It’s something we’ve all heard before: people who know how computers work will be building the future! If you’re a student at the moment, chances are you’ll have grown up with computers for most of your life, and you’ll have a good basic understanding of how they work. This will give you a massive head start in life, and may well motivate you to try and learn more about the world of computer science.
The problem is, budding students of computer science can often find it a bit overwhelming to know where to start, particularly if they don’t have access to classes during school hours! Do you begin by teaching yourself a specific programming language, or installing a particular library?
We’re not going to get into those details, as there are simply too many different options to explore! Instead, we’re going to explore a few ways that you can teach yourself the fundamentals of how computers operate without needing to get into the nitty-gritty of coding. Let’s get into it!
Have a look through some online courses or content.
It wouldn’t be an EduExperts article if we didn’t share some of our favourite online content creators!
YouTube creators such as Computerphile, Treehouse, and 3Blue1Brown have released some awesome computer science content, covering topics from coding to database structure to AI-enabled neural networks to the fundamentals of computing. Their videos are typically organised into playlists so that you can dive down a rabbit hole of any topic you want to learn more about!
There are even sites such as CS Unplugged which allow you to progress your computer science journey without using a computer.
Start learning more about your computer at home.
Do you have a computer at home? Before you start to think about programming languages and building software, it can be a great idea to familiarise yourself with the basic functions of a computer.
At its core, a computer is just a (really, really) powerful calculator, capable of running millions of calculations every second. All computers need an operating system to work – this is a piece of software that is installed to tell the calculator how to display all of the things you’re used to seeing on a computer. The most common operating systems are Apple’s Mac OS and Microsoft Windows.
Once you’re familiar with your computer’s operating system, you can start to ask yourself other questions like…
· How does my computer’s folder structure work?
· What do the settings on my computer do? (be careful about changing anything you’re not sure about!)
· How am I accessing the internet? Does my experience change if I use another internet browser?
· How does my hard drive work? Can I add any extra drives?
As with anything, if you’ve got a curious mind and you’re willing to do a bit of research, you’ll find yourself learning plenty from simply tinkering with your own computer at home. Just don’t change settings or delete anything that you’re not sure about… especially if it’s your parents’ computer!
Try building a PC!
This one’s not for the faint of heart, but if you’re a little further down your computer science journey it can be a great challenge to really cement your understanding of what the main hardware components of a computer really do!
In fact, building a PC isn’t as complicated as a lot of people make it out to be. There are two main steps: picking and ordering your parts, and then assembling the PC.
Selecting components that are compatible is the harder part, but websites such as PCPartPicker take a lot of the guesswork out of the process by allowing you to load potential builds to understand whether everything will work the way you want it to. Once you’ve confirmed the parts you want and placed your orders, all you’ll need to do is follow the instructions – it’s really just a Lego-style exercise to put it all together! Building a PC can be an enormous source of satisfaction, particularly if you’re into resource-intensive work such as gaming or graphic design. Speaking of which…
Are you a gamer? Read on…
If you’ve played a bit of Minecraft, you’re probably familiar with some of the more basic redstone projects such as elevators or trains. But did you know that (with a bit of time) you can build fully-functioning electronic devices such as calculators in Minecraft?
If you’re willing to commit some time to building a basic computer in Minecraft, it’s a great experiment because it teaches you some of the core logical concepts at the heart of computer science, such as arrays, memory, and different types of logic gates (AND/OR etc.). Like building a PC, it’s a lengthy exercise, but can be really satisfying when you create something incredible!
Keep focusing on your maths work.
Back to reality! If you’re not able to take computer science classes at school, the next best thing you can do is focus on your maths work. Ultimately, computer science is just applied mathematics, so if you’re planning to get into programming further down the track, it’ll pay to be rock-solid with your mathematical concepts.
When you look at professional software engineers and computer scientists, they’ll usually be fluent in mathematical fields such as linear algebra, number theory, and calculus. But don’t worry if you’re not there yet… focusing on your algebra as a slightly younger student will give you a great foundation. You can also consider learning how binary numbers work as these are a foundational concept in computer-land!
Want to take your computer science journey a bit further? EduExperts provides computer science and programming classes. If you’d like to know more, you can get in touch with your local centre here.