Transition into Tech
Image of CS50 lecture with david Malan on stage

Landmark tech courses: CS50

If there’s one course that can sweep you off your feet and get you to both fall in love with tech and come to believe it’s something you could actually pull off – it’s CS50. If images speak louder than words, than videos probably scream – so here’s a taster:

CS50 is a series of courses ran by Harvard University professor David Malan – and it’s closer to entertainment than it is to education. Think the kind of engagement you feel when you’re in the middle of the season finale of your favourite TV series – the enjoyment, the anticipation, the excitement, the adrenaline… It’s that plus then some from the get-go. It’s just… insane!

The course runs on campus (Harvard, streamed also at Yale) and thankfully has a CS50x version on edx.org. Basically, you get to experience the quality of the best that an Ivy League course can offer, for free (you can also opt-in for a shirtificate for a symbolic amount – some 80 EUR / 90 USD). Nope, I have not misspelled that – read on.

The show…. ahem, the course, excuse me

The setup, the dynamic, the production – they all suck you right in and before you know it, you’ll be binging more than you do Netflix. The high energy draws you in and keeps you engaged from beginning to end. Think festival-style vibe.

You get to partake not only in the lectures – there are also tutorials that help you see the big picture or make up for things you didn’t get during the lectures. You have plenty of channels available to communicate with peers from all over the world (did I mention that it’s the largest course on campus Harvard and, with 1.5 million students worldwide, also the largest MOOC / massive open online course?).

The professor & his team

David Malan is nothing short of a magician / world class entertainer. Not only is he insanely charismatic – he’s also a clear speaker, a skilled educator and a classy act through and through. He’s convincing, he’s motivating, and he’s extremely clear in his communication. He does his job masterfully. He’s assistent by a HUGE team of assistants – former students with a fresh understanding of what it was like to not have a clue.

The content

The content, and the way it is structured, is also top notch. You walk in to a whirlwind of information and before you know it you start understanding things that you wouldn’t have thought possible. The content is well structured – building on things you know and are ready to understand, skilfully including new concept supported by extra tutorials prepared by the 100+ teaching assistants. Again, you read that right.

The course has been running for some years now – and each year they update the content and create versions that cater to the various needs and special situations. I came across it when they launched what is now the classic version – the Introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming; they later introduced the AP version – but since they’ve included a version for lawyers, one for business professionals, another one for people interested in game development, in web development and artificial intelligence etc. And even a version that just gives you a basic understanding of technology. Wherever you are, whatever your background or your interest, and whatever your initial level – there’s a flavour out there that caters to your need. See all options here.

And if ever you think – yeah, I bet it’s fun to do it on campus – but it’s not the same at home, alone… Don’t despair: there are super active CS50 communities on all major social networks and meetups across the world. And hey, if there isn’t one in your area, you can always start one yourself.

One last thing: it’s not gonna be easy, but as they say themselves, it’s definitely doable and DEFINITELY worth every second of it. Plus, according to the course philosophy, what matters is where you find yourself at the end of the program, compared to yourself when you first started, not compared to everyone else.

The outcome

Whichever path you follow – you’ll end up with a thorough understanding of the most important computer science concepts:

  • How to think algorithmically
  • How to solve programming problems efficiently
  • Understanding key computer science concepts like abstraction, algorithms, data structures, encapsulation, resource management, security, software engineering, and web development

In addition, there’ll be specific knowledge related to the version of the course you’ve chosen. If you go opt-in for a certificate, you’ll have a Harvard-issued, verified certificate to feature on your LinkedIn profile and in your resumé. But equally importantly, if not more :), you’ll walk away with the famous CS50 shirtificate – a T-shirt that is available only to graduated having successfully completed the course – which I’m pretty sure you’ll wear proudly until it comes to pieces. And chances are… even then.

Landmark tech courses: CS50 1

Finally, if you finish it and are SO inspired and find yourself thinking – wow, I wish I could do that… you know what? You totally can – they offer an educator training that can bring you up to speed and prepare you to deliver it in your local schools, universities etc.

Some tips:

  • if English is not your native language, you can slow David down (there are controls in Youtube)
  • be sure to connect to the CS50 group on your favourite social network – and maybe see if you can find someone in your area taking it at the same time as you; it’ll be nice to be able to exchange throughout the course

Disclaimer & conclusion: if it wasn’t really clear, I’ll just say it here – I’m a die hard fan of this program but not otherwise affiliated with it in any way. Anyway, if you start the course, and if you stick with it, you’ll learn at a faster pace than you would have thought possible. And you’ll find yourself catapulted towards a new future. You’re welcome!

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