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MIT student blogger Nisha D. '21

Thoughts for the New Year, part 4 by Nisha D. '21

the finale

In my very first blog post, I laid out a list of the goals that I wanted to accomplish while at MIT. Some were silly, and some were very serious, but I considered them all quests that I was determined to achieve. So on the brink of every new year since then, I’ve made a post updating the world on the status of those sidequests.

It seems that the time for the very last one of those posts has crept up on me. Let’s calculate some final percentages for these sidequests.

Sidequest 1: Learn the building numbers – 83%. To assess my final knowledge of the MIT building numbers, I took CJ’s Sporcle quiz! And I…didn’t do too hot. I totally borked the 30s. In my defense, there were certain ~ points ~ in my MIT career at which I would have got a 100% on this quiz, but after a very limited on campus semester in which I really didn’t walk through the 30s at all, I’ll take a solid 83. That’s definitely better than I did on most tests I took here.

Sidequest 2: Get my Pirate Certificate – 50% complete. I finally made progress on this! Varsity sports were cancelled this fall, so I found myself with a sports shaped hole in my heart. There were a few PE classes offered in person this fall, which I was NOT aware of at the beginning of the year,01 and therefore missed my last chance to take sailing, RIP but I managed to take archery in Q2. I wasn’t very good at it, and I miss fencing.02 which i'm also not very good at, but i love it so much that i can transcend this But at least I didn’t stay stalled at 25% forever, I guess.

Sidequest 3: Collect 60 free t-shirts – ~60% complete. The wild guess I made last year actually turned out to be pretty close. I’m no longer as into free shirts as I once was, and when I returned home from MIT last month, I sorted through all my old clothes and isolated shirts that I had acquired during my time at MIT from various locales – career fair, dorm events, concerts, hackathons, etc. Each one represents some sort of memory from my time here, and by the time I had finished counting, I had ended up with 28 shirts. I donated a few to the communal pile at my house, and kept a few cause I’m actually really fond of them, but in total, it comes out to something like 35-40, hence the estimate. I sent those 28 shirts off to a nice Etsy store that turns your old shirts into a giant queen-sized quilt, and I’m SUPER excited to see it. I’ll probably blog about it when I get it.

Sidequest 4: Get a cool internship/externship – 200% complete! Gonna give myself some extra credit here cause I worked at PlayStation AND Twitch. That’s pretty god damn dope if I do say so myself.

Sidequest 5: Pull a cool hack – ???% complete. ???

Sidequest 6: Study abroad as many times as physically possible – 0% complete. Okay, I was GOING to do GTL my senior year, but obviously COVID borked that plan. This is definitely the most disappointing failure of the lot, because there were a lot of opportunities that I should have taken advantage of while I was here. I don’t really have any defense for myself, but in the end, I’m glad that I ended up taking the opportunities that I did over study abroad, because they were more beneficial to me at the end of the day. I did go to like 5 countries in Europe over various trips/breaks during college though, so it’s not like I was just stuck in Boston all the time.

Sidequest 7: Beat Imposter’s Syndrome – 85% complete. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly beat Imposter Syndrome at any point in my life, wherever I happen to be. But I will say that this year, and right now especially, I feel like I really belonged at MIT, and I exceeded my own wildest dreams in what I managed to achieve. My grades were never as good as I would have wanted them to be, but I finished strong and got all As this semester! Plus, I’m a published researcher making my own little footprint on the niche I’ve found! And of course, we can’t forget Sidequest 4. So all in all, I might not ever be able to completely banish the lurking feeling of inadequacy from my mind, but it’s very nearly nonexistent at this point. We made it! Mostly!

Sidequest 8: Survive the winter without a winter coat – 0% complete. I’ll literally be cold if it’s like 30 degrees out now.

Sidequest 9: Build a thing – 25% complete. In the sense that starry-eyed freshman year Nisha meant this – no, I have not really physically built anything substantial with my hands and with power tools. I have definitely learned a few very basic skills that would help me in doing this if I ever desired to, but in keeping with the original spirit of this sidequest, I didn’t get too far.03 i made a really shitty small shelf once However, I have built other things – significantly, internship projects, UROP projects, websites, and silly side projects, and those are significant in a way that this sidequest doesn’t quite encompass.

Sidequest 10: Find something I genuinely love to do – here comes the long tangent.

There’s definitely a satisfying sense of progression in my MIT journey with regards to this – the main quest, really, more than it is a sidequest – and I can see it mapped out in the three previous installments of this post.

In freshman year, my goal up until that time in my life – to get into a good college – was suddenly no longer relevant. The dream was realized, but nobody ever tells you what to do after that. I was floating around in a swamp swimming in lofty ambition and the sad reality of the world, and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

In sophomore year, I was pessimistic about the prospects of being a 6-3 forever, and reflected on the catch-all nature of the major. And it’s true, honestly, that a lot of us come into this school with huge dreams of changing the world and becoming world renowned cancer researchers and engineers that make flying cars, and just end up retreating into the financial stability of software. And finally, standing on the other side, I understand this – having big dreams and ambitions is tiring, more tiring than a bright-eyed high school senior applying to college could ever realize. MIT students are not superhuman; in the end, we just want relaxing and financially stable lives too.

In junior year, I started to actually consider the prospect of graduate school and heading down a more research oriented path, and pondered over UI/UX design and product management. I had started to figure out what I enjoyed, but balked – understandably – at the prospect of being in school for another many years.

And finally, as a senior who has finished her last classes at MIT and have concrete plans for a few years into the foreseeable future, I can finally look back and reflect upon the path that I took to get here.

I can see now that the guiding principle that led me here has always been the same, and will probably be the same forever, to some extent: for me, it has always been video games. Every job I took in college – for all three summers,04 at the MIT Education Arcade, PlayStation, and Twitch and my UROP05 for which I am approaching my second anniversary – I took them because I wanted to work on games or game-adjacent technology. I majored in CMS to give myself an excuse to take all the video game related classes; I majored in CS, although I truly hated it from the bottom of my soul at points, for a lucrative entry point into the industry, and for the ability to build and understand cool game-related stuff. I clung onto the thing I loved for dear life, and it kept me floating through all the academic hardships I struggled through here – and lo and behold, I emerged on the other side of the ocean having made of a career out of it. And this, I think, is my biggest accomplishment here at MIT: I’m graduating as somebody who would leave the 7th grade, 12th grade, and early MIT versions of my past self immeasurably starstruck. If you had told me at age 14 – your stereotypical lonely gifted kid, sitting in my dark bedroom playing Final Fantasy VII on an OSX emulator with as much reverence as some people have for God – that I would grow up to work at PlayStation and Twitch, design my own games, write papers about them, even publish about them…well, I probably wouldn’t have believed it, but if I had, I think I would have thought that future me was pretty fucking cool.

I also realize now that there is slightly more nuance to my past dislike for computer science than sophomore or junior year me realized. I will never in my whole life understand how people can find algorithms, compilers, low-level programming, or the intricacies of software design as interesting as they do. These are just not things that ever caught my fancy, and probably never will. However, a large chunk of the MIT computer science curriculum required that I struggle through these particular concepts, and feel stupid as I consistently scored below average on every test, slogged through every pset, and cried in more office hours than I like to think about. And so my natural conclusion was to believe that I hated software engineering – but as it happens, this isn’t quite true either. This summer during my internship at Twitch, I rediscovered the fundamental thing that brings most MIT students to MIT, but that I had forgotten amongst the eternal struggle of classes: I just really like to build things, to put different Lego blocks together and to see it all work in the end. It’s a similar love to the one I have for research, and is the reason that I’ve loved my UROP so much – I get to make a thing, test it, and write a paper about the results. This is the process that I love, more than any particular type of problem solving or conceptual thinking that MIT classes focus on.

Really, I don’t actually hate software engineering. I think all this time, I translated my dislike for conceptual computer science into a belief that I would enjoy front end endeavors like UI and product management, when in reality I just wanted to connect wires by myself in the back end, and fiddle with making new and interesting things for research purposes. But obviously, getting to this point required all the knowledge that I had no particular interest in – the caches, the different types of search algorithms, and the different complexities of how exactly to write the best software. So, in the end, I guess the struggle had some sort of satisfying conclusion – through all the suffering, some of those concepts lodged themselves in my brain and will hopefully emerge at the right times when I’m working as a backend engineer for Twitch.

Will I do this forever? Well, another thing I realized is that I don’t have to do anything forever. People change careers more often than they change laptops nowadays. That’s not the assumption that I grew up with, nor one I ever really pondered deeply until this summer. I received a lot of excellent advice from a lot of amazing mentors at Twitch this summer, and one particular piece that stuck with me was to switch jobs whenever you feel like you know how to do everything in your current position, but that your new position should be 50% old stuff and 50% new stuff, so that you can thrive but still learn new things. And you’d continue doing this on and on for the rest of your career, learning new things forevermore as a result. And I remember marveling at what a different mindset that was from the one I had held – that my job out of college had to be the thing I liked doing forever. Forever is a long time, as it turns out.

And so in the future, sometime past my tenure at Twitch, the dream of going to grad school still lingers. I bailed out of applying this year because I was simply too tired, and as much as I enjoy research, at this point in my life, I would take a fun job, good work life balance, and an enjoyable lifestyle any day of the week. Am I selling out, like so many students end up doing? I’d like to think I’m not, because I’m still pursuing my lifelong love of gaming – I like to think that I’m pursuing a path with more personal meaning to me than just twiddling with the UI06 i know, however, that this is somebody's absolute joy in life, and all the power to them for some big tech company. I guess it doesn’t really matter. I’m taking the path that feels right in the moment, and that will maximize happiness for the near future. And I’ve realized that life is just a series of those choices, and there is no big, all-consuming choice that will score me a better future. Maybe grad school will materialize some day; I think I would like that, but future me will be the one deciding. Far in the future, I’d love to work in industry research, pushing the boundaries of the sorts of games people can make. Or maybe even make some games of my own. Who knows?

Somewhere hidden in the word limits of the college essays I wrote for MIT was a dream: to one day make a video game that changes somebody’s life like a game changed mine. This is a lofty ambition indeed, but my longstanding philosophy has always been to embrace your dreams,07 tbh at some point ~ten years ago, my personal philosophies became utterly inextricable from zack fair's no matter how improbable and silly they might seem. I might not achieve this dream in the way that I originally thought, or maybe it’ll change over time to mean something different. But, I think throughout my time at MIT, I successfully steered my ship to point in the general direction of this dream, and now, I’m setting sail somewhere towards it. I’m content with that.

As for Sidequest 10? Well, it turned out that I didn’t have to find something that I loved to do – in the most cliched way, it was with me the whole time: my undying love for video games and my everpresent desire to make cool things related to them. And so, finally, I will mark this – my main quest – 100% complete.

This isn’t my last blog post, but finishing it feels like the end of a journey. I like to think that people reading this series in the future can lay my four iterations of this post side by side and hopefully relate to a thing or two. My time at MIT is hurtling towards its very final cutscenes, but as I sit here, on the very last day of 2020, I feel at peace with this, and I’m excited to press start on a new chapter. While I hope that this journey at MIT doesn’t end up being the best part of my life – I really don’t want to peak that early – it will always be one of my favorites. And in a few years, I’m sure I’ll wish I could replay it all.

I’ll sign off this series with a picture. I wrote a post a few months ago about all the Final Fantasy VII memorabilia I own08 way too fucking much , but out of all of these items, there’s one that’s really special to me: a Buster Sword replica necklace. Other than being one of the OG BFS‘s, the Buster Sword is a motif within the Final Fantasy VII series representing dreams and their inheritance and fulfillment. I’m not going to get into it. Anyways, I’ve had this necklace since the 8th grade, and have worn it to *every* single event where I needed emotional strength since: every competition, every AMC test, every quiz bowl match – including the one where Final Fantasy was the answer to a question, which still ranks as one of the best moments of my life. I even wore it to my MIT interview, and continued to wear it in college – during my Twitch final round interview, I was clutching it in my hand, out of sight of the webcam. It has become a motif for dreams and ambitions within my own life, and to this day, if I’m feeling down about life in any way, I’ll have it with me. It’s my lucky charm, my lucky symbol, and I even had it inscribed on the inside of my Brass Rat. And so, when I was taking my graduation pictures,09 shoutout to Amber Lu!!! it only felt right to take this picture, with the necklace as my tassel, as a wave to the Nisha of the past who loved games so much she practically lived inside of them, and as a salute to the Nisha of the future who will hopefully be doing cool game related things that will amaze the Nisha of the present.

me, with the buster sword as a tassel

cheers to the future (and more importantly, pc to Amber Lu for taking this amazing picture)

 

  1. and therefore missed my last chance to take sailing, RIP back to text
  2. which i'm also not very good at, but i love it so much that i can transcend this back to text
  3. i made a really shitty small shelf once back to text
  4. at the MIT Education Arcade, PlayStation, and Twitch back to text
  5. for which I am approaching my second anniversary back to text
  6. i know, however, that this is somebody's absolute joy in life, and all the power to them back to text
  7. tbh at some point ~ten years ago, my personal philosophies became utterly inextricable from zack fair's back to text
  8. way too fucking much back to text
  9. shoutout to Amber Lu!!! back to text