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color cycle (slow)

Kistaro Windrider, Reptillian Situation Assessor

Unfortunately, I Really Am That Nerdy

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Ambition and uncertainty
color cycle (slow)
When I went in to Washington University, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was absolutely certain that I'd be a computer science major, and come out of my four or six years and go get hired by a video game company. It seemed perfect for me: I played enough of them, and I had enough ideas for them, and maybe I could develop the programming talent for them, so it was what I should do. I was absolutely certain.

Isn't it funny, how the more absolute the certainty, the more fleeting it is? The more sure you are, the less time it is before something changes it?

I'm still certain about being a CS major. It has been wonderful for me: programming is fun, and I've been enjoying my CS classes. I've had trouble with course selection because I can only take a finite number of courses in one semester; it's all so very interesting, I don't want to decide!

And most critically, I'm learning it. And I'm discovering that yes, I seem to have some innate skill for it, it comes naturally to me. I am learning it quickly, learning it well, learning it easily, and leanring it to play with it: the better I understand it, the more fun I can have with the challenges set for me to use programming ability- most commonly my Computer Science labs, but I'm going to start a short-term programming project at the end of the semester (goal: have it done before summer semester). I am discovering that I can do this, and I like doing this.

And what seemed so impossible, so far beyond my comprehension, is right here. What seemed impossibly complex is clear. This terribly complex application- I see how it could be built, from simple utility functions, woven into more complex next-level functions that don't have to worry about the "innards" of what the other function is doing, and then the next level of abstraction, and on up until you realize you've finished the program and it never got particularly complex, because the complexity was spread out. And I begin to understand, I realize that I can do this and so much more...

So much more. I will leave the video games to the other programmers, because there is so much more I can do. There is the knowledge, the skill, and the opportunity- and I am gaining the first, gaining the second, and the third is here, on this campus. I will have the opportunity to do things far more important in the world than video-game programming, and I intend to take it. Call me egotistical, but can't I do better than creating entertainment? There's certainly nothing wrong with doing it, but I can do more. I have the power to create things that will change the world. It is here.

And it is not an etheric future, a fleeting thought. It is immediate, for "one semester away" definitions of immediate. These things that I dreamt of doing, of wanting to do, and then putting away knowing that there would be so many more skilled than I- they are here. They are waiting. And if one opportunity passes, two, three as I study- there will be more, but I can't just bide my time- I have to know what I want, and take it.

New goal: Be on Project Aria by the end of my sophomore year, preferably by the end of the next fall semester, as I will have completed every prerequisite needed to assist in the creation of the Akoya Research Satellite at that time. OR: Be on the Open NetLab project, in the same time period. This one involves creating a suite of tools to simulate weird situations and normal operating conditions to test a new variety of network router invented at Washington University. OR: Whatever other research opens and strikes my fancy...

Because at the end of next fall semester, I will have completed Advanced Algorithms, and Object-Oriented Software Development Laboratory- and those fulfill the prerequisites for almost every project on the list. And then I'll have the chance to do what I always wished to be able to do- programming that actually matters- and I intend to take the opportunity.

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Congratulations. You've discovered what education is really about. Not just learning some specific things so you can get a specific job, but learning a lot of related things so that you can remain interested all your life, continue to learn, and make valuable contributions to society.

Your teachers will be proud. One important bit of advice: in all college programs, there are some required courses and subjects that seem to be outside your specific field of study. Usually some writing, language or literature and some social science and math for a program like yours, I would think. Don't neglect those. They will give you the balance and perspective you need in order to be a really effective person.


If you want to do something more "important" and world-changing than video games, I might recommend looking into some other sciences for possible minors or double-majors while your college career is still young.

From what I've found, most "real-world" programming jobs that don't require some scientific training are for IT applications such as finances, personnel management, or databasing. Oh, or games. If your objection to games is that you want to do something "important" I imagine you're setting your sights higher than simply writing UberSoft's human resources intranet payroll server, as well.

If you get a grounding in physics, chemistry, or some other science, you might be able to get into scientific programming -- phenomena modeling, engineering toolsets, NASA interplanetary rover AI, etc. If you want to make a difference science is certainly a good way to go.

(YMMV. Consult a teacher or academic counselor about post-college life to get a better idea of your options.)

Actually, I'm already taking Physics; the Physics two-semester course I'm just finishing goes from kinematics to relativity, hitting everything along the way at an unpleasantly fast pace. (The first paragraph of the introduction said the book should be taught over at least three semesters because it was too much material for one year. The book is almost done, and we'll have gone through all 47 chapters by the end of the semester.)

I intend to take an introductory Electrical Engineering course in two semesters (no space for it next semester, and I have to have Calc III first). I'm not going to take Chemistry; I've already shown incompetence with it at the high school level, and Chemistry is the second most difficult course at Washington University. (The most difficult is Organic Chemistry.) I've got an aversion to four-hour labs and lectures so huge that about 1/4 of the class has to stand in the aisle because there are no seats left in the largest lecture hall on campus, seating 300.

Going into the fields of AI/Vision are the areas of pure CS that have the most impact; development in that area is the fastest. If you take a class in either, you promptly find yourself studying the research of the professor. And I intend to take it, because the computer vision problem- making a machine do something particularly useful with video input- interests me, and it has a huge number of applications.

But yes, I still don't know...

Like you, I too knew exactly what I wanted to do when I entered college (CS). And, yes, it is strange how we change over these years we have at college. It's also strange how we stay the same. I also want to do something more important than 'just programming', although I am not sure if that is science related or something else. I know exactly what you mean about having a natural ability to learn the subjects. It comes easily to me as well.

Of course, most people get into game programming because it's fun. Because it makes them happy. A lot of the programmers are extremely skilled as well. For me, it comes down to just being happy. I don't want to be a game programmer either really. I just want to do something I enjoy. Whether that is a game programmer, working on research projects, or even doing business programming, it doesn't matter, so long as I am happy with my job. I tend to think there is a lot more I want to do to be happy other than just my job. I guess it just seems like I have too many passions and I can't thoroughly explore them all.

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