Jun 20, 2014
The Random Hall ‘13s
The 2014s just graduated, but right now I want to take you back a year. This blog post is about and largely by last year’s Random Hall 2013 graduates, who had their commencement under a Boston rain that was persistent into the summer and the following fall. It was bizarre a year ago, and it was bizarre again this past summer, to see some of my best friends walk down Killian Court and out of my day-to-day life. All of them changed my life in a good way and I’m excited to see the changes they make in the real world. Unfortunately the commencement video was determined to not be embedded into this blog post, but you can click here to watch it in its natural environment. In particular, there are two very different speeches that I think you should see. They both tell important stories, about MIT and about planning our futures.
The first is DropBox CEO Drew Houston ‘05’s commencement speech, at 2:45:42, transcribed by the MIT News Office here. It is about risk, innovation, and life plans:
I read something online that said, “There are 30,000 days in your life”....That night, I realized there are no warm-ups, no practice rounds, no reset buttons. Every day we’re writing a few more words of a story. And when you die, it’s not like, “Here lies Drew; he came in 174th place.” So from then on, I stopped trying to make my life perfect, and instead tried to make it interesting. I wanted my story to be an adventure—and that’s made all the difference.
The second is President Reif’s charge to the graduates, at 3:11:50, transcribed by the MIT News Office here. President Reif’s charge to the graduates is one of the most inspiring speeches I’ve watched, and I am honored that my blog post got mentioned. The speech is about MIT culture and it is about human compassion:
I also want the family of MIT to be famous for how we treat people: famous for sympathy, humility, decency, respect and kindness....As you go out into society, I want you to change the source code. Rewire the circuits. Rearrange the molecules. Reformulate the equation. In short, I want you to hack the world, until you make the world a little more like MIT: more daring and more passionate; more rigorous, inventive, and ambitious; more humble, more respectful, more generous, and more kind.
The diplomas start at 3:23:45. See if you can catch my Random Hall friends (below), the graduated bloggers, or Chris P. SM ‘13 getting his Master’s in Comparative Media Studies.
A few weeks after graduation and over the following year (which hopefully isn't terribly confusing), I asked the Random Hall ‘13s what they are tentatively up to for the next five years, what they are excited for, and if they have any advice for prospective students. Here are their responses:
Melissa H. ‘13, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (course 6-2)
When I graduated, there were so many emotions. Triumph, relief, excitement—and nerves. I decided to postpone my job search until after I was done with classes, which left me in an uncertain state for the future.
Out of the sky dropped a summer position. Back in 2011, I had UROP’d with the MIT Space Systems Laboratory working on the Zero Robotics program. This program teaches middle- and high-school students how to program fake robots in a simulator…with the final competition being run on real robots floating around in the International Space Station. I was a coder as well as a mentor for a middle school team, and I loved the entire summer. When they offered me another chance to get involved in the program, I jumped on board.
So for summer 2013, I served as a National Expansion Coordinator. The middle school program had just gone national for the first time, which meant a lot of new logistics to sort out. I got to see space robots and have dinner with an astronaut. It was a good summer. But, unfortunately, the position is not year-round—I needed to find another job.
That’s when a friend pointed me to a job at Akamai Technologies, Inc. It was perfect. It involved both coding and project management (from my Zero Robotics experience alone, you might imagine that I like both of these :)) on something with real-world impact. As it turned out, it also involved a fantastic team. I was lucky enough to get the position, and have been now working there for eight months. They’re sending me to the Grace Hopper Celebration in October, which I’m incredibly excited for—and I’m giving a talk on plane crashes to one of our internal forums, which I’m nervously excited for! I can imagine being here for a good long time. :)
I was a bit burnt out when I finished MIT (understatement of the year), so I decided to cure that with travel. I took my boyfriend (Nathan A. ‘13) to Los Angeles to visit family for a second time, visited a friend in Milwaukee (and drove to the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh), went to the IEEE Aerospace Conference in Montana (and presented a paper I was co-author on!), took a train to Philadelphia, took a plane to Chicago, and visited family in Baltimore. I did a lot of hiking, from Joshua Tree National Park to the Kettle Moraine State Forest to the Green Mountain National Forest. Between family, my boyfriend, my friends, and some solo trips, it was a fantastic way to decompress.
Hopping all around the country turned out to be a super effective burnout recovery method. A year after I practically swore off academia, I enrolled in a Harvard class. Harvard has this awesome thing called the Extension School—anyone can take classes there, and if you do well enough in their classes you’re basically guaranteed admission into a program that grants a Harvard University diploma. It’s built to be part time, it’s right up the street (I tend to do better in physical world classes over online classes), and I hear that this liberal arts school has a reasonably challenging curriculum. ;) I’ve been toying around with earning my master’s there—we’ll see. :)
That’s about it for my plans. Do as much as I can and learn as much as I can at Akamai, perhaps pursue a master’s concurrently. I have a pet project in aero/astro (based on my senior project) to work on, and some general fitness goals to attend to. And, well, enjoy life. It’s so much less stressful after MIT. :) So, advice time.
To prefrosh: MIT, or wherever else you’ll likely end up, is bursting with opportunities—some of which you can’t even imagine right now. Give yourself the freedom to do things you never expected to do. This includes making sure that you don’t overcommit and don’t let yourself get scared away; too many times I’ve seen people get stuck in what they think is safe (it might not be as safe as you think). Explore this place, figuratively and literally, in every way that calls to you. To new graduates: Congratulations. And if you’re in a spot like I was—no job and full of uncertainty—give it time. Tell your friends what sort of job you’re looking for. Go easy on yourself (read Desiderata like once a week). MIT is a fantastic place, but you don’t have to deal with that level of stress anymore. It’s time to see what opportunities the world will hold for you—and as confusing as that sometimes will be, you can find it. :)
Nathan A. ‘13, Computer Science and Engineering (course 6-3)
I’m currently finishing my MEng at [MIT-]Lincoln Laboratory, where I started as a summer intern about a year ago, just after graduating. They apparently liked my work and offered me a thesis...and I had rolled a natural one for initiative the previous semester, so I really needed a project. Worked out great!
For the five-year plan, a few months ago I finally convinced myself to not [yet] go for a PhD. I’ve always been hesitant about research, but for a while I had some kind of bizarre voice in my mind telling me that a PhD would be the most fun thing, because I love both learning and stress. I like to blame MIT for making me a masochist, but the reality of the matter is, when I was in high school, MIT sounded like the most fun thing for the same reasons. And I was right! It was the most fun thing! Because I still love both learning and stress. But the past year of thesis at Lincoln, while fun, has convinced me that research is indeed not for me in the long-term, even ignoring the obvious problems with politics in academia (which are thankfully not present at Lincoln, being an MIT research laboratory outside the influence of systems like tenure).
My job hunt happened in the first quarter of 2014. After a rejection and a few offers, I decided that I’ll [also] be working at Akamai Technologies this coming fall, in the Mapping group. It’s not a startup-culture job where you’re expected to jump around within six months to a year; there’s a huge existing code base that needs maintenance and careful extensions. It takes six months to even get acclimated to a company like that, so I don’t see myself leaving any time soon: my five-year plan is to stay in Cambridge with my girlfriend, Melissa H. ‘13 (yes, the one right above me)! We’ve been officially living together for a year already and are apartment hunting. Of course, it may very well be within five years that we start looking to buy a house! She hates congested cities and enjoys driving, and the houses out in Salem are quite reasonably-priced for the area....
I’m much less outgoing than Melissa, and am satisfied to do the interesting projects presented in my workplace while being wholly occupied with video games and manga outside of that (of course, she still forces me to be a bit more well-rounded...).
Hmm...advice.... I’ve been told that I have a fairly unusual psyche, and I think that makes the advice I’d give myself from 5 years ago very different from advice that is appropriate for most MIT students. However, there is one sentiment that continues to be important for myself and many others I know: If you are coming to MIT, you have likely had vast opportunities to learn. You are similarly going to be surrounded by people who have had vast opportunities to learn. It is a great environment. It is easy to get used to. It’s important to remember throughout your time at MIT that most of the world hasn’t had such opportunities. If you forget...well...it becomes far too easy to become impatient with people; don’t. (I need to work on this, still.)
Wennie W. ‘13, Materials Science and Engineering (course 3)
I’ll be going to [starting fall 2013] grad school at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) in computational materials science for a PhD. I’ll mostly be working with simulations used to characterize and predict the structure and properties of new materials, most probably for electronic materials, and comparing computation with experimentation. I’ll be living in Goleta for the next five years or so, and hopefully be more motivated to exercise with such lovely weather everyday. My current overall plans are to go into academia since I like research and teaching; but who knows, I might decide to go to cooking school instead and open a restaurant.
I guess my advice for any incoming freshman or prefrosh would be to experience failure at least once, even when you’ve put in effort, because you often learn much more in failure than in success.
Alexandra W. ‘13, Chemical-Biological Engineering (course 10-B)
Next fall  I will be pursuing a PhD in chemical engineering at Cornell. The MIT UROP experience was important to me so I’m really excited to be doing research for the next 4+ years. I’ll probably be working in RNA synthetic biology.
I’m currently traveling in Europe with Emi (Emerald F. ‘13). We have been biking and taking the train. Just yesterday we took a ferry from Rome to Barcelona. Tomorrow we will start a ride from Barcelona to Andorra.
Advice to prefrosh: No matter what the upperclassmen say, take school seriously (even freshman year), it’s why you are here.
Sweet Tea D. ‘13, Chemistry (course 5)
I’m happily married, and Gina (Georgina D. ‘14) and I are expecting our first child, named Kale, this coming January. [Update: their beautiful daughter Kale has been born!] I have a job as a software engineer at Permabit, which provides data deduplication solutions for enterprises, and expect to become a stay-at-home dad within the next few years.
“Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know you neighbors and to die.
“And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute....”
—“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” by Wendell Berry
Do something that won’t compute every day. In it, you will find the true measure of life.
Kaichen M. ‘13, Computer Science and Engineering (course 6-3)
Given that I’m immediately coming back to MIT in the next year [2013-2014] for my MEng, I guess it’s kind of hard to say if I have a five-year plan yet.
Really, the only thing I’d advise prefrosh or frosh to do is find something they actually enjoy and are interested in, and learn everything about that thing. Because having the knowledge that you can do a thing, even a very specific thing like code a mean compiler, or something completely unrelated to MIT coursework like drawing or writing short stories or translating novels—that’s really helpful when you’re constantly urged to compare yourself against every other MIT student.
Catherine O. ‘12, MEng ‘13, Computer Science and Engineering (course 6-3) and Brain and Cognitive Sciences (course 9)
I spent all four years of undergrad at Random, living on BMF and Black Hole and double majoring in 6-3 (Computer Science) and 9 (Brain & Cognitive Science). During my M.Eng. I initially lived in an apartment in Cambridgeport, but after finding it both expensive and lonely I pledged a lovely co-op called pika (as mentioned these entries). I graduated with both degrees this spring. In September  I’ll be starting a five-year Ph.D. in neuroscience at NYU (specifically computational neuroscience, with a focus on vision) and living with a fellow Randomite in a tiny, weird apartment in Brooklyn. In the interim I’ve been riding trains across the country, going to art festivals and hacker conferences, being an experimental subject in brain scan studies for fun and profit, programming (my current project is a visual illusion to display in LEDs on a geodesic dome), reading neuroscience papers, making enormous quantities of food, and reading books that unravel the structure and chaos of the human experience. The next five years will contain a lot more of the same, though in different proportions and ideally with more scientifically-relevant output.
Whatever your college decision comes down to, think about whether each place gives you room to grow in the directions you want to grow. It’s easy to choose a place that feels comfortable now, but ask yourself—will I outgrow this place, or grow into it? All colleges boast of limitless opportunities, but those opportunities unfold in different directions to varying degrees of depth and richness. The question is what matters to you. Think about all the academic areas that fascinate you, even the ones you don’t think you’ll major in but which you can envision might play a role in your education. What sort of depth does this place offer in those academic areas? Think also about the social environment—student life is not the same at every college, or between subcultures within an institution. Are there communities here who will embrace all aspects of who you are, or will you need to tone down part of your personality or interests to fit in here? Do you admire these people? Are they the sort of people you’d like to be more like?
I was torn between MIT and a more comfortable-feeling alternative; choosing to go to MIT has made all the difference. I am perhaps a little more strange, but I am certainly more confident. I put more value on the importance of taking risks, being vulnerable, and making mistakes than I did before. I have more liberal ideas about relationships. I certainly never ran out of classes to take in the areas I love most; for virtually every facet of my many academic fascinations, there is a professor at MIT doing research in that specific sub-field, which would not have been true at other colleges on my list. At other places I may have concealed my love for academics to seem less nerdy, or dulled my outgoing energy to seem less bossy, but MIT has encouraged me to be as unabashedly academic and as energetic as I ever was. Within these walls it is safe to be in love with the universe and the mystery it holds. It hasn’t always been comfortable, but I have grown and changed enormously, and I have many great stories to tell.
Any of the options available to you will open up vast possibilities for you, though each choice will open up a different set of possibilities. In Finite and Infinite Games (a book which I just finished reading and highly recommend), James P. Carse writes, “If we cannot tell a story about what happened to us, nothing has happened to us.” What stories do you envision yourself telling about your time at each of the colleges you are considering? Which story would you like to tell?
Jayson L. ‘13, Physics (course 8) and Computer Science and Engineering (course 6-3)
I’ll be back at MIT in the fall  perusing a PhD in Theoretical Computer Science. I plan to work with Erik Demaine and I’ll be living in an apartment above Tosci’s with some Random and EC alums. I’m not feeling super excited about anything right now but will hopefully do some fun research, write some games, meet more awesome people, and travel interesting places. I’m around MIT this summer doing patent consulting for IPX and plan to do MISTI-India next summer.
Delong M. ‘13, Mathematics (course 18)
I’m doing a Ph.D. at Stanford Economics. I plan to work in academia afterwards.
John B. ‘13, Mathematics (course 18)
After graduating in December, I used the past semester [spring 2013] to work on a farm, meet new people, and spend some time traveling at home and abroad. I was also looking for a home for the next five years as I pursue my PhD in mathematics. I have settled on the University of Virginia and look forward to moving there, settling into a slower pace of life in Charlottesville, and getting back to work after my semester-long hiatus.
If one or two issues are especially important to you when choosing a school, try not to let them overwhelm your decision. Step back and look at the big picture. Have fun.
Alexandra S. ‘13, Materials Science and Engineering (course 3)
I am writing this story for Miss Lydia from my new apartment in Seattle. Friday will be my first day at Boeing, working as a Chemical and Contamination Engineer. I’m not 100% sure what I’ll be doing yet, but when I find out I don’t think I can talk about it anyway. (I’m transitioning to a life where I don’t talk about work. Weird.) It’s fun and exciting, but also ~3,300 miles from home, and ~2,800 miles from a fellow ‘13 grad who I’m particularly fond of. Sigh. Boeing has a lot of awesome projects for any engineer, especially since I get to break things (for SCIENCE. I hope. I don’t want to break things that weren’t supposed to be broken). I will be working for their R&D branch which supports the Commercial Aircraft and Military and Defense branches.
In the near future, I’m planning on doing some hard work and really earning the salary that Boeing has promised. I want to explore Seattle and make frequent trips to my friends back in the Boston area. Hopefully I’ll geographically reunite with a certain someone and make smaller, chubbier versions of ourselves. I hope he doesn’t kill me for this.
Short Advice: You’ve got a mind AND a body. Act like it. Go to sleep.
I got engaged to Chad B.! We are going to make smaller, chubbier versions of ourselves! After 5 months of working in Seattle, I got to transfer to Boeing’s Philadelphia site so now we live close to one another! And I get to make helicopters for a living. We’re super excited to be married in 8 months. It’s all hugs and happiness over here.
Allan M. ‘13, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (course 6-2)
Currently I am employed at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan (outside of Detroit). At present I am working on signal processing and voice recognition, and am part of a program that will rotate me between different engineering jobs every six months. I’m excited to help bring new technologies and features into our cars.
I would advise freshmen to make a solid group of friends that you can have fun with, support, and be supported by. A friendly face can make the difference between a good day and a terrible one. Your fellow MIT students are generally nice people, so don’t be afraid to risk introducing yourself.
Joshua O. ‘13, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (course 6-2)
I’ll be starting work in August  as a software engineer at Hudson River Trading, a financial firm in New York City. I recently acquired an apartment in Brooklyn (moving is exhausting!) and will be living within a mile of at least four people I know from MIT, which promises to be pretty darned awesome. When I’m not working, I’ll be flying (got my private pilot’s license in summer 2011), exploring New York, and generally adventuring. Becoming a Real PersonTM without the structure of college to rely on is an intimidating prospect and an exciting opportunity at the same time—just like every major life change, I think.
I think the best advice I can offer is twofold.
First, despite your shiny new status of legal adulthood, your lives-goals-desires-hopes-dreams are going to be in a lot of flux. Your college years will be transformative no matter what you do with them, and it’s worth putting some thought and effort into making them transformative in ways you want to be transformed. When you’re making choices that will impact your future—where you want to go to school, where you want to live when you get there, what to major in, what student groups and other communities to get involved in—the quality of fit with who you want to become matters much more than that with who you are now. In other words, you will grow into your choices, so it’s worth pushing your comfort zone a bit (or a lot!) when making them.
Second, go read 50 Things. Now. We’ll wait.
Andrew F. ‘13, Computer Science and Engineering (course 6-3)
Right now I’m working for MassChallenge, which is a meta-start-up—that is to say, it’s a start-up accelerator—down in Boston. We run a contest every year where founders from all over the world can apply, write up their business plan, and get feedback from volunteers from the business community. The good ones come in for in-person or Skype interviews and of those, we take 128 of the most high-impact teams and they spend the summer in our space and we hook them up with all kinds of resources and classes and connections. I’m writing software for the accelerator itself, helping match up teams with mentors and other resources so they can get their companies off the ground. It is actually kind of like working for a dating site. What is really cool is I get to meet all of these companies from all different industries—non-profits, tech companies, clean energy, you name it. I’ve got friends that have started companies in prior years that went through MassChallenge (Ksplice, Ministry of Supply) and they’ve talked about how helpful the experience was for them.
I’ve also been getting back into dancing. I started going back to contra dances at the start of the year. I took the contra dance class freshman year because I was filling out the phys ed lottery and for my last choice I picked contra dancing. I figured why not? Maybe I’ll learn some Central American politics. It turns out contra is actually from New England, but I really enjoyed it and I then completely forgot about it. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to become a more musical person, so I’ve been learning Irish folk songs and going to dances and I started reading about music theory. I just bought an accordion from a yard sale that I’m going to fix up and then play.
Advice to pre-frosh and incoming freshmen? Don’t stay in a relationship that is giving you more stress than comfort, even if you still love the other person. Even if breaking up causes both of you pain, It is not saying your lover is bad person but rather that you don’t want either of you living in an unhealthy relationship.
Sleep is important. Get sleep.
Buy a foam mattress pad. It makes the Institute mattresses a lot more comfortable.
Buy a steamer. You can make almost anything—soup, pasta, hardboiled eggs, rice. It is cheap, nutritious, and you don’t have to worry about burning down the kitchen when you get distracted reading reddit.
Stay off reddit.
There are going to be lots of amazing opportunities thrown at you. Get good at saying no.
Pick a few things and say yes to them. Half of your education will be outside of classes.
There are going to be a lot of people who want to help you and mentor you. Take advantage of this and build relationships with them.
Empathy and good communication habits are tremendously important for a scientist and engineer. Make a point to practice them.
Tiffany Z. ‘13, Biology (course 7)
Advice you (aka the frosh) probably won’t listen to but here have it anyways:
- Don’t be afraid to change your (life)plan. Whether it’s your major or your career, you’re young. You have time to make decisions and then change your mind if need be. Don’t stay stuck in something you don’t enjoy just because the thought of change is scary.
- Ask for help. It’s amazing how many resources are available for MIT students. Use them. You don’t have to shoulder all of your burdens yourself.
My post-mit life:
Currently : looking for a job. (But I don’t know what I want to do. So yes, problem.)
Fifteen-year plan: own a bakery/cafe in California.
What MIT gave me: a diverse environment surrounded by intelligent people with differing opinions and life experiences, time to explore outside interests not pertaining to my major (education policy! the civil war! museum exhibits!), lifelong friends.
Chad B. ‘13, Nuclear Science and Engineering (course 22)
I’m one of only nine graduates from the nuclear department at MIT, a subject matter which I like very much since it’s the intersection of mechanical engineering and physics. I’m working for Exelon as a BWR core designer now which I am quite excited about, that’s about as direct an application of my studies as possible. I plan on staying with Exelon for a while and making a rapid climb of the corporate ladder. Maybe I’ll do a master’s on the side to check my pulse?
In my free time I try to stay in shape, tinker with some robotics stuff, and pwn n00bs online. It’s a different life in the real world, but orders of magnitude easier than MIT. Sometimes I miss MIT, but then I remember how grueling it was and laugh at the prospect. I also dedicate a nontrival amount of time cultivating a long-distance relationship which I think is the best thing MIT has given me by far. Smart girls are the best.
Good luck to all you freshman; you’ll need it. Also something immensely frustrating about non-MIT students/graduates: they are terrible at understanding clever puns. Oh well, I’ll just have to keep making them until everyone is indoctrinated with the humor style.
Harriet L. ‘13, Aerospace Engineering (course 16)
I decided to stay here at MIT to pursue a MS, and hopefully a PhD, if I pass quals. There will be lots of math involved, probably having to do with “multiphysics” or “optimization” or some other giggly big word. Shiny bubbles. I’ve never really been able to conceptualize the future beyond a week or so, and thus I have no plans for the future, just to chase whatever shinies I find next.
Perhaps I stayed here because nowhere else did people seem to not question my decision to pursue Aerospace Engineering because of my love of dragons.
Emi F.-Y. ‘13, Mechanical Engineering (course 2)
The day after commencement, I left for a two-month biking Eurotrip with my best friend from college, Alex. When I got back I was planning on staying and working in the Boston area for a while, but with one week to go before commencement and no job and no apartment for the fall, I decided to move back home to Oakland, CA, with my parents. Since getting back, I’ve been looking for a job in the Bay Area . I’d like to work on developing renewable energy technologies, but right now I’ll take any job that seems like I will enjoy it. Not having a job kind of sucks. I feel super behind compared to everyone in my class, and lame for living with my parents. On the other hand, this is a situation a lot of college grads find themselves in, even at MIT, and it doesn’t mean I’ll never ever find a job. So I’m looking at the bright side of things, which is that I get to spend some time relaxing, sleeping in, and spending time with my family who I’ve missed hella much (yes, I’m from the Bay Area and I say “hella” unironically :P ).
I came in to MIT as an idealistic freshman wanting to save the world. During my first year at MIT, I learned more about what I actually could do to make the world a better place and decided to focus my interests in renewable energy. After that first year I began to forget why I traveled across the country to get a top-notch education. I came because MIT is one of the best places in the world to make connections and become the sort of innovative person that really does make a difference. Seeing all my software friends get super fun, high-paying jobs at shiny companies with awesome offices made me want that sort of thing too. So I graduated sort of lost; torn between the ideal of wanting to make a difference and the other ideal of a nice life.
It seems that, at least among my social circles, there was a mentality of “make it through school so that you could get a job, make money, and live the upper-middle class dream” or something. And it makes me sad that there isn’t more of a push to do something good for the world. So I guess my advice to you is that you have one of the best, brightest minds in the world. Use it to do something meaningful. And also, take time every once in a while to step back and remind yourself of what you think is important instead of getting caught up in all the cool things your friends are doing.
Matt R. ‘13, Mathematics with Computer Science (course 18-C)
After graduating from MIT I ended up in Iceland of all places—I decided that I was going to stay in an Airbnb listing (a lovely modern apartment in Reykjavik) to get a better sense for the experience before I started my job as a Data Infrastructure engineer at Airbnb. So that was cool—Iceland is basically a HUGE country with nothing but rock formations and volcanic/geological awesomeness for MILES and MILES—I drove something like five hours between tiny towns, but now I know how to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull (and yes, I typed that without Googling! :D )
After that, I managed to convince Alex W. and Emi to let me join them on their epic touring adventure—we spent a few weeks together in the Loire river valley in France, with me putzing along on an awkward steel behemoth at “pokey” speeds, according to Emi.
I moved into my parent’s spare room while I started to find work—I’ve contributed to the open source projects Mesos, Marathon, and Chronos, which are projects designed to make running software on a cluster as easy as setting up an operating system, running upstart, and running cron, respectively. I’ve also had a chance to work with data scientists doing what I love—experiments on real world data sets. Being a software engineer in the real world is actually way way easier than being a computer science major MIT (n.b. I was not actually ever Course VI, so maybe that’s why I found it tough).
I’ve moved back to my home state, and am working fairly close to my old home. I’m going to move into a two-story town house on the tippy top of Potrero Hill in November, with some awesome roommates (one of them is a baker! I’m looking forward to the smell of delicious baked goods). I’m riding my bike more than ever, and am hoping to join a competitive team in the near future for next season. It’s nice to be back home.
Daniel G. ‘13, Mathematics with Computer Science (course 18-C)
I’m still in the Boston area for the foreseeable future. I’m working as a software engineer at Oracle. Some advice to incoming freshmen:
- MIT is awesome, and there is so much more to it than classes. I believe that it is almost always worth it to take fewer classes so that you have more time for clubs, sports, friends, and relaxing. And of course sleep.
- Support other people (not just your friends) when they need help, and don’t hesitate to ask for help yourself, whether it’s classes, relationships, future plans, or anything else that is bothering you. MIT is at its best when students are kind, empathetic, helpful, and understanding. Do what you can to contribute to that culture.
- Have fun at MIT! There will definitely be times when you will be hosed and stressed, but there are so many fantastic and yes, fun things to do here. Take breaks from working and studying to take part in other things that you enjoy!
Hannah H. ‘13, Computer Science and Engineering (course 6-3)
Currently, I am looking for a software engineering job in the video game or movie industry. I love coding, but I have always had a soft spot for creative work as well. I also have a huge passion for games.
In between looking for jobs I am currently working on a science fiction novel, a mobile/casual game, and doing rock climbing and kickboxing.
Do not let fear rule you. Do not be afraid to apply for an internship or a UROP. Do not be afraid to ask questions in class. Do not avoid trying new things because you are afraid you won’t be able to handle them. I can tell you, that you can do ANYTHING you set your mind to. ANYTHING. I know that sounds cliche, but really believing in yourself and your abilities, especially your ability to learn and adapt, will lead you to your dreams, whatever those are.
Devin A. ‘13, Mathematics (course 18)
This spring, I started hiking the Appalachian Trail, so that’s where I’ll be for a while. The trail runs around 2200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Khatadin in Maine. After I get back, I’m planning on looking for a job in finance.
As you’re figuring out what to do, I think it’s worth stealing a saying from the trail: hike your own hike. There are all sorts of ways to get from one point to another and what works for someone else may not be right for you.
Here are two of the many beautiful photos Devin has taken so far:
I also asked the graduating Randomites to tell me an interesting story from their time at MIT. Here is what they shared:
I remember John B. ‘13 and I used to take these walks in the Blue Hills. We were trying to take a step back from the hectic lifestyle of MIT and think about life in general. In the woods we would still be talking about category theory and differential forms, but we would also talk about how we miss the southern hospitality (he’s from North Carolina, I’m from Louisiana). We both wanted a quiet lifestyle. I remember John said, “If I live in the woods, then when I wake up in the morning, instead of asking math questions, I would say, ‘Look at this tree. How interesting are its patterns.’” After all, mathematicians study patterns, and nature is full of patterns.
At MIT, I invested a lot of time in my spiritual world. I went to the Baptist Student Fellowship every week. It was a pretty conservative Christian group on campus. People might wonder, how could you both believe in science and follow conservative Christianity? I think the cool part of MIT is that I get to discuss questions and doubts about my faith with other like-minded MIT kids, in an intellectual manner. For example, we would talk about how free will and pre-destination could both exist if we remove the constraint that we are bounded by time. It opened my eyes to a world of logical and rational discussion of faith. I also like to engage in conversations with people from other faith backgrounds as well as atheists. It’s cool to learn how people think about their spiritual pursuits. MIT has done a really good job in allowing different worldviews to thrive on campus. Every year the Veritas Forum provides an open discussion between different worldviews and faiths from MIT professors. I think it is a helpful way to engage MIT students interested in the discussion of science, life, and faith.
In my freshman year, Pecker was known for its concentration of former IMO kids and ridiculous math people. If I get stuck on a commutative algebra pset problem, Pecker would be the place to seek help. However, in my junior years somehow Pecker mysteriously lost its math crowd and never got them back (the current trend seems to suggest that Third West and Simmons are the new hubs of math kids). Last year Pecker was mostly cs and bio majors, and on the bright side the new freshmen made the floor much more diverse and alive. Our new GRT is also really nice and spends a lot of time bonding with us.
So, there I was, Jack Hagerthorp, 7th year, deep inside a Muggle vault. Apparating in was no problem for the New Wizarding Order; with representatives from all the Houses, who in Hogwarts would be able to stop us from leaving? But if we were to take control of the Muggle economy, we knew the fun had only just begun. Pulling the ritual and resources from our Bag of Holding, we got to work as quickly as possible. We knew we could have taken the Muggle guards this early if we had to, but it would’ve eaten up too much of our time. We had to be efficient, or the news would spread far enough that the Ministry may catch on before we finished. Even Muggles had fairly fast communication capabilities, or so we had heard.
Beginning the ritual, everything had to be aligned and spoken just right. We had practiced the ritual before, but you can never know how it will turn out for sure until you’re really pouring your magic into it. As we spoke the last word, the walls began to warp. It was initially dizzying, but our elation quickly overrode that when we looked at the expanse in front of us—it had worked! All of the gold vaults in Europe were now but one room, and inside of it, Muggle Europe’s future rulers. All the gold owned by all governments and individuals was right here! We immediately heard running, and came to our senses; even if the mystical forces we had tapped into that night were beyond the guards’ comprehension, we expected them to notice when the fundamental properties of the vault they were guarding changed.
Two of our order stayed behind to funnel gold into our Bag—it was incredibly heavy, and only an advanced spell called Leviosa Magnus could even lift the sheets—and the remaining five of us (we were usually six, but a trustworthy Ravenclaw had sought an adventure that day) went to the door to prepare for battle. Our half-Veela had already taken the chance to ferry one load of gold back to Gringotts, for the Goblins do not question money, and had begun scooping up a second load when the Muggles finally opened their vault door.
At this point, we were a bit taken aback. This was not by the strange, enormous, metal wands (which we later found out were called “guns”) the Muggles used to fire sharp metal at us at high speeds, but by the sheer number we saw. They were organized into small battalions, spread out presumably so as not to get in the other groups’ lines of fire. As we glanced at their varied insignia, we realized that not only had the vaults themselves united, but the entire facilities, be they national banks or forts. Our shields could hold the line for some time despite the unfamiliar metal hurtling towards us, but clearly not long enough....
I asked my comrades to stand off a bit and act as backup. I saw a couple smirk, as they all did so. I immediately assumed my recently-acquired form—for I had just completed my ritual the previous night—and before the Muggles stood a jet-black dragon, towering over them, snarling. I stepped through our shields, and immediately began clawing the guards aside. Many were unconscious in seconds, but there were so many of them, and even my scales were slowly being chipped away by the metal zooming by. I sent a wave of fire at the ceiling, and we temporarily retreated back into the vault. That was when a Hufflepuff, Zacharias, normally terrified at the idea of a battle, showed his real ingenuity, the reason he was on this team. He was able to use a ground manipulation spell, normally a trite matter worthy only of ritual manipulation, to form a thick wall of earth in the doorframe. It took a lot of magic out of him, so he could only perform this feat every two minutes or so, but it was enough. While a wizard would have simply used an equivalent spell to crumble the wall, the bullets took long enough to break through for us to recuperate and prepare to fight them in waves.
At this point, our Slytherin, that Millicent, spoke up.
“Can’t you just let me kill them all?!” It was true that she had recently learned Avada Kedavra, the most powerful death magic. But it wasn’t just that we needed her to save that magic for the real enemies, the Death Eaters—I genuinely wasn’t going to betray the name of the House I had been placed in upon my transfer to Hogwarts this past year.
I transformed back into my human form. I left my eyes and teeth in dragon form—I certainly enjoyed being showy; must’ve gotten that from being Lockhart’s illegitimate son—and hissed, “NO ONE. No one dies today. We can handle this without any forbidden magic!” I do wonder if that House made me soft. Some people think I was being a hypocrite, because here I was, stealing Muggle gold, but I just had to keep my principles about me.
As the wall crumbled and the Muggles began trying to storm the vault, I quickly transformed back and shoved them through the wall as the others blasted stunning spells by the dozens. The battle continued on like that for some time, the Muggles storming us and Zacharias making a new wall, but just as I thought my strength would give out, I heard, “That’s the last load! Everyone get to the portkey!”
The vault and the Muggles warped out from around us. I knew I’d have an interesting article to read tomorrow, but even with so many witnesses, who knows what Muggles will be able to believe? Only our half-Veela was old enough for a Gringotts account, so we left the vast majority of the money with him—he could’ve abandoned us in the vault on any one of his trips to Gringotts, so a lack of trust now would’ve been silly—but we each took one sheet of gold for the road as spending money to do what we wished. I immediately asked Gringotts to smelt mine into Galleons, at a small loss. Goblins truly do not question money.
I returned in a few days. The Wizarding world was beginning to calm down, because, hey, it had only been a Muggle incident, and the Ministry was fast in their necessary Obliviations. I provided my proof of identity, collected my gold in my own bag, and returned to Hogwarts. When I stepped into my room in Gryffindor Tower, I felt positively giddy. All that worry for the last few days, for nothing! Of course, half the school already knew of our exploits by now, but most didn’t seem to mind—the Muggle-borns had already been exiled from Magical Britain, with You-Know-Who not so secretly manipulating the government. As such, most of them were just interested in hearing about these Muggle “guns.” Some probably didn’t even believe us, though by now, Zacharias had already fled the school in fear. I walked confidently over to my bed, transformed, and burned it to a crisp—by now, absolutely everyone in the school knew about my animagus form, because how could I get famous by hiding things? McGonagall had even helped me apply for a permit! Regardless, a few students looked at me like I was nuts, as I poured my mass of galleons onto the ashes.
It had been a fun adventure, but until the rest of the New Wizarding Order came of age, it was time to relax. I opened my wings, yawned, and splayed myself over my new, enormous bed of gold. It was the most restful sleep I had ever experienced.
And when Jack Hagerthorp, dragon animagus, woke up every morning for the final five months of his school career, not a single Galleon had ever been stolen from his bed.
Fun Story (to me at least):
It’s July. My mom’s birthday is on Independence Day so it’s always been doubly special to me. Last summer I didn’t have the luxury of spending it with her, but I did get to spend it in northern Portugal, working in the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (breathe). So not too bad, right? I was with six other MIT students who were all jonesing for a patriotic day in a country that naturally didn’t bat an eye. We joined up with an American post-doc and decided to go out to dinner. We were going to go to an Italian restaurant near us, but decided to branch out. Long story short, we left one end of town on foot for the other end of town, and by the time we got there everywhere was closed. We arrived at an Italian restaurant that was shutting its doors—the sister of the one where we were first going to eat. The owners were nice enough to drive us back to the first restaurant, which was still open. So there we were, seven Americans in the back of a catering van driving around Portugal on the Fourth of July. Plus that one kid who got the passenger seat.
I wouldn’t advise getting into the back of a van in the middle of a country with a loose-is-generous grasp of the language (or anywhere really), but it just goes to show, you never know where you’ll be spending the holidays. Have fun in college.
There is almost a constant stream of interesting speakers that come to MIT. During my time at MIT I have heard President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg give inspiring speeches on campus. There is also a stream of less well known speakers who give guest lectures on any number of interesting topics. I would advise freshmen to pay attention to posters hanging in the hallway, as you will find some pretty cool events.
In a few weeks, I’ll be packing my bags and moving for grad school in California. It’s an exciting time—new places, new people, new experiences—but it’s also pretty daunting, something that I imagine is a similar feeling for those just starting college. I remember being so excited about coming to MIT and the fantastic opportunities outside the classroom that I couldn’t sleep properly the few days prior. And yes, I did get to join cool student groups and take awesome classes taught by awesome people; it has been a great four years (both the good and bad days).
Throughout these years there has been one of my best friends who went to the university down Mass. Ave. We’ve known each other since middle school, were debate partners, sat next to each other in physics class, and everything. And every few weeks or so, we’d meet at Cinderella’s down the street, eat one of the same three pizzas with the same orange-mango juice, and just talk, whether it be the good, the bad, or the awkward. Looking back, those were some of the most memorable moments I’ve had in college. Although we’ll be miles away when we each move to our respective grad schools, we still keep in touch every so often. The lesson I learned was this: The next few years are going to be exciting—there’s so much cool stuff to do and not enough time to do them. Yes, make the most of it, explore things you never thought about, and don’t be afraid to fail but don’t forget there’s more out there than MIT and keep things in perspective.
I came to MIT as an extremely academically motivated and, in a lot of ways, extremely clueless young froshling. During my freshman spring, the prodding of a junior on my hall had me registering for 6.035, an upper-level compilers class that involved a truly inordinate amount of programming. That and five other classes. (I’ll pause now for the upperclassmen in the audience to start grinning knowingly.) This was, as we like to say around here, a Poor Life Choice.
It didn’t seem like it at the time, even a month into term when I was not infrequently up till past dawn finishing assignments. I’d been in computers since not that long after I was out of diapers, so I was able to stay afloat despite my overzealous schedule. I had precious little social time or downtime, but I was busy with work that I loved, so it was okay, right?
Term continued. The projects got larger, and my team got smaller—one of its three members became increasingly nonresponsive and finally dropped the class right before the final project. As deadlines approached, my schedule converged on the ridiculous: stay up until 7am fixing bugs, eat breakfast, sleep through my classes, wake up in the late afternoon and jump back onto the coding horse, repeat as needed. Then the darned thing would finally work, and the exhilaration of that success would give me the energy to keep going. A hallmate would wander into my room to say hi and I’d jump about three feet in the air when I noticed their presence.
It was wonderful and it wasn’t. I was happy, engaged, thrilled, when I had an interesting problem in front of me. I couldn’t believe I was getting to devote my academic efforts to something I found so awesome. But after I’d turned in a milestone and scrambled to the top of my to-do list, I’d tend more towards listless, lonely, confused. I was keeping myself busy, but I didn’t really feel like I was Doing It Right.
There isn’t one climax or turning point here, and it wasn’t as black-and-white as the above probably makes it seem; I had close friends, with whom I had fulfilling interactions on a semi-regular basis, and during less crunch-time-y periods I did community service with APO and sang with the Asymptones (billed as the a cappella group for people who didn’t have enough time for an a cappella group). I’m actually surprised, looking back on the blog posts and chat logs from that portion of my life, how normal/sane I seem to myself. But my priorities were still out of whack, and I think that shifting them a bit has been very good for me.
Being an academic powerhouse isn’t everything, no matter where you go to school. Be conscientious, learn something, of course—but create experiences, form bonds, as well. Celebrate the ways in which the universe you live in is frickin’ awesome, and make it moreso. I hope you have the time of your life.
Here is Random Hall’s i3 video from spring 2009, the school year most of the 2013 graduates got into MIT and I was just starting to think about applying:
Here is Random Hall’s i3 video from spring 2013, the semester they graduated:
By now the new freshmen are sophomores and the new new freshmen will soon arrive on campus. Four years, give or take, come full circle. My charge to the MIT ‘17s and ‘18s, and to the rest of you, is to be even more imaginative, heartfelt, tough, fearless, and playful than the class of 2013.