Have you ever come to a point where everything you thought you worked toward seemed to crumble away at a moment's notice? That fear came to fruition this past week during the spring career fair. As I talked to a company about the workflow of software engineering, a thought passed through my mind. What if I wasn't meant for the industry?
That thought struck me hard. As a sophomore in college, I never expected a mid-life crisis halfway through my CS education. All throughout my life, I had diligently prepared to become a software engineer. From the first brush strokes I laid onto an SAT/ACT practice test, to my frustrations over computer architecture and operating system projects, till now taking time to read StackOverflow newsletters to better understand languages at a deeper level, the fear that all that work meant nothing scared me. This thought did not come out of random occurrence, laziness, or lack of diligence in study, but there are in fact many reasons why this thought flew by my head.
First off, I am unable to pursue an internship because I will be participating in a mission trip for my church this summer. Though it's a wonderful opportunity that I felt I needed to take, it does bring some uncertainty to the future. In fact, it stresses me out when I talk to my peers about interviews, not only because this is the first time in the past 3 semesters that I won't be preparing fully for recruiting season, but also because there is such uncertainty in whether I will be able to nab an internship in my junior year because of the blank slate my resume will potentially have for the incoming summer.
Secondly, I have been doing a proctoring position for Object Oriented Programming (OOP). I really love overseeing students, especially with Prof. Downing (OOP professor) as a model in class. Seeing the joy and passion he has from teaching, especially the genuine desire he has for students to learn, makes me yearn to maintain those same characteristics as proctor for his class. I love to see students through the same obstacles that I faced when I originally took the class, and that 'Aha' moment students experience when they understand something really motivates me through my studies and grading projects (a mind numbing task). This does not fully open me to teaching, but it has really shown me that I have a passion for teaching others.
Finally, I got a chance to interview Vijay Chidambaram, a UTCS professor, over his research under advanced operating systems. As I talked to him, not only did I see his love in mentoring and guiding students through classwork and research, but I realized that research has a bountiful range of opportunities. Research actually consists of many parts, similar to a company, except all those parts (ex. programming, advertising, etc...) are run by one person with possibly a team. As someone who likes to be organized and make my own decision, I can see how research can very enjoyable, especially since as a researcher, you get to choose your subject and decide how you want things to go.
I do believe that though it will be hard to face all these difficult thoughts considering my strengths and weaknesses, how I feel about education and teaching, and how I decide to pursue my future career and such, I will be able to have a better understanding of who I am, what I value in life, and ultimately help me in the pursuit of whatever the future has in store for me.