Zainab Fahim
December 2021

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December 2021

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College Contemplations

College Contemplations

Share your university experience

Zainab Fahim's photo
Zainab Fahim
ยทAug 17, 2022ยท

8 min read

Table of contents

  • 1. Wellness ๐Ÿ‹๏ธ
  • 2. Experimenting โš—๏ธ
  • 3. Class ain't career ๐Ÿ‘
  • 4. Have a higher goal. ๐Ÿฅ…
  • 5. Learn in public ๐Ÿ’ฏ

"Is there anything else you'd like to know?" She asked me at the end of the interview over the phone.

"If you don't mind me asking, do you think that I will be able to make through?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean on the basis of me following the arts stream for ALs, and not having chosen maths or science as my stream, would that effect my performance?"

"I don't think that will be a problem, you'll be fine."

That was the last affirmation I needed. I've heard from others as well, but could a girl from the Arts stream actually survive at a computer science undergraduate program?

TL;DR - I did survive. I learnt, I grew, and I excelled in many ways more than others. I've made it through my first year only, but I look forward at awe to the lengths this girl shall reach, for she no longer waits for affirmations, she simply affirms it.

Here are some five philosophies that I owe to for my progress.

1. Wellness ๐Ÿ‹๏ธ

Initially I was overjoyed that I didn't have to take the bus to and from campus everyday. But by the end of the first semester, it really got to me. Students didn't even attend the lectures, I've not seen most of my colleagues in person, there wasn't any sort of friendship or incentive to study.

That was when I decided that I needed to make few changes. I made it a point to step outside frequently and be around some greenery, I also started to workout and try keep it consistent, spend some time with my family, be part of some outdoor sport activity, and try to be healthy and take care of my wellbeing.

Though these activities were not necessarily 'studies-realted' it made me more effective and efficient in my work. Of course with the economic crisis in Sri Lanka, and the negativity we are drowned in, it was all the more important to try and build a healthy fulfilling lifestyle and as much as possible positive vibe.

2. Experimenting โš—๏ธ

Initially I thought the only way I can survive is to choose the easiest, and least math related field in the tech industry (due to feeling like an imposter in the field because I hadn't majored in math).

But what's the harm in trying? So I tried solving some DSA questions, built my very own portfolio website, wrote a few blogs, contributed to small open source projects, documented my journey on Twitter, gave a go in contributing to a major open source project (which I wasn't successful at), tried for GSoC (not successful, maybe next year), joined the MLH community and participated in a few Hackathons, built a full stack application, learned new tech stacks on the go, became an MLH Top 50, applied to MLH fellowship program (rejected the first time), applied to GitHub Campus Expert program (not accepted), networked with a few major individuals in recognized companies, and learned a whole lot of tech stacks.

Do I have a specific company I want to work at? Tech position? Field that I'm certain of to pursue ? No, and I'm glad I don't! Everyday I learn something new. I discover things that excite me and things I'm convinced that I don't wanna be a part of.

I listen to stories, I read stories, I see stories, so that I can enrich my story. Meet people, join communities, build projects, learn new things, be excited, create an obsession, fall and rise up, be lost and find your way, test your limits. There is nothing else I'd rather do in my first year.

Learn something new, grow in your knowledge from that of yesterday, and if you do so, then my friend- you are progressing, and remember there is nothing fun about a stagnant pool of water, the thrill is in the fall and the elevations. Keep moving.

3. Class ain't career ๐Ÿ‘

One of the best decision I've made is to not focus on my grades. I must admit, that initially the only reason I made it a point to learn aside from the syllabus was because I believed I need to work extra hard to make up for the fact that I hadn't done maths for my ALs.

Soon I realized that college education is just a structure, what sells is the architecture. While I agree there is an academic component to college education, one needs to realise that academics isn't the only path, and in most case it's the practical application that is necessary.

The thing about assignments and exams is that it is flimsy. The aspect of luck is highly involved in exams, how many times than not does a page you skipped or concept you overlooked decides to make an appearance in one of the MCQ, or the fact that you misread a question, or the fact that there were some external factors that made you loose your concentration at the exams, the list goes on.

While I do realize that taking part in Hackathons, internship programs, and other activities I recommended earlier also have an aspect of luck involved, what distinguishes the two is the number of chances you have. Worst case scenario you don't win a Hackathon, you could always apply to the next Hackathon the next week, you could write a blog or make a video on what you learned and how you could have done things differently, and the lessons you learnt through the experience (technical and otherwise) is a progression and an addition to apply to another opportunity. While on the case of an exam, you mess that one chance, you loose it all, the risk involved is higher, the concepts you learn dies with the exam, you loose your credibility.

My point is that while exams are important to determine your skill level, it shouldn't be the only way to determine. That is why taking part in open source projects, Hackathons, internships, and other opportunities is vital for your growth in both technical and personal aspects.

4. Have a higher goal. ๐Ÿฅ…

Coming from my last point about the fragility associated with mere academic assessments, is the importance to always aim higher.

Take for example a kid on his way to Disney land. Where on the way he sees this little unicorn, and asks his dad to buy one, the dad refuses and instead reminds him of the many toys he can get in Disney land itself. Will the kid be very upset about not getting the little unicorn? At worst case scenario, he will be a little grumpy, but as soon as he sees the great doorway to Disneyland, he will forget about the unicorn. Why? Because Disneyland is way cooler than the little unicorn, and he can get toys better than the one he saw earlier.

You see my point? Don't settle for the unicorn when you know that a whole world of Disneyland awaits you. Shift your focus from mid semester 60 minute MCQ, to build a real world application as a team competing on national levels. If you didn't have the Disneyland, then not getting the unicorn will upset you.

So don't deprive or set the bar so low as to a little unicorn. Focus on the bigger prize, and along the way you will land yourself many many unicorns in different colours and sizes, aim higher.

5. Learn in public ๐Ÿ’ฏ

This is a great way to end the blog, because learning in public has been the foremost reason in my progression. Tech is a global phenomenon, just as career opportunities can be claimed on an international basis, so does skill. Ultimately it amounts to a global competition of upskilling yourself in relation to the entire world. While this may seem daunting at face value, one must also look at the complete picture.

With a pool of international candidates, the learning opportunities, resources, and ways to upscale yourself is as broad and wide as the world web. There are numerous, ample, extensive, comprehensive, abundant resources out there. With a generous lot of free resources as well.

Truly the limitless resources and possibilities are incomprehensible, and yes, at time daunting and may result in a sense of desolation. That is exactly why learning in public is important.

Be it overwhelmed with content, or indecisiveness in choosing the right one, or fear in getting started, or feeling lonely in your journey, learning in public is the answer. I wish I could list all the different negative feelings and concerns you shall face while embarking on this long, wide and exciting journey, and maybe give you precise ways on how learning in public solves them, but I can't.

Everyone's journey is different, the roadblocks, the joys, the highs and lows are all different, but not in solitary. That is the beauty of learning in public.

Learning in public is more than joining communities and Twitter and Discord channels. It also means exploring your own pathway, making your own version of mistakes, yes reading about others' journey, but also paving your own path, giving back to the community that saw you grow, trusting the process and most of all being kind, to others and to yourself.

If there is a single takeaway point from all these strings of contemplation, it would be to join a community, any community, just join in. As for what to do next, take every new thing you learn as a new doorway of exploration, embark and enjoy.

My college education is a structure. Pillars built of basic CS concepts and principles, founded perhaps on computational mathematics, and barely cemented by assignments. The location, the view, the vibe, the abstract style, the modern feel, the pool, the terrace, the part that stands out is, all the other, out of class, extra work put in.

Happy Coding :) PS:

console.log ("We are in it together");
continue;
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