Category Archives: College

Degrees of Success

I suppose that it’s about time that I publicly announce that I have finally graduated from Murray State University with a Bachelor of Computer Science degree. After cobbling together a mix of classes that fulfilled my final three degree requirements and slogging through them over the summer, I officially graduated on August 4th. I was even able to turn my GPA around enough to graduate cum laude!

Yeah, still working on getting it in a frame.

Yeah, still working on getting it in a frame.

My final two classes were web-only, so I didn’t really get the closure of walking out of a classroom for the last time while secure in the knowledge that I was truly done. Instead, as an unofficially non-traditional student, I opted for closure in a non-traditional way: I drove to campus from my office at work after finishing my last final and took a celebratory walk. It felt very much like my favorite scene from The Pursuit of Happyness when Will Smith’s character had finally reached the point in his life where all his sacrifices and hard work had finally paid off (only without all the other people – it was 9pm in Murray, after all).

When I first started this journey before the turn of millennium, I noticed that most of my classes typically had at least one older student. Characteristically, most of these folks either sat in the very front or the very back of the classroom. What I noticed about many of them in particular is that they had a tendency to ask questions that caused the professor to repeat something he or she just said using slightly different words. Even worse, they usually asked their questions right as the professor was about to dismiss the class early. Of course these questions would usually get the professor lecturing for another good fifteen minutes or more on something that nobody in the class was especially interested in listening to because it was either understood already or tangential.

As I returned to school in 2014 at 34 years old, I vowed that I would never be the annoying old guy in the class that everyone secretly loathed. Instead, I planned on keeping my mouth shut, asking any questions I might have directly to the professors during their office hours, and most importantly, blending in as well as possible.76392-How-do-you-do-fellow-kids-30-r-fq7d

I was able to stick to this strategy for most of my classes – especially those needed for my Economics minor. From what I could tell, most of my classmates never discovered my secret identity, or at least let on that they had. I gained pretty much the same reputation that I had before as a younger student: That guy who doesn’t really ever say much.

I said “most” of my classes because there were several occasions when I absolutely could not bear the awkward silence that followed when a professor would pose a question to a room full of bewildered or disinterested students. It pained me to see an instructor’s frustration as he or she tried to get through to these kids, so I attempted to usher things along by speaking up and moving the discussion forward. This was the turning point where I think I finally began to sympathize with those older folks from my days as a Freshman and Sophomore – they were just trying to help everyone get the most out of their education.

I actually found myself wanting to see these young adults succeed where in the past I had come up short – much in the same way that I impose certain expectations upon my children because I want their lives to be better than mine. I spoke up because, like my children, I didn’t want to see them suffer because of something needless or preventable. Call it paternal instinct.

To see these young adults squandering their time and money while not taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge and other resources provided to them was disheartening. The feeling was worsened by the memory that I did the exact same thing when I was their age. A college education is a wonderful opportunity that, contrary to passing observation, is not available to a large segment of the world’s population.

At the same time, I can understand how some of these kids might be so apathetic. I have to wonder just how many of those desks were filled by students who were there only to earn the respect of the adults in their lives who asserted that, “Going to college and getting a degree is the only way you’re going to be able to succeed in life.”

At eighteen years old, having no idea what they’re going to do with their lives, many young adults tend to end up in college by default. I have to wonder how many of them really should have taken another path.

tylerMy dad never went to college, so it was real important that I go. So I graduate, I call him up long distance, I say, “Dad, now what?” He says, “Get a job.” Now I’m 25, make my yearly call again. I say, “Dad, now what?” He says, “I don’t know, get married.”

— Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Here is where I find that I am at odds with myself. I want my children to have successful lives, but the last thing I want to do is to push them into something that is only going to make them miserable and provide absolutely no enrichment. Furthermore, am I mistaken that there truly is no enrichment to be found in miserable experiences?

So when my daughter wants to quit gymnastics, what do I tell her? Do I encourage her to push through the activities that she doesn’t like so that she comes out on the other side with a sense of perseverance and accomplishment? Or do I accept that gymnastics isn’t her thing and nudge her to try something else like dancing or painting or piano or karate so that she can find her true calling? What negative behaviors am I encouraging when I allow her to quit when things get hard? What damage am I doing when I force her to keep doing something she hates?

I feel that I am fortunate that my parents never pushed me into any activities that I did not want to do while growing up. However, I often wonder if I needed a few more kicks in the butt to get me out the door and interacting with other people. Perhaps I needed to spend a bit more time outside my comfort zone.

All I can be confident in right now is that my desire to finish college was purely internal. It was something I did because I wanted to do it – not because of anyone’s expectations. It was also something that I did on my own timeline, instead of the normal four or five year timeline that most people follow. I achieved what I wanted to achieve when I was able to achieve it.

I think that at this point, the most important thing that I can teach my children is something that I’m finally coming to understand myself: Nobody has life figured out. All of these people out there who look like they know what they’re doing? They’re winging it. We’re all just running around pretending that we know what’s going on so that we can have an orderly society.

The good news is that we don’t have to worry about “having it together” in the way that most people think we do. Our duty is not necessarily to live a life that is considered “successful” by other people. Instead, the standard by which the value of our lives is measured is our obedience to God and His commandments. For many people, the appearance of success is going to look very different than what we would expect.

And that’s okay, because as long as we’re doing what we’re supposed to in God’s eyes, we’ll achieve at least some degree of success.

Not a Day of Labor at All

Well another beautiful Labor Day has drawn to a close and for the first time in a few years, we didn’t do much but clean the house and enjoy some quiet time together as a family. With gas prices as they are, I’m sure we weren’t the only family to spend the holiday at home instead of taking a trip somewhere.

Besides, the closer it gets to baby time, the more miserable Tabitha becomes. I’d hate to try to drag her out somewhere at a time like this. She’s reached the point where she’s ready to have it over with, and it could very well be soon, seeing as Kristopher came about 4 weeks early. We even joked a bit about going into labor on Labor Day.

As for me, I’m only a week and a half into classes, and already I was welcoming the three-day weekend. As my last post so accurately predicted, this semester will indeed be an exercise in time management. For the curious, here’s a quick rundown of my classes this semester:

  • CSC 232 (Programming in Visual Basic) – A programming class! I’ve wanted to learn VB for a while. Now I get to learn it for credit! For the record, I have never messed up a semester during which I took a programming class.
  • CSC 301 (Foundations of Computer Science I) – This basically boils down to being another math class (discrete math, to be exact), but at least it’s more directly relevant to programming than calculus.
  • CSC 405 (Computer Architecture) – This course actually couples quite well with my CSC 301 class, but it’s run with the assumption that its students have already completed CSC 301. Thankfully, the same professor teaches both classes this semester, and I’m not the only one taking both. This course comes with a lab where we get to design and build electrical circuits based on binary logic.
  • PSY 180 (General Psychology) – A relentlessly boring lecture class. I’ve taken it before, now I’m taking it again. We’ll see if I make it to the end of the semester this time.

Almost every day of the week, I have a two- to three-hour gap between two of my classes. I’ve already found that these gaps are great for finishing most of my homework, leaving very little work to take time doing at home. I hope this trend continues after our little girl is born, because I doubt I’ll be able to concentrate on things as well with a newborn in the house. Besides, who would want to work on homework when there’s a new baby to hold?

It’s been stressful trying to settle into this new routine, but hopefully soon I’ll find my rhythm. All I know is that I’m am not planning on letting this semester slip away from me like so many before. Making the Dean’s List last semester certainly helped boost my confidence in myself that I can do this stuff and do it well. I should have graduated years ago, and kick myself every time I think of all the time I squandered. At least I seem to be back on track now.

Lament for an Addiction

This started as a comment and seems to have materialized into a post.

EverQuest gave meaning to the word ‘dedication.’ It wasn’t a game for the casual player, and probably still isn’t. It was almost like a job, requiring shifts of 8+ hours to make even just a little progress.

There would be days when players could spend that entire 8 hours grinding, and lose it all over something stupid, like typing the letter ‘a’ in front of an NPC before bringing up a chat window. There were days when I really should have not have even logged in, losing entire days of progress over a couple of stupid circumstances, and thankful that I at least recovered my corpse.

There was a curious mix of anticipation and self-loathing that washed over me each time I loaded the game and was greeted with its timeless loading screen and music:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKj36GJj_i8]

Yet I still continued to pay and log in faithfully for nearly 3 years – committing myself to the game so much that my academic performance suffered. I essentially lost about 4 semesters of college to EQ, yet here I am, relentlessly tempted to go back to it or try out another MMOG such as World of Warcraft.

I must be a glutton for punishment – finding myself irrationally drawn back to a game that wielded terrible, destructive power over my life when coupled with my obsessive personality. And some would say I got off lucky. There are stories circulating of players who lost their jobs, families, and even their own lives over EQ addiction and frustration.

I’ve even tried several single player RPG games in an attempt to find something that might resemble a single-player EverQuest. Anything to fill the void. Morrowind even came close, but it still left me wanting.

I suppose I’m never going to find a comparable experience to EQ in a non-MMOG. Even as I insisted on being a solo player, it’s apparent to me now that I thrived on the player interaction that the game fostered.

Perhaps I should just stop searching for a replacement and swear off MMOGs until I have a CS degree in my hand and a steady job. At this point, it seems like it’s for the best.

I Can Actually Get PAID To Do This?

011_paul_grahamOrdinary programmers write code to pay the bills. Great hackers think of it as something they do for fun, and which they’re delighted to find people will pay them for.

– Paul Graham

 

I read a report on CNN’s website saying that the number of college graduates with computer degrees has been declining steadily for the last four years. I’ve personally seen evidence of this myself, since back in 1998 when I first enrolled in Murray State’s computer science program, it seemed like everyone was majoring in computer science. Now there are fewer than 100 – and that’s not an exaggeration.

The difference can also be seen in people’s reactions. In 1999, if you told someone your major was computer science, their response was, “Wow, that’s a hot field. You’ll be set with that degree.” Nowadays, you’ll hear, “Hmm. Are you actually going to be able to a get a job with that degree?”

It just seems to me that about five years ago, before the dot-com collapse, computer science was the “cool” degree to go into because you could make a lot of money with it. For me, money was never my primary motivation for choosing CS as a major, thought I must say it will be a nice side-benefit. I chose CS because I absolutely cannot see myself doing anything else. I’ve heard it said that if you’re so passionate about what you’re doing that you’d do it for free, then you’ve made the right career choice.

You can hire just about anybody to write something in English, but if you’re a publisher, you hire people who have a masterful command over grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the ability to convey ideas clearly and efficiently. I feel the same can be applied to those who write software. There are a lot of people out there who can bang out code, but successful software companies seek out the exceptional developers who program because they love it, not because it makes them rich.Screen shot 2011-11-03 at 21.08.55

I believe that there are fewer CS graduates coming out of universities than years past because the “money seekers” have moved on to other fields. Programming just isn’t as “cool” a major as it used to be because a lot of people were downsized or had their jobs shipped off to India. Sure, there may be fewer graduates coming out each year, but you can rest assured that the majority of these graduates are passionate about programming, not money – which means less of a chance for an employer to hire an idiot straight out of college.

Check out Paul Graham’s essay, Great Hackers (from which the introductory quote was taken) and scroll down to “More than Money” for another take on what drives programmers and keeps them motivated.

Three-Week News Recap / Grab Bag

Wow, things got really crazy really quickly! This post has actually been a long time coming, however it was delayed since I made the decision a couple of weeks ago to switch our main computer from Windows 2000 to Windows XP. After fighting XP for a week and a half, Tabitha and I realized it just wasn’t working out for us. Kunshin is now back on Win2k and running reliably again, with the exception of a nasty problem with the modem, which causes the system to freeze two minutes after being disconnected from the internet. The only way to recover from it is to restart the machine, which is becoming a big pain, to say the least. I hope I can correct this problem soon without being forced to purchase new hardware.

June 1st was the first day of my summer Humanities class. All I know to say is, “Wow, this is going to be a ride.” That’s not meant to be negative, either. The professor who is teaching the class is thoroughly engrossed in philosophy — the science that focuses not on finding the answers, but asking the questions. Instead of standing in front and “spoon feeding” the knowledge to his students, he facilitates in-class discussion by having us all arrange our desks in a circle and discover our own interpretations of selected literary works. This has led to some very interesting class discussions and in my opinion provides much more insight into the human condition than what I’ve gained from my previous Humanities classes.

Speaking of matters related to Murray State, I received my financial aid award letter in the mail a few days ago. I qualified for the Pell Grant and the Cap Grant, which together will pay for my next two semesters of classes with a generous amount left over to help cover books and other expenses incurred during my time in school. I don’t know why I was so afraid that I wouldn’t receive aid, but knowing that I will have my tuition fully paid for has certainly brightened my spirits this week.

Tabitha’s dad and aunt came down for a visit last weekend and brought with them a new (to us) dresser for Kristopher’s room. Kristopher’s dresser situation has actually been an arduous saga over the past year. Up until last week, we had been using a pressboard dresser that Tabitha bought for herself when she was still living in the dormitory at Murray State. She gave it up for use in Kristopher’s room where it remained until he became mobile, and started making a game of opening all the drawers he could reach and pulling out all the folded clothes within. After a few nights of refolding clothes and an unsuccessful attempt at implementing some sort of locking mechanism, we decided we’d had enough and relocated his dresser into his closet. Since closet space in our home is a valuable commodity, we knew this solution wouldn’t fly for long. Fortunately Tabitha’s dad decided to give us two twin-size beds (one of which Kristopher sleeps in, detailed in the previous post) and the matching dresser. The new dresser is made of much heavier wood, so the drawers require more effort to open. This is a good thing, because it discourages mischievous little hands from getting into places they shouldn’t be.

They also took us to dinner at the locally renown Patti’s restaurant. Since they had never been there before, and neither Tabitha nor I had been there with the exception of two Captain D’s Christmas gatherings, it was a new experience for us all, which turned out to be quite pleasant. It’s much different without the frigid weather.

On a more solemn note, my grandmother passed away around 11:45am on June 3rd, 2004 due to complications arisen from kidney failure. She had just celebrated her 86th birthday last month. She lived a long, full, Christian life that touched all those who knew her. She raised six children and was heavily involved in raising most of her grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

Now that she’s no longer with us, I regret not spending more time with my grandmother these last few years. I know it’s cliché to say so, but the passing of a loved one certainly helps bring into focus the fact that our time on this earth is limited, and that we should value every second of it. It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness of life that we forget about the things that really matter, and take for granted all the blessings and miracles that are bestowed upon us daily.

I’ve made it my personal goal to better appreciate the things I have. It’s been a struggle thus far — I’ve never been any good at it. But I’m trying, nonetheless. Now more than ever I know that nothing in this world should ever be taken for granted.