Liz Nelson
Liz Nelson, MSCAPP'21

Liz Nelson, MSCAPP’21, shares why Computer Science with Applications 1 was foundational to her learning at Harris and in her new role as a Software Engineer at Ad Hoc LLC.

At an alumni panel I attended during my second year, a recent MSCAPP alum said, “Computer Science with Applications I (CS1) was itself worth coming to CAPP”—and now, as a recent graduate of the MSCAPP program myself, I strongly agree!

Almost every CAPP student has a CS1 story—a moment where something suddenly made sense, they learned something they never expected to understand, or they completed something they were incredibly excited about.

CS1 with Professor Anne Rogers is your first computer science class in CAPP, and it teaches you the fundamentals of computational thinking and programming in Python. When I took CS1 as a first-year, I thought I was just learning Python and how to write programs. However, once I took upper-level computer science electives in my second year, I realized I was also learning how to learn a new programming language; how to write clean, well-structured code; and how to debug complex functions.

When I came to CAPP, I had some programming background working as an R developer and consultant with the federal government. I was confident manipulating data in R, but I didn’t have any formal computer science background, and I certainly didn’t know anything about algorithms or data structures. CS1 teaches you the fundamentals of computer science on problems related to policy. For example, we simulated voting booths and polling places when we learned about object-oriented programming, analyzed political tweets when we learned about dictionaries, and visualized diversity data when we learned about recursion. Everyone comes into CAPP with different levels of programming experience, but CS1 teaches you how to think about problems in computer science to prepare you for all your subsequent classes in databases, machine learning, and whatever you choose to take in your second year.

CS1 fundamentally changed the way I code—in R and any other language—but moreover it laid the groundwork for the inevitable life-long journey of learning that is a career in computer science and policy. In my second year, I worked in three more programming languages, and realized that the tools I learned in CS1 are what I use to read unfamiliar code or write code in a new language.

When I came to Harris, one of the top things on my list was to gain the computer science background I felt like I had missed out on. I wanted to have a strong foundation as I decided what the next step was in my career. Now that I’ve graduated and started my new role as a Software Engineer at Ad Hoc LLC, I can say with confidence that CS1 built the foundation of the tools I now use in my career.