Ram Kalidhindi didn’t have easy access to computer science classes before he came to Berkeley from Southern California. His parents made sure to get him into the best school in their area, but his high school didn’t have an introduction to CS course until after Ram graduated in 2015. He was advised to take an introduction to CS at the local community college while he was a senior, and he did that, confirming to himself that he was really interested in the field. Previously, his attraction to computer science had come from tinkering with the family’s electronics.
So he applied to Berkeley’s L&S Computer Science program, which requires that students take three CS courses and earn a 3.3 GPA in them before they’re admitted to CS. At the same time, he was admitted to the CS Scholars program as a freshman. Ram describes CS Scholars as “a home away from home.” Scholars are arranged in cohorts based on when they take CS 61A, and they have common discussion sections and labs. Most Scholars come from schools that are under-resourced, like Ram’s was, and many are underrepresented minorities and women.
Feeling confident about his ability to take on CS 61A after his introduction to CS at Pasadena City College, Ram started his prerequisites for the major as soon as he arrived in Fall 2015, and for him, with the resources of CS Scholars behind him, the first semester went really well.
61A is okay even without too much experience; you just have to try a little harder. A lot of…stress gets alleviated when you go to section and your GSI really cares about what’s happening , and Professor DeNero and Professor Hug, they’re really open, and they really want to help you. They have a passion for teaching and a passion for helping people out. It’s good to know you have an extra support system.
The challenging part of declaring the CS major came for Ram in the second semester, and it wasn’t really about academic performance but about what was happening inside his mind.
…Midway through the second semester of my freshman year, I started getting really worried about declaring, and it kind of put me in this crisis mode and even with all of these resources available, I was really worried, not honestly that I was doing poorly in the classes, but the “what if?” The “what if?” lingering in my mind, “what if I don’t declare?” Everything I was doing was set towards being a CS major, if I wasn’t able to do that then I was kind of at square one, and I basically lost a year of my life, though I still had those skills but it’s kind of not the same… Like a full year, nothing counts toward your major. And so that “What if?” question kept pinging around in my mind.
Ram finally overcame that question by thinking 10 or 20 steps ahead in terms of success, rather than the 10 or 20 steps ahead in terms of failure that he had been focusing on. He says that the shift in mindset helped. He says, “In the end if I did everything I could and I couldn’t make it, that was something I was more willing to accept than worrying about it and going through it worried.”
In the end, Ram did really well in CS 61B and CS 70 and was able to declare the CS major. He certainly still feels the difficulty of Berkeley coursework, but he’s developed an appreciation for the way it is shaping his character and his memories. Ask Ram for his best memory of Berkeley and he pulls up a memory of a surprise party for a friend in the dorms; a surprise that was no surprise, because they’d hidden for so many friends’ birthdays, but somehow it still worked, with four people in the closets and some more under the beds. Ram appreciates the mix of the people and the work:
Sometimes you might struggle a lot for a class, but at the end of the day it brings out the best in you that you’ve worked your hardest, and you’ve done everything that you could to do well. Pushing me to do things that I never thought I could, to meet people that I never thought I’d meet. And so, I love Berkeley for that.