Everyone wants to be cool. Pardon the gross over generalization, but it’s mostly true. Even the people who think they’re above the opinions of everyone else have probably experienced wanting to be cool at least once in their life.
Maybe it was in elementary school when you were trying to convince your parents that you had to have a pair of Heelys because everyone else in class did. Maybe it was in college when you were desperately trying to keep up the semblance of having your life together so your siblings would look up to you. Maybe you dream of the day when the song you wrote becomes the next radio hit. Or maybe the only person you want to impress is yourself. Everyone is entitled to their own definition of what is cool. It’s an ever-changing, totally-subjective concept that depends on who, what, when, and where.
From what I can tell, we have a few standard notions of “coolness” in Computer Science: The kid who goes to tons of hackathons and always has the neatest personal projects. The student who sleeps through lectures, but always knows what’s going on in class (do they learn by osmosis or something?) The one who you suspect will be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk.
I was always dazzled by the people who had heaps and heaps of interviews. Especially the ones who were flying out to a city or two every week for “onsites.” Monday: a Snapchat of the Seattle skyline, Friday: a New York City, food-porn Instagram post, the following Tuesday: a Facebook check-in from the Bay Area. In my mind I spun their lives into a glamorous adventure. There was a horrible casualness to the way they talked about these cities and the swanky offices they visited; the conversations reeked of a jargon I didn’t know. I wanted to be them soooo bad. On top of the aura of adventure, to me being “cool” like that meant being part of the crowd that was competent, “had it together”, and was mostly likely to land a lucrative job.
This was freshman through junior year when I was hungry for interviews. Now it’s senior year and I’m finally the "cool kid" I always wanted to be. This November, I was in and out of 3 different cities in the span of 2 weeks for onsite interviews. You’d think it would feel awesome to finally achieve what I’ve wanted for so long, and it did, but …it also felt kind of awful. Let me explain.
Don’t’ get me wrong, having lots of interviews and making it to the onsite round is a good thing and I'm very thankful for it. Not to mention that it’s a lot of fun to meet engineers from different companies and talk about their work. If you are in the business of getting a job, it means you’re doing something right. However, it’s not all “easy, breezy, beautiful CoverGirl.” What I learned was that there was nothing more draining and time-sucking than onsites. It didn’t take me very long to become a zombie-robot who “turned on” for interviews and then promptly “shut off” for all other times. On the airplane I looked like a blanket-and-jacket-covered overgrown slug vegetating in my seat. Who had the energy to go sightseeing?! Then during school I would frantically oscillate between sleeping everywhere and anywhere to trying to makeup all the work that I had missed. I was putting figurative duct tape over the tears in my life—wanting for just one night of good sleep. I swear my eyes are just as likely to be red-pink as they are to be white. I asked myself why hadn’t the others complained about all of this when they were going through the same thing? And I realized they probably did. But all the complaints of “not getting enough sleep” or “not having time to catch-up on school work” fell on deaf ears. I was too busy wanting their stylish lifestyle (LIES).
I was dead-tired and ready to fall asleep standing most of the time? Yes. Bus was it worth it? DUH. Besides, I learned a lot from this year’s interview season. An introspective lesson about “coolness.” A reminder that not everything is as it seems. And a renewed sense of resolve to take better care of myself. Good luck to those of you who are still searching (I believe in you) and congratulations those who are done!
Have a lovely Thursday :)