Or, at least, things I hate to hear as a student studying technology, usually after introducing myself and saying, "I'm majoring in computer science."
My attempt to pretend to be BuzzFeed starts now:
1. "So you can fix my computer, right?!"
I don't know, can I? Oooh, better question: do I want to? I get this statement/half-statement-half-genuine-question all the time.
First things first: I'm studying computer science because I want to make stuff, not just fix what others have built before me. My degree, at least I hope, will extend far beyond simply fixing. I want to build what you (probably just broke) just asked me to fix. I want to build what you don't even know could exist yet. I want to make things that will help people, that are beautiful (both mathematically and aesthetically), and I want a job where my boss will ask me to do these things.
Second: Yes, I probably can fix your computer (I think the statistics are in my favor here - have you checked your computer for viruses in a while?). But not always. Just because I am getting a degree with the word "computer" in it does not mean that I know exactly everything about your particular machine (er, computer). Learning computer science, unfortunately, does not make me a tech wizard immediately - I'm still learning, and quite honestly, I'm really busy learning.
Maybe next time try, "so you make really cool stuff, right?" Yes, yes, I make really, really cool stuff!
2. "Man, I hate using Excel. It's so boring and complicated. I could never do that."
STOP. Computer science is NOT Excel. (Computer science does not equals equals Excel.) This question shows an obvious lack of knowledge about computing, which is unfortunate, considering computers are kind of, not hyperbolically, literally everywhere. (Everywhere.)
Yes, you can program some things with Excel, and yes, in some scenarios, this kind of programming is probably really helpful. But no, sorry, I do not take 125 credit hours of Excel courses. I agree with you, that sounds boring and complicated (as it took me a solid twenty minutes to find the "trend lines" button) and more or less awful.
I don't have much to say about this comment except next time you start feeling like computer science is simply difficult Excel tasks, ask yourself: can you make Excel with just Excel? What about Google? Or your phone? Just go here, right now, and make something. Or here and learn something. Go. GO!
3. "How many programming languages do you know?"
There are few problems with this question. I know, as someone who doesn't actually know that much about computing, you're thinking to yourself, "I just asked a really smart, insightful question! I showed I know computer languages are a thing! Points!" (And in comparison to the questions above, yes, points! You know something about computers! But not necessarily about computer scientists.)
You've probably heard one computer scientist ask this to another computer scientist and picked up on the fact that this is a more "legitimate" question than those listed above. True. However, I'm telling you now that this question is often asked in the context of one computer scientist asking another, not as experienced computer scientist, in order to follow up the question's answer with, "Well I know whatever you said plus these two other languages!" It's a question of flailing peacock feathers. Whoever is asking the question wants to show that he or she knows more than whoever is being asked. Which is, quite frankly, a dumb cultural thing about CS as a field.
Yes, knowing multiple programming languages is a benchmark of experience in the field. And yes, most computer scientists know multiple languages (even as a sophomore I can say I am fairly comfortable with 3-4 languages, and could probably get something working in a few other languages I am less familiar with) - but this is not always the case, especially for students beginning to study the field. It's also worth noting that the number of languages one knows is not always the best (I would argue never is) measurement of someone's capacity to compute. Math skills, logic skills, the ability to be creative in solving problems, recognize new problems, the ability to proofread carefully - a willingness to try something and have it fail - are all language independent, absolutely desirable CS skills.
So whenever you ask this to someone in the CS field, it often sounds like you're asking that person to prove him or herself as a computer scientist. Or you sound uninformed for the reasons I listed above. So better just to ask "what have you liked the most about studying CS so far?" Cool. I want to answer that.
4. "You must be so smart!"
Again, two facets to this comment. I think computer science majors get this question generally, because how computers work is essentially magic to anyone outside of the realm. So, yes, you do have to have some smarts to study computer science - there is some math involved, some logic, but at the minimum, like anything else, you have to be smart enough to know to when to work hard and persevere. It sounds cliche, but I stand by this: you have to be "smart enough" to know that working hard doesn't diminish your intelligence.
However, facet number two. I think the fact that I am a woman in computing warrants me hearing this comment a lot. It seems reasonable that women who would be good at computing would self-select into a male-dominated major before women who might "just be interested." And while this comment sounds like a compliment, it actually perpetuates the idea that you have to be an exceptional woman to be a woman in technology.
And in some regards, yes, this is true. Women in technology are exceptional, frankly, because they are rare. Like unicorns. Unicorns are exceptional (I think this is agreeable). But the whole paradigm sucks because it keeps talented (in all senses of the word) women, students, people out of computing. So, thanks, I think, but stop making me feel like I - or anyone in the field - have something to prove.
5. "You don't really seem like the computer type."
Sigh. Is it because I'm a girl? Or because I don't wear cargo shorts and mismatched graphic t-shirts? Or because I like art and reading?
Let me first say that based on questions #1 and #2 above, if you find yourself saying this, you probably don't have an idea what computer science is, so let's not make assumptions on what a computer type is if we don't even know what they do....
Whatever your preconceived notion of what a "computer type" looks like, seems like, acts like, even thinks like - throw it away. I am a computer scientist for the same reason I am an artist - the same reason I mentioned above - I like to create. I am a computer scientist because I like how the math works out and shows me how beautiful the universe is. I am a computer scientist because I love languages and totally geek out that I can use language to make things (now this is magic!). I am a computer scientist because I am not okay with the people who make the technology I use every day being so unalike me, and I'm actively trying to change that by being better at what I do.
So, maybe next time, "What do you want to do with computer science?" or "Why did you choose that field?" Because, yes, I am the computer type.
Special thanks to Maribeth for discussing these with me!