jast@www Version 4.2a (archive)
translated from the German version

I already knew my carrier when I was five years old, or so my mother told me recently. I was going to be a computer scientist, doing something like software development. When I was seven years old, I got my first computer, a Commodore 64, and at the time I moved on to a newer computer, I was using the C64 for writing more or less useful stuff in machine code. The successor was an Intel computer, accompanied by several operating systems (namely Windows and Linux) and programming languages (Pascal, Java, Perl, C, PHP, C++, Ruby and some others).

To cut a long story short: my early career aspiration has never wavered. I still like playing around with computers and I haven't come to regret my decision to study computer science yet.

The German version of this article addresses other people who are thinking about studying computer science. However, since the German course of studies appears to be different from that in other countries, I consider it unlikely that you are really interested in advice. If you are, read the German version of this. If not, feel free to read my experiences from university anyway.


Other than a potentially large number of computer scientists to be, I never attended computer studies at school. It was offered starting from both ninth and eleventh grade, but neither of the courses taught anything I didn't already know. The former introduced Office applications and the like, while the latter started on programming basics. The school didn't have the resources required for advanced computer studies, neither teachers nor software. Anyway, I managed to live without it (which you can see from being able to read this text).

Competition, Practical experience

In my last year of school, I received (not for the first time) a sheet with a set of tasks for a national programming competitions for students who hadn't entered university yet. This time, I spent enough time with working on the tasks and managed to do them all, even including an extra bit of work for a special prize. I left the first round with full marks and the second place in the special prize competition which got me a paid practical in a small software company (one that didn't live to see today, though).

The prize had been about interaction between humans and machines, the attempt to make communicating with computer programs as easy, understandable and intuitive as possible. HumanIT, the company I worked for for four (whew) weeks was specially committed to this field of research. Their top products were a system for visualising huge amounts of data and a mechanism to make servers automatically adjust to the preferences of their users. The visualisation system was something I realised was very well designed and useful, whereas I never had any experience with the other product.

I think I can't leak any details about what I did at the company, but it included learning PHP and SQL within about three days and writing parts of a database application. I don't know whether my efforts ever made it to the market but it was certainly fun to write and I did learn quite some new things. The people at the company were impressed enough to tell me I could come back at any time and do some more work for them if I wanted.

Break, community service

German law states that adults must either serve their time in the military or in community service. I decided to do the latter. It wasn't a bad idea altogether but I ended up working at a facility where I lost my concentration, my creativity, my motivation, my sanity and other things for as much as ten months. Writing programs was nearly impossible during that time and I spent a lot of time dreaming of the following time at university.

I don't have anything else to say about this chapter, at least not at this place.

University begins

At long last, the time had come. More specifically, it was on 15th October 2002. It was the day my time at university started, a day of introduction. I was fairly nervous and promptly managed to get lost in Aachen; it took me 45 minutes to reach my target, when now I need about 15 minutes. But eventually I found the right building and entered it, looking for the right auditorium, Fo 1. It is fairly impressive if you enter a room with approximately 1000 seats for the first time, but I was distracted by the shape of things to come, so I didn't pay that much attention to the size of the room.

After a few introductory speeches by several people, all of the newbies were separated into groups that were to be lead by older students, and a tour around the university and the city started. I can't remember much of it, but I know I was exhausted afterwards. If you know the university at Aachen, you can probably understand why.

The next day, a rally across the city happened. The groups of the day before were given several barmy tasks like "drink as much of the water stinking of sulphur from this fountain" or "take this apple and this egg with you and trade them against interesting things, don't break them". At some point, I got tired of it and went home.

The reason for all this was to make friends to study with later on. This didn't work for me--all my friends in Aachen I met afterwards. TODO

This article was last updated on 2004-12-21.


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