Sep 23, 2010
On Being a n00b at MIT
Posted in: Academics & Research
You may have heard people say, “I’m not _______ enough to go to MIT.” You may have even uttered a version of it yourself. For me – in high school – I was definitely of the “I’m not technology-oriented enough to go to MIT” mind-set. And last time I checked, this was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, not the Massachusetts Institute of Totally-Fun-Times (although I’m working on getting that changed).
Let me preface this story even more by saying that there are many ways in which I am a “typical MIT student” (if such a thing even exists!) – for starters, check out the shirt I’m wearing today:
(After taking 8.02 last year, I FINALLY understand what it all means!)
But in many ways, I’m really not your “typical MIT student” (if such a thing even exists!) (actually, can I just shorten this phrase to NYTMITSISATEE?), because, well, I’m a n00b.* As in, I-can’t-solve-a-Rubik’s-cube n00b. As in, I’m-bad-at-arithmetic n00b. As in, the-only-computer-games-I’ve-played-are-Frogger-and-Oregon-Trail n00b. As in, the-only-programming-experience-I-have-is-using-the-“Store”-function-on-my-TI-83 n00b.
I have my special little place at MIT and I’m definitely not the only computer n00b here, but as a course 20 (biological engineering for those who just tuned in) kid, I have to take this *one certain class* to fulfill my major requirement… 6.00, or Introduction to Computer Science and Programming. That’s right, folks, in addition to English and Latin, I’m adding a third language to my database this semester (and by database, I mean my brain) – PYTHON. As you can probably imagine, I was terrified of starting this class.
Turns out, this is shaping up to be my favorite class of the semester. Why?
1. I have an awesome professor. And by awesome, I don’t mean just “Oh, he’s so funny” or “Oh, he’s so adorable” (although, Professor Guttag – if you’re reading this, I DO think you are funny and adorable! Don’t be too creeped out if I try to hug you at the end of the semester). This guy’s lectures are stream-lined, organized and engaging. Check out the Open Course Ware site for the class. He has designed this class to teach n00bs like me how to program.**
2. Turns out programming is a lot like cooking, which I am a fan of. Writing good code is very much like writing a good recipe: you have to list your ingredients (defining input and state variables) and write directions that are sequentially executed (write your commands). Sometimes you get directions like “Add flour until the mixture cannot hold anymore” (iterations) and sometimes you get little pictures throughout your recipe to check to make sure you’re doing the right thing (using print commands to debug). And at the end of the day, you can have your code and eat it, too. (Wait, that came out wrong…but I thought the cake was a lie…?)
3. There is nothing more satisfying (besides maybe a scoop of Toscanini's ice cream) than to run code and have it work. These p-sets get downright mean from what I’ve heard, but if/when they work, it is SO freaking gratifying.
4. I’m taking the class with this guy:
(I call this one, "Proof That The Admissions Staff Is Creeped Out By Me.") Look familiar? It’s Chris Peterson! He’s auditing 6.00, but I think we all know that he just signed up for it so he could watch me draw things during class:
In short, don’t be scared away by what MIT/MIT students appear to be. It’s nice here. Most of the time.
* (Internet slang, pejorative) A beginner, someone lacking skill, or someone who uses beginner tactics.
* Okay, in about a week, I forsee myself calling this class heartless and cold, throwing inexperienced students like me to fend for themselves in the scary world of the Python shell. But so far, I love this class.