Career Rebooting: Sophia Shovkovy, Pursuing a Computer Science Degree
Sophia shares her story and provides career insights for high school and college students considering a degree in Computer Science.
What were you doing previously?
I am a third-year full-time student at Arizona State University pursuing computer science and an undergraduate technical intern at Intel. Prior to this, I was a confused high school graduate who had no clue what field to pursue. Throughout high school, I developed a negative connotation to any STEM-related field. I felt like the material was taught chaotically and a cloudy picture of what a career in STEM looks like was painted for me. I didn’t even know what computer science was at this time. All I knew when graduating was that I wanted to stay away from a science degree. I changed my major five times the summer before freshman year out of frustration. I still did not know what I wanted to do, and truthfully I was scared of pursuing a science degree due to my experience with it in high school. I felt like I couldn’t handle it.
What inspired you to change careers?
On the very first day of class freshman year, I stayed back from class and for probably the hundredth time I scrolled through the available majors at ASU. I don’t know what prompted this, but I selected the computer science major map and began to read through the curriculum. To this day I don’t know what propelled me to do this, but without another thought, I changed my major to computer science. I grew up loving science and I felt frustrated that I was in a state of not feeling good enough. I wanted to prove myself wrong. I wanted to show that my experience in high school did not determine my own capabilities. The next day I went to my first class as a computer science major, not fully understanding what that entailed. After the first lecture, I was completely hooked. I picked up on the basics quickly, felt challenged by these concepts which I had never been exposed to before, and I felt confident in what I could do. At the end of the day, I believe I was inspired by my frustration. I wanted to show that I could, in fact, be a part of this.
What are three resources that have eased your career transition?
During this time of transitioning into this brand new field, I leaned heavily on my family. My dad, a physicist, was incredibly patient in letting me figure out what path I wanted to take. While he encouraged me to pursue the sciences since he saw my strengths, he nonetheless supported me each time I changed my major. When I informed him that yet again I had changed my major, this time computer science, he showed a new kind of support which made me feel even more confident in my decision. He continues to be my greatest resource while I navigate being a woman in STEM. Additionally, I made amazing friends that first lecture who unlike me, were not new to computer science. They have endlessly supported me since day one and were motivating factors that kept me from giving up when the material got difficult. Lastly, as cliche, as it may be, one of the greatest tools I found at the beginning was textbooks and Youtube videos. I knew coming into computer science on a whim that I would potentially be behind many of my peers who at least had prior knowledge of what this degree meant for their future. I used any free time I had to learn all about the foundation — such as the basic functionality of if statements, for loops, etc. In turn, I not only quickly caught up but I understood the concepts from a unique perspective compared to other students who had been exposed to programming before.
What is one misconception you’ve debunked during your career transition?
The greatest misconception I had about the STEM field was that men in my field would consistently make me feel inferior. I quickly realized that the majority of men I encountered in my classes and in the workplace were incredibly supportive. I learned that for every one man who spoke to me condescendingly, there were five more who would stand with me. I thought I would struggle to find my place among my peers, but to my surprise, there have been very few occasions where I have felt on the outside. I was surprised to find that even though the fight for women in STEM is by no means over, a lot of progress has been made — including the countless number of women in tech communities (like The Bit). I took leadership positions on school projects where the rest of my team were men, and they respected my position. I was listened to when I spoke and my words were valued. At each milestone, I gained more confidence, found the right group of people, and found myself smoothly transitioning into this new role and this person I was becoming.
What is one piece of advice you would give yourself if you could rewind time to the beginning of your career transition?
If I could give myself one piece of advice at the beginning of this career, it would be to utilize all of the resources presented to me and to say yes to more opportunities. As someone who never wants to end up with too much on their plate, I underestimated how much I could really handle. I think at the beginning of such an important transition it’s particularly important to dive in deep and become fully absorbed by your new field and utilize every opportunity to learn more. I believe what you do during the beginning stages mold you for the rest of your experience. It took me about a year of being too comfortable within my limits to push myself to join CS organizations, clubs, and meet more people in my field. I would tell my younger self who is transitioning into this new world to dive headfirst into these groups and maximize the opportunities being given to me instead of being too afraid to take them.