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MIT blogger Cami M. '23

short term / long term by Cami M. '23

on growth and learning

As a quick sidenote, I want to say my heart goes out to everyone going through these particularly tough times. I know this blog may seem out of place with recent events. I’ve tried a lot to figure out how to write about it, what I’m doing and the conversations I’ve had, but realized it didn’t quite fall properly. So, I encourage everyone reading this to continue to fight the good fight. Sign petitions. Donate what you can. Educate yourself and read articles and books and watch documentaries!

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about my future. I’ve written countless blogposts like this time and time again, from not feeling MIT enough to learning incorrectly to just being a mess overall. I’ve struggled to exactly pinpoint my feelings, tired of repeating the same old “I don’t feel good enough” spiel to quite literally anyone who will listen.

But after so long I can’t help but ask myself: Why do I still feel this way?

I thought getting a computer science based internship or passing a class that taught me how to code would somehow ease these feelings, quell them long enough until I at least start my internship, but no. No, these feelings are still very much here.

I look at my internship and, while it sounds ungrateful, I see it as a “fake” CS internship. It’s not a real Microsoft internship, like I’ve been telling people. It’s a subgenre of sorts, meant for people with little to no coding experience and even giving preference to students with no CS background. And I got waitlisted from this internship; I didn’t even get in on the first try. I had to wait until COVID-19 expanded the program for me in order to get in. And so that’s why when I look at my internship, I don’t feel some sweltering accomplishment and some godly figure shining down on me saying “Cami, computer science is for you.” Instead, I hear “Yeah this is the best you’re gonna get. It’s not even a real CS internship.” And then my heart breaks all over again.

So I wanted to use this blog post to try and break down why I feel the way I feel, what I can do to fix it, and how I’m going to go about this summer, because I feel like that’s the only way I know how to do things.

Learning how to learn

I’m the kind of person that can’t learn things on my own. Can’t might be the wrong word–maybe won’t. I struggle a lot with finding motivation and initiative to learn things on my own, which might call back to my old blog post on learning incorrectly. I have difficulty learning content by myself and prefer a rigid class structure to learn things. I like getting feedback, I like having set deadlines, I like the pressure of having a class in order to get things done. Online classes don’t feel the same.

Blogger cruft Laura N. recently did me the gracious and kind favor of mailing me the book “Make It Stick” after reading about my learning woes in a previous blog post. It actually arrived on March 28th, but it is now June 10th and I still haven’t read it.

Why, you may ask, has Cami not read it yet? I have poor attention span and I only finish a book once in a blue moon. It takes a lot for me to become engrossed in a book. I’m the kind of person where I either finish the book in one sitting/can’t do anything else until I finish the book or never finish it all. If it doesn’t pique my interest within the first couple chapters, that book is doomed.

But this time I’m going to actually force myself to read this book in hopes that it changes my outlook on learning. Hopefully by doing this, I can find the best ways in which I learn and maybe become more dedicated to learning new things.

Short-term objective: Finish this book.

Long-term objective: Learn how to learn. Find what learning styles work best for me.

Follow Through

I like to think of myself as a project starter. Ever since I was younger, I’ve found myself always creating initiatives or projects as things to do just because I was bored and it sounded cool. But probably over half of these projects never really saw the light of day. Just a couple weeks ago I started painting the Adventure Time background since I felt a sudden urge to paint, and I have not picked up those paintbrushes since.

Another stupid quirk of mine is being unable to talk about my projects. If I’m working on something, I try not to tell people about it. The moment I tell someone about it, I lose all motivation to do it. I’ve read things online saying that this is because we get small amounts of validation by saying we’re doing the thing even if we haven’t done the thing, so it makes it okay for us to put it off. I really wish I could change the way that I work or how my brain processes projects, but I don’t know if this is necessarily a bad thing. I have so many side projects I’d love to talk about and discuss with y’all, but at the same time, I don’t want to lose that motivation that got me there in the first place.

A solution I’ve found, though, is documenting the process, though. Seeing the pieces broken down into multiple parts makes it easier for me to digest, as well as shows progress over time. This is something I’ve been doing for an upcoming blogpost I have (which I funnily enough cannot talk about or else I’ll lose motivation to do it) and I’ve really enjoyed seeing my progress. This is one source of motivation I’ve identified in recent weeks, and I might continue to use this method as a way to help me finish projects more.

Short-term objective: Start a projects page to track the various projects I do. Finish the projects I currently have set out.

Long-term objective: Find consistency. Understand my sources of motivation.

Taking Criticism

This is something I struggle with a lot. I really dislike showing my projects and progress to friends because I just don’t feel good enough and hearing their critiques typically just makes me feel really..unworthy? In a sense?

I don’t really have a way to fix this, but maybe it would just be something along the lines of taking more time to work on whatever I’m working on before showing my friends my progress. Or getting feedback from a different source. I don’t know what my goals would be for here, but I’ll work on it.

Short-term objective: ???

Long-term objective: ????

Being a Computer Science Major

There’s actually a lot of #trauma here so I’ll break it down into multiple parts.

Constant Comparisons

I talked about this a lot with my boyfriend, telling him my concerns and anxieties with being in computer science. A lot of it boiled down to: What if, by the end of these four years, I’m not good enough for the field?

My boyfriend’s been coding since his freshman year of high school and he has infinitely more wisdom and experience than I ever will have. And I try to convince myself that I can get there and I can be good enough, but regardless of how hard I try, he will have eight years of experience by the end of this and I’ll have four. And we’ll be in such vastly different places.

I understand that everyone learns at their own pace. And that I shouldn’t compare myself to other people, and I know that’s easier said than done. But for me, I don’t know how to learn how to stop comparing myself. Just even watching him code or watch my friends code and do their things, I feel these prickles of insecurity. Why aren’t I coding? Why aren’t I working on a personal project like them? Why am I not working constantly to improve?

Short-term objective: Create progress page with list of updates and accomplishments. Transform insecurity into motivation. Every time I see my friend working, mentally note that this is okay. Use this as inspiration to work.

Long-term objective: Be able to hear my friends’ accomplishments without feeling guilty.

Information Overload

Something I’ve experienced with being new to CS is the sheer amount of information given to me. Prior to coming to MIT, I didn’t even know all of this stuff existed….Git, vim, text editors, IDEs, all this slew of shit. And being thrown into the thick of all of it with only the equivalent of two weeks of Java was pretty scary. I sometimes start CS projects or get excited about doing them, but realize I don’t have the necessary skillset to do it. I want to make X project but it requires A, B, and C elements, and I only know A.1 things.

Something my boyfriend has told me is “Just do it” and learn along the way, but this brings us back to the whole “I can’t learn on my own thing.” I’ve considered just sucking it up and learning as I go. This is what I did with guitar. This is what I did with Photoshop. But for me, like reading a book, there has to be a genuine interest there.

I don’t have the genuine interest in ~certain~ fields of CS to find the activation energy to “finish the book.” So I’ll just drop it.

I’ve decided to fix this by just saying “fuck it” and doing the things I care about, ignoring the other “essential” parts of CS that everyone else mentions.

Short-term objective: Finish X project. Can’t say what it is. Compile list of things in CS you find cool.

Long-term objective: Do the cool CS things mentioned above.

Trying hard

I say this a lot, but I am the worst at coding in our friend group. And getting this CS internship has only made me more nervous, since I read our groupchat and all the other interns are talking about their various coding experiences.

Something I’ve been telling myself a lot is to just try my very hardest in this internship, regardless of how unqualified I feel. And maybe then all this effort and hard work I put in will pay off.

But what if it doesn’t? I’ve said this to a lot of people, but I’ll say it again because it’s something I feel a lot: it’s so frustrating when the thing you’re interested in is something you’re also very bad at. And I often ask myself when the hard work I put in will come to fruition? I’ve experienced so many times where I spend 6-7 hours on code that can be done in someone else’s 2 and I feel like I’ve wasted time and energy.

I guess this does call back to the whole “don’t compare yourself to other people” and is now mixed in with “God, I hope all this time pays off, then.”

So how do we fix this? Well, it comes down to the easier-said-than-done practice of: Simply don’t care. And knowing that trying hard is good enough because that’s more than most people do.

Short-term objective: Keep chugging. Try my hardest on my internship. Document goals, accomplishments, and things learned every day of my internship in a timesheet.

Long-term objective: Learn to not care. See hours spent not as a waste, but as growth.

Conclusion

I’ll just try and say what this all boils down to: I want to be good at something. I don’t really feel like I have a good grasp on what I want to do yet in my life and I think part of that comes from the fact I don’t feel like I excel at particularly one thing. Rather, I just have my hand in so many different cookie jars of interests, and while I love how I am this weird mixture of all these varied interests, I also wish I could be good at one of them. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be good at computer science, maybe this will never happen. All I know is that I want to try my fucking hardest to do it. And I will not stop until I get there!!!

Really, a lot of this comes down to me physically seeing progress, because I’m a person that really likes seeing change over time. Which probably ties into my interests into the whole front-end dev stuff since that reflects immediate, tangible change. A lot of my goals relate to me writing down progress, or showing some sort of visual representation of it so I can see how I’ve improved over time.

I don’t know how I’ll implement this. Maybe a website, or a journal, or some other thing. Really, I wrote this blogpost to serve as a braindump but also walk you through my process of how I can take something really negative about myself and transform it into something I can work towards. It’s something I’ve been trying to do a lot recently since I’ve spent…a lot of time crying over the future, more than I’d like to admit. So I figured I’d address this behavior rather than letting it secretly go on and worsen.

Once I make some visual representation of this, I’ll share it with y’all on here!

If anyone has any special tips or advice, they are most certainly welcome :o) Thank you for reading, and it is good to be back.