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MIT student blogger Shuli J. '22

the joys and frustrations of 6.009 by Shuli J. '22

this class will be the death of me, and i love it

I texted my friend, “I feel like my frustration with 6.009 over the course of each week would make an amazing sinusoidal graph.” She said, “You should make that a blog post!” So here it is, a lil post about how crazy 6.009 makes me (and how I can’t stop thinking about it). Sorry it’s been so long since I last blogged01 The flu isn't fun, kids :( — more content to come soon!!

As background, 6.009 is “Fundamentals of Programming,” the second02 Why is it the second if the course name says fundamentals? Good question! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ class in the computer science department’s pure coding class sequence. I never took the first class in the sequence, 6.0001, because I did a bit of coding in middle school (before getting too busy in high school), so I took the Advanced Standing Exam instead. Because of that, this semester was the first time I’ve done serious coding in a good while.

At MIT, there’s often an attitude that because computer science is so popular and (typically) well-paid, people who choose to major in Course 6 are “selling out” or “only in it for the money.” This made a pretty big impression on me first semester, and I started to doubt my plan to major in 6. But now that I’m coding again, I remember how much I love it and I don’t feel like I’m making the wrong choice at all. (Side note: Although I’m not claiming every course 6 loves it as much I do, or that everyone should be a comp sci major, I have complicated feelings about how something that is usually excused as “just a joke” can actually influence people’s life choices and how they feel about their passions…)

ANyway, back to 6.009. I think what I love most about this class, on a lizardbrain level, is coding’s cycle of lots of small frustrations and rewards: overcoming many small challenges is less overwhelming than trying to overcome one very large one and makes me feel more like I’m making progress. Also, 6.009 in particular is really well-organized and has great office hours (i.e., they’re frequent and have a high number of competent teachers) which means that when I feel truly stuck, I can go get the little nudge I need to work things out myself. Knowing I have this fallback if I need it makes me feel secure enough to try for a little longer and fail on my own. Stretching my failing muscle and kicking learned helplessness‘ butt is something I really wanted to do at MIT, and this class has been right in my zone of proximal development for that. It’s so satisfying to feel like you’re actually getting somewhere in accomplishing your goals for yourself!

All of this sucks me in hard, and on the days I dedicate to the weekly lab, it tends to soak up all my spare brain space. (Do I feel like a huge nerd when I wake up in the morning and realize I’ve thought of a fix for a bug while I was asleep? Yes, and it delights me.) Then I finish the lab and begin to get really sad that I have no coding to do :( Witness this phenomenon, in rainbow glory, below:

 

A graph titled "How frustrated 6.009 makes me feel (each week)". The graph shows numerous ups and downs as I tackle each part of the lab.

 

  1. The flu isn't fun, kids :( back to text
  2. Why is it the second if the course name says fundamentals? Good question! ¯\\_(ツ)_/¯ back to text