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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

the first day of work by CJ Q. '23

lessons i'm learning

one. it’s nice to have slack in your schedule. and by slack, i don’t mean laziness, or the messaging app. in business, before slack became ubiquitous as a professional chat room, it was a project management term referring to free space in a schedule, like a buffer period. but there’s a subtle difference: buffer is inserted, slack is not.

say alyssa and ben wanted to do a big task XYZ. they split it into three tasks, X, Y, and Z:

  • task X takes 3 hours and one person.
  • task Y takes 1 hour and one person.
  • task Z takes 1 hour and two people, and it can only be done after X and Y are done.
    say alyssa and ben were estimating how long it’d take for them to finish all three tasks.

alyssa says it’ll take them 4 hours. alyssa does X and ben does Y. after they finish, they both do task Z. then Y has 2 hours of slack: it can be delayed by 2 hours without affecting alyssa’s estimate. there is no buffer in alyssa’s schedule.

bob says it’ll take them 5 hours. alyssa does X, ben does Y, then they both do Z. alyssa says, but that only totals 4 hours! and bob replies, yeah, because there’s 1 hour buffer. now Y has 3 hours of slack, because bob added buffer. in both cases, Y has slack, with or without a buffer.

to be clear: the choice of how much slack doesn’t depend on alyssa or bob. it depends on the tasks, how long they take and how they depend on each other, and how many people there are. if alyssa and bob wanted more slack in their scheduling, they could’ve divided XYZ differently.

the last week of my semester has been busy. despite spending hours cramming for 6.033 computer systems engineering, grading the final for 6.036 introduction to machine learning, and packing for a flight that weekend, things have gone pretty well. i aced 6.033, we finished 6.036 grading in four hours, and i fit everything in my suitcase with room to spare.

last friday, i was informed that a friend i haven’t seen in a while was visiting boston. since i had nothing scheduled, i was able to meet up with them, along with two other mutual friends; all four of us lived on floorpi. that night, i realized i didn’t pack my stuffed toy, ice bear. but as i had extra space in my suitcase, i was able to fit ice bear in without much worrying.

two. that friday night, another friend i haven’t seen in a while visited boston, and they met up with three of their other friends in the area before coming to east campus. of the five of us, then, four had met in a summer camp called promys, and one was someone i had not met before, but someone i had seen around.

so both groups were in the lounge at the same time, a group of four who lived in floorpi, and a group of five related by promys, and i was the only person in the intersection. i thought it’d go more awkwardly, as in my past experiences. but we played party games and board games and it worked out fine.

i joked that “as soon as you’ve played a game with someone, you’ve met them.” well, we played castlefall, a game that involved referring to other people by name and some amount of personal information. by the end of the game, i’m pretty sure everyone knew everyone else’s name.

the next morning, i had a flight to san francisco. i got maybe two hours of sleep, and a lot of tossing around in bed trying to sleep. i remembered how much i loved airports and hated flying. my two roommates arrived that weekend. we went to the computer history museum, fitting given that we were all doing software engineering internships. i learned their names from all the funny things i wanted to point out to them.

sunday night, i was invited to dance with the stanford quads, a square dance club near stanford. in many senses it is the sister club of mit’s tech squares, the club i danced with weekly last year, but now that i’m living in mountain view i needed to find another square dance club to scratch my itch.

by convention, everyone wears badges when they’re square dancing, showing the club they’re a member of, so referring to someone by name wasn’t hard. in the quads, after a period of dancing, everyone thanked everyone else in the square by name, individually. people asked me questions about what i’m doing all the way in california, and my awkward self preferred to make eye contact with nametags than faces.

we danced until the end of the night, after the sun went down and it was too hard to read people’s nametags. when i thanked people after the last dance, though, i found that i didn’t need to read them.

three. how do you know when to pause working? with problem sets, i’d stop in between problems. when writing a blog post, i’d stop in between paragraphs or sections. when working on a project, i’d finish a feature or a bugfix.

my internship started on monday, and our first week was dedicated to setting up our development environments. it was hard to find breaks in between, as it’d always feel like it’d take one more step before things would work. every time i’d look for a pause, i couldn’t, because it’d be waiting for a download to finish or for a program to build.

our first day was filled with onboarding meetings, instructions not turning out as planned, and walking around the office chatting with people. between everything that happened, my roommates and i whiled away our time in the office, until we realized that dinner had passed. the next day, we were gently reminded that we were expected to work eight hours a day, and forty hours a week.

i told one of my roommates that there doesn’t feel like a well-defined ending to work. it’s his second summer as an intern. he says that he relates, and that maybe we should try to have more fun.

i told a coworker that i don’t know how to manage a work-life balance. he’s been in the company for a year, after finishing his undergrad right before that. he said that neither has he.

i told my onboarder that i felt lost, that even though i was given a big list of what to do and in what order, i still didn’t know what i should be doing. she finished her bachelor’s four years ago, and this is her second job. she said that sometimes she feels the same.

and it’s nice to know that people think about the same things i do, even if they aren’t as outspoken about it.