I felt my eyelids flying open past the point a sane person’s eyelids would and my voice climbing into the clouds so I stopped myself, took a deep breath, and tilted my computer screen back so she could see it. My code.

“I’m programming.”

Now, to anyone who has not gazed into the particular black and menacing abyss that is MATLAB, I’ll paint a picture of the view:

There is nothing there, I painted no picture, I offered no window of insight into the program, no enlightening explanation of matrices, no instructions on strings, no articulation of the display command, not anything at all. But perhaps my lack of explanation is explanation enough (if it isn’t, I implore you to search ‘MATLAB’ on Urban Dictionary). After all, if you’re like me, the best explanation in the world would still leave you in the darkness groping around for the basest of understandings and coming up empty.

Honestly, all I know of MATLAB after five weeks of lectures and recitations is that it’s a programming software used for a lot of research and is supposed to simplify programming for those, ahem, less gifted *cough* liberal arts majors *cough* and is also the second language of my Caucasian heterosexual male classmates. It is about as comprehendible to me as fantasy football, which means that I cannot understand it and must settle for appreciating it from afar, which means from the comfort of my bed engrossed in just about anything else.

My point here is that for the first time in my life, I am seriously worried about passing a course. I came to college planning on being a doctor someday, so I wasn’t expecting to breeze through my course load by any means. However, I can always study for chemistry and biology and gain a decent understanding of the concepts. Yes, I struggle sometimes, but with MATLAB I can’t even struggle. I can simply stare at my computer screen, flushed from anxiety as it consumes me from the inside out, the way my suitemate found me three nights ago when I was trying to finish my first “easy” programming project of the semester. To finish my anecdote from earlier, the night ended with me giving up on the assigned project and using the only MATLAB functions I knew to graph my level of stress over time from birth to the present moment. It was a parabola.

Let me provide context: seven weeks ago, I had never even seen a code. I was oblivious to the inner workings of computer programs. I was coming to college from a performing arts school full of people who did not speak in the tongues of Java and C++ (or NFL, for that matter). And yes, I chose to attend a majorly Engineering-based college, but I wasn’t planning on taking any programming courses there. In fact, I didn’t learn that I would be taking a programming course until I received my schedule for the semester and decided to ask about the cryptic 5:30PM-7:00PM block on Wednesday evenings. In retrospect, my ignorance was largely my own fault and I had no right to be upset because I had, indeed, signed up for the class and was probably informed of it at the bottom of some email in some hell-forsaken corner of my inbox, but I was upset. I am still upset.

“It’s important for the cutting-edge research you will be conducting,” people tell me, which I guess I understand. Programming is a crucial skill to have when you enter just about any STEM field, and even more crucial if you plan on doing research. I appreciate that that my university is preparing me for success in the professional world, but I don’t appreciate being dumped straight into the abyss I described earlier with virtually no preparation. I did not, like many of my classmates and the typical Clarkson-attendee, take AP Computer Science in high school; I took dance classes.

And of course I’m not alone. Other students leave the Wednesday night lectures looking like they have just ridden a roller coaster with their eyes closed without realizing they were on a roller coaster in the first place, but I just happen to be the one student who is irritated and confused enough to write about my experience online, which is a type of writing I can do as opposed to writing code, and I really just wanted to feel in control of something again. A few years from now, I will probably look back on my year of MATLAB and be thankful for the course, but in the case that I don’t… well… it builds character?

Regardless, a few years have not passed, and until they do, I will keep using the ‘help’ function more than any other function in MATLAB. Well, I keep trying to use the help function, but the help function requires you to know the name of the function that you are asking for help about, so the help function really needs a help function. In fact, you can type ‘help help’ into the program and a very confusing, technical description of the help function will pop up that leaves you even more frustrated and confused and wishing you had a mini computer science major in your pocket to translate for you. But chances are, you probably wouldn’t understand the computer science major either because MATLAB is his second language so it comes easily to him and he can’t imagine the horrors of that language not coming naturally to someone and you are incredibly monolingual and trying very, very hard to process his detailed descriptions of array manipulation and… uh… dimensions or something… but you can’t.

So my heart goes out to all those undergrads fighting the same battles that I am. Define your variables, remember your semi-colons, and keep on coding. And in the case that a MATLAB TA or computer science professor would be reading this, I apologize for your misfortune of having to teach people like me. I imagine the experience of explaining input functions to me would be similar to explaining world politics to a Trump supporter, except I promise that in my case, I am genuinely trying my best to overcome my own ignorance. It’s just hard. Please don’t give up on me, because with enough hope and sweat and tears, maybe one day I’ll see the light. Until then, I’ll try my best not to punch a hole through my laptop.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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