My Woodhouse Computer science

Joseph Lawrence
Joseph Lawrence
Joseph Lawrence came to Woodhouse from Wren Academy and lives in East Finchley. He studied computer science, mathematics and physics at A level and graduated in 2018 with A*A*A*. He is currently at the University of Manchester studying Computer Science with Industrial Experience.
He spoke to us during his second year of A levels... 
“A level computer science is more a development than a leap from GCSE; you go deeper into what you’ve learned and build on it. For example, you learn binary addition at GCSE but when you get to A level the first thing they teach you is binary multiplication, division, and negative numbers.
You probably have to have some knowledge of maths to do the programming side. Some people already have this way of thinking, but mathematical thinking will help you with the way you need to approach algorithmic problems and solve puzzles in terms of functions and procedures. But I do think that everyone can learn to program.
There’s a lot to learn but I enjoy the challenge and I really like the programming emphasis, about 60% of the course is coding. I really like coding… that click when something you’ve made works is really satisfying.
We are learning Visual Basic, which is the best language to learn. I was sceptical at first, as I’d used Python at GCSE and thought ‘Oh no! I have to learn a new language, I’m going to be behind…’ But Visual Basic is really easy going after Python, it’s like the starting programming language. It’s forgiving and kind, it auto-fills in for you, it spellchecks and there’s not a massive emphasis on syntax - I like it.
Weirdly, I was thought that to study computer science you had to be some sort of child prodigy who’s been programming since the age of four, because all you ever hear about computer scientists in the news is that they made a google algorithm at age seven or whatever. But it’s not the case - if you keep up with it you can learn it at any level. I took it at GCSE because I liked IT lessons and making games. I wasn’t sure if it was the right choice because I thought I wanted to study medicine but after a few lessons I knew I wanted to continue with computer science.
You don’t have to have an amazing computer at home, but having something is pretty essential. I’m not obsessed with hardware and don’t build at home and I don’t really come from a serious gaming background.
Typically, lessons are split between programming and theory. In a programming lesson, we get taught some new data type - like a stack or a queue -and have to write pseudocode, which is like code that doesn’t actually work, for implementing and different operations on this data type and we’ll have us a list of problems to solve. Quite difficult problems sometimes, that are hard to fix.
We learn a lot about hardware but we don’t do a lot of physical building. We learn about the roles of the components. I did a hands-on extracurricular in making robots which was fun - learning about circuit boards and making actual hardware for robots.
We definitely get good support from our teachers. They are always available and happy to answer emails and questions and as there are not huge class sizes they can give you focused advice in lessons. Sometimes it’s more like a university tutorial. I’ve also been to open days that my teachers have flagged up in emails.
We’ve had a few guest speakers too. The Kings College admission tutor for computer science gave us a great talk about the scope of the subject and what you can do at degree level.
Ideally, I’d like to be a software engineer and I’m applying to do a degree in computer science. I’ve applied to Cambridge, Manchester, Durham, Bristol and Nottingham. A lot of people do a maths - further maths route to programming- that was probably the standard about five years ago but computer science is a lot more respected now. In another five may will be an essential choice, unis are warming to it now – some colleges in Cambridge require it.
 I think Woodhouse works really well for someone who is independent who likes to work by themselves, it’s great. At my old school, they dictated everything you do. I’ve always thought of myself as an independent worker - I can tell myself to do this amount of work… and I will - so only going to college for a lesson when you have one is great for me. I would hate going in for tutorial early every morning whether you have a class or not. I finish early on three days at Woodhouse which is useful because I can go home and do a good solid amount of work without it being broken up into study periods.
I’ve participated in two ‘hackerthons’ at Kings and Queens Universities. You get tasked to make a particular program in a certain language and off you go in groups. It’s great fun, although my group made a business productivity tool in Python (which we spent 6 hours on) it and it was working… but then when it was time to demo it, it didn’t. I was like… WHHYY!
Outside of college I do Jujitsu every Saturday and am progressing through my belts, and I play in squash tournaments. I cycle to college every day and love cycling. I’ve done cycle rides to Paris, Belgium and around the Isle of Wight for Cancer Research UK (which was the hardest ride in the last two years). I may be doing an Amsterdam ride with my Dad soon which is better - I don’t really enjoy going up hills.
My opinions of my subjects have changed at Woodhouse, I really enjoy them more than at GCSE. Before, a lot of my questions went unanswered and I just had to accept things as fact – now I enjoy how in-depth we go into topics so that we really understand them."