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Computer science course fills seats, needs at Harvard

Students fill Sanders Theatre at Harvard for the popular introductory computer science class, CS50.
Students fill Sanders Theatre at Harvard for the popular introductory computer science class, CS50.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

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Trevor Brandt-Sarif had no interest in computer science when he arrived at Harvard. Philosophy was his thing. Coding? That was for students at MIT.

Then he heard about David Malan. Part performer, part professor, Malan has done what many would have thought implausible just a few years ago at Harvard. He has taken a computer science course and turned it into the university’s number-two most popular class, about 60 students away from knocking out Introduction to Economics from its top spot.

But Malan's class is not only popular. The course, known as CS50, has become a brand at Harvard. It has merchandise. Students sometimes wear CS50 T-shirts to class. Lectures are full-blown multimedia productions. He has a staff of 112 teaching assistants. Office hours are so crowded that it looks like students are running a tech start-up instead of studying.

“He’s created this culture out of CS50 where it’s very much the thing to do,” said Brandt-Sarif, 21, who took the class last year as a freshman.

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