Reflection on Fall 2018

Wow this semester really went by in an instant. From hard programming courses to club responsibilities to interviewing to traveling, this semester was by far the busiest yet and as a result, my entire experience revolved around the theme of "balance." And now, as I finally have time to spare, I just wanted to sit down and gather my thoughts about all of it.


Academics/Professional

This semester, I ended up taking a systems class, another programming class, and two gen-eds, which turned out to provide great balance with the rest of my schedule. Given that assignments for both my programming classes were due on the same day, I oftentimes found myself stressing and scrambling in the last few days before they were due. These classes, however, actually reaffirmed my decision to pursue software and reinforced my love for low-level systems, which is also reflected in my internship choice. In general, I wish I was able to put more time into these classes, especially towards the later half when the projects were significantly more interesting.

I was also met with my first real recruitment season this semester. I actually started applying and interviewing in July, but it never really picked up until On-Campus Recruiting in September. Fall career fair was a surprisingly educational experience; my preconceptions of career fairs being relatively pointless and hosting companies that just tell students to apply online were completely shattered. My biggest takeaway was how much emphasis is put on personality and behavioral and how much personability can contribute to success at career fairs and in interviews. Of course, every company will value different aspects more, but I straight up had several companies tell me during an interview that they consider behavioral just as much if not more than technical. Interviews also gave me an opportunity to lose my pigeonholed New York attitude; visiting these cities made me become more open to the idea of exploring something new, at least for a summer. I was fortunate enough to get five offers: Capital One, Morgan Stanley, Old Mission Capital, TransMarket Group, and Amazon. Now this was the first (relatively) significant decision of my life and no offer was standout over the others. Taking weeks to consider and analyze all the pros and cons, consult the advice of older people, and flip-flop back and forth, I actually felt bad talking to people about it when I thought that I was basically just complaining about having too many job offers. But during this time, I ultimately had to decide on my own values and what I considered important in the situation. Did I value salary the most? Location? Work/tech stack? The standout quality that found its way to the front of my mind ended up being culture. I valued laughing with my interviewers. I valued the vibe I got when I walked through the office. With that, I signed my offer with TransMarket Group right after Thanksgiving. Now this is just for a summer; I fully expect my values to evolve over the next few years. Maybe being in New York or having a higher full-time salary will matter more to me in the future. But learning to discern the utility of each aspect of each possible decision to be able to come to a refined and educated conclusion was an invaluable experience that I expect to apply to future problems, especially those with a larger scope than a summer internship.

One thing that I noticed was my dwindling of motivation. The first half of the semester was rocky; multiple weeks would just present me with a mountain of responsibilities and as soon as I was done, more and more would make its way onto my plate. Now this isn't exactly uncommon at Carnegie Mellon and there are definitely other students with much worse experiences, but it's also kind of funny how this is the kind of environment that students will sometimes relate to each other over. But after I secured a job and after Thanksgiving break, it became harder to find a reason to strive for 100 on every assignment and to study 20 hours for a test, and I found myself regressing to my high school self that would just aim for the highest reward/work ratio, which almost always meant low work; my main focus this semester revolved around finding a job that I would be happy with and school work just seemed to be a means to that end. Being able to separate that goal and find other motivations (or even to be able to do work without motivation) is something that I certainly plan on working on in the future.

Social

A big part of this semester was joining Club Tennis. Tennis has always been my way of relieving stress (of which there is a lot of here) and I initially joined just to improve my standard of hitting. But it also ended up becoming a greater social circle than I imagined. Getting Chipotle after practices. Driving 6 hours in a cramped 12-person van. Finding a house together. The amount of fun moments I've shared with the team since joining was absolutely a highlight. Furthermore, I saw significant deepening in a handful of my relationships, through both further developing existing friendships and cultivating a few new ones alike. I think being more limited on time leant itself to this by forcing me to spend free time more productively; hangouts were never pointless, conversations were always fruitful, and I found myself more satisfied with the spent time (especially with those deep late night/early morning convos).

But on the other end, I wasn't able to spend as much time with a lot of people, especially people from ASA and from church, as I would've liked. Whether it was due to me having to get work done by myself or constantly traveling every other weekend or any other factor, I found it more difficult to sit down during the day after class and just have a meal with people or even just talk outside of classes, and it definitely contributed to an ongoing debate in mind about the merits of having many "friends" versus having only a handful of actual close friends. I feet like I deviated more towards the latter in the past few months, though. But it's actually been something that's been on my mind since freshman year, and as time goes on, I'm slowly becoming slighty more convicted about how I feel.

You know, I talked a lot about this whole concept of "balance" and sacrificing on this end a lot during the semester, but I never really understood or even considered what that meant. Looking back, it really wasn't as bad as it felt during the time. Of course, I didn't spend as much time with a lot of people as I would've liked. But if anything, the time restriction fostered spending the time I did have productively. I'm still not 100% certain of how I feel about everything socially this semester and perhaps I just imagined the difficulties of having limited time to be such a burden that I never actually pictured many positive social outcomes, but my expectations were certainly exceeded in ways I did not initially expect.

Personal

The biggest area of my life that saw sacrifice actually ended up being my spiritual life. Coming out of the summer and into the start of the semester, I was convicted to pursue this avenue further and for the most part, I tried my best; I went every Friday/Sunday I was on campus for most of the semester. But when you're traveling several weekends straight for interviews, visiting friends/family, or just for breaks, it becomes significantly harder to get into a rhythm, which can inadvertently make it more difficult to go when you actually have time. I can attest to that sentiment first-hand. Of course, in a perfect world, I shouldn't feel stagnant just because I can't go to church, but I don't yet consider myself spiritually mature enough to achieve what I want to by myself, which also brings me to another idea. What I've noticed is that the social circles for most religious people revolve around their churches. That is clearly not the case for me and I found myself resonating greatly with people in the same boat as me: religious but not necessarily in a main church social circle. Spending time with people like that was definitely more helpful in keeping me rooted, especially when I couldn't/didn't go to church. This also helped develop my emotional maturity. Spending time with others that I considered to be mature gave me more perspective on understanding myself more and being more intentional about my actions, which is always what I strive to be able to do.


Final Thoughts

A conversation I had with a friend in the middle of the whole busy period sparked a question: "Was prioritizing my career worth it?" Honestly, I don't know yet; I don't want to immediately say it was worth only to justify my own decisions. Understanding my feelings and emotions more has always been a personal objective of mine and this semester resulted in much growth in that area with respect to individual relationships, but the other avenue dealing with friendships and relationships as a whole is still unclear in my mind. What I will say is that I am overjoyed with how some of my relationships developed and excited to see how they further in the future. But am I okay with how static the rest of my friendships became? How much do I care about spiritual stagnation and how will it impact me in the future? This semester was far from perfect, but I am excited to see where next semester takes me in terms of growth and understanding myself more in these areas.