10 things you should learn at the University

I graduated last year, and I would like to summarize things I learnt somehow. In the StackOverflow Podcast #36Eric Sink said: 

The best students learn Computer Science in class and programming on their own.

I remember when back in days my friends from the University were talking about their first job, and 9/10 of them were saying something like that: “During this one month Internship I learnt more than for 3 years in College”. I couldn’t say that about my job. At the beginning I thought that they probably got much better job or internship than me. It took me 3 years to understand this phenomena…and it wasn’t phenomena. They thought, they learnt a lot, because they were able to get something done using some framework that did magic in the background (like creating simple CRUD web application with database configuring everything automatically). However, there is a lot of stuff between framework and hardware. I noticed, that lot of Developers don’t care about it. Moreover, you can live without it. Like taxi driver doesn’t need to know the city, as long as he has GPS. I think it is good to know the fundamentals.

There are some courses, which can help you to learn things, about which you probably will not bother once you get a job. In the same time, they are worth to learn, will help you to understand how computers work, and in my opinion will help in your future job.

Here is my top 10 things/courses you should learn at University (which is the best time for it):

  1. Computer Architecture: to know how computer works, how they represent data (Two’s complement system, IEEE 754). There are two books good books about that: Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach and The Elements of Computing Systems.
  2. Compilers: sort of supplement to computer architecture. It is connector between Software and Hardware. Classic book about compilers is Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools (AKA Dragon Book).
  3. Algorithms and Complexity (O notation): this is hard and challenging topic. Require a lot of practice, but pays off in the future. The bible for algorithms and computational complexity is Cormen’s book: Introduction to Algorithms.
  4. Automatas (DFA, NFA, Turing Machine, etc.): “Recognizing the strings in a language is a formal way of expressing any problem”. This is fundamental of Computer Science, as a Science, on top of which all software and hardware is built.
  5. Assembly Language: it helps to understand concurrent applications, and bugs occurring in them e.g. caused by instruction reorder.
  6. System programming: in the world of Cloud Computing and Virtual Machines, this is still useful subject that can gives you an insight into how software communicate with the hardware.
  7. Embedded devices: the Internet of Things is the future. Additionally it is fun (check Jon Gallant blog post who joined Internet of Thing team at Microsoft).
  8. Artificial Intelligence: every year devices are more intelligent (from your phone, through medical devices to Google Car). According to Bill Gates AI will explode in next 10 years. University is great place to learn AI fundamentals.
  9. Computer Networks: it is good to learn about networks, how data is flowing in the wires (packets), what is DNS, CDN, what challenges, and limitations do we have in fast and reliable data exchange. Recommended book: Computer Networks (by A. Tanenbaum).
  10. Computer Security: everyone would like to be a hacker. First, you need to know the basics, and be aware that this topic is changing every year (sha1 is being replaced by sha2, because it is not “secure enough” anymore). Because it is changing so fast, there is no universal book that is up to date. However Practical Internet and Unix Security book is still very valuable. To be up to date with security issues, I strongly recommend you to follow Troy Hunt’s blog (in my opinion: one of the best blogs in the Internet).

One can say: “Turing Machine? Would I need it for something?…Probably not.”. But again, I am talking about Computer Science, not programming. You can live without that knowledge, and do amazing things. Like mentioned taxi driver, who can take customers from place A to place B. But…what he will do, when GPS run out of battery or GPS will be wrong? What if there are two streets with the same name? Maybe GPS will indicate it, maybe not. Additionally, good taxi driver knows which way is faster, and where he will stuck in traffic on certain hours better than GPS.

Very often we do not appreciate the knowledge gained at the University, but it helps us in everyday job in the same way like swimming and running helps the boxer in his fight.

What is cool nowadays, you can learn Computer Science online for free.

At the end, it is totally up to you if you want to learn about Computer Science, or just learn how to program. I think it is good to know both. What do you think? Would you add/remove something to/from my top 10 list?