I believe one of the most important qualities to succeed as a software engineer is to be passionate about creating software. Independent learning could help you gauge your passion.
In your free time, if you work to create software, and you enjoy it, you will be in a good position not only to succeed in the industry, but more importantly, to be happy with your career.
Alternatively, you may discover that you don't want a full time career developing software, but there are still alternatives in the industry you can pursue.
I majored in computer science, but by my senior year, I realized I wasn't passionate about software development. Thanks to some of my classes, I realized I was interested in software quality assurance. This allowed me to think about different aspects of software development than being the primary developer of the software. After several years in the industry, I became interested in product management, which again, allowed me to think of different aspects of software development. I have enjoyed both of these positions.
From my experience, the stand-out engineers who show their passion with software development are ones who want to expand their knowledge. They want to learn about new technology or design principles as they emerge.
There are many online tutorials for different languages. Try some out, possibly with a friend! Software development can be quite fun, and you can make cool things, so I hope you have fun playing around!
After working in the computer science industry for many years, I think independent/outside learning is more important than ever. Today the industry includes so many different professions that colleges and universities are specializing in only one or two.
I graduated from Syracuse University and now they are specializing in big data and there is a new degree for the profession--Data Science. My major is in Management Information Science that taught me Computer Science, Accounting, Finance, Business Law, Transportation, and Business Management. So, I learned how computer science is used in many industries.
After graduating and working in industry, I learned many many different computer languages and mastered a few. Also, I taught myself Unix and Linux and still have three different Linux computers at home. Currently I am learning python (I mastered in Perl) and Natural Language Processing.
Now the Internet is the greatest source of new and exciting information about an industry that will continue to grow and grow. There are so many free or very cheap tutorials on anything computer. Also there are Technical Meetup groups where you will be able to learn from many different people working in the computer industry. There are over 10 computer Meetup groups within 10 miles of your home.
Leon recommends the following next steps:
It is quintessential to keep learning independently. The college degree will no doubts train you to be a professional. However, internet is huge today! I'd definitely recommend to look for your knowledge expansion outside of the classroom.
I truly believe one can excel in their knowledge domain by looking at nice text books, videos, etc. online. Personally, I like to watch videos on free platforms like youtube, Udemy etc to hone the Computer Science skills. It is so much fun.
Mohit recommends the following next steps:
Outside learning is always important in any field. In computer science it is very easy to do outside learning, as all you need is a computer. A lot of development software is freely available (open source). You can just download software that interests you and start playing with them - also a lot of free courses online including universities - for example I have right now downloaded the web development program from University of Washington - lecture slides, homework etc and am teaching myself web development.
Independent/outside learning is extremely important for any major, including Computer Science. CS evolves so much faster than any curriculum can keep up with.
The basics and algorithms will be the same throughout the years, but new ideas and technology will keep coming.
It is important to show potential employers that you are able to learn anything new quickly.
There are a lot of classes on Udemy that are not very expensive and you can get your introductions to lots of new technologies fairly easily. Just don't overwhelm yourself, learn to relax and have fun, too!