If you're enrolled in CSE without a background in coding, you'll probably get it - it feels bad. Entering a degree which focuses heavily on a skill you’ve never tried can be extremely daunting. As someone whose programming experience before uni was basically the Google Doodle coding game, entering CSE felt a bit like auditioning for a band when I’d picked up a guitar for the first time two seconds ago.

Luckily this feeling couldn’t be further from the truth! The first programming course you’ll take at UNSW starts from complete zero. COMP1511 assumes you have no previous programming knowledge, and takes you through all the fundamental skills of coding in a hands on and approachable way.

Even if some concepts can be more confusing than others (e.g. pointers), the team of tutors and other staff are always very patient and ready to help - and I recommend you go to them with any questions you have. By the time I reached the the middle of the course, I was comfortable enough with basic coding and computing theory to have hit “Mount Stupid” levels of confidence.

Of course COMP1511 provides harder material like challenge labs, for more advanced students to stretch their wings. But it’s almost all optional, and will always be doable with things you learn in class anyway.

The one thing to watch out for...

...is not the course, but some of your peers. There’s a bit of “flex culture” in early level comp courses, where certain people like to show off their coding skill as loudly as possible. They humblebrag about how easy they found the latest challenge labs, how early in life they started coding, and how fast they finished the latest assignment using some obscure knowledge that you are definitely not learning in this course. The truth is these people are a vocal minority. Most of the people you meet are pushing themselves hard, just like you are - you’re not falling behind, so don’t compare yourself! Besides, this behaviour tends to disappear after first year, and by the time you graduate the playing field will be far more levelled out.


Many people who are unsure about coding, including me, end up loving COMP1511 and really thriving in the CSE environment. My biggest piece of advice is to relax and enjoy. COMP1511 is one of the gentlest courses you'll take, and makes you feel rewarded for everything you learn. And I couldn't imagine a better transition into university.

Still feeling uncertain or out of place? Check out Caleb’s article on Imposter Syndrome for another perspective on the issue!


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