This week, I’ve decided to be adventurous and adopt the nomadic lifestyle. The nomad is a member of a people or tribe (read: tribe CS major) that has no permanent abode (read: I only go back to my apartment to shower and nap) but moves about from place to place (read: company events), usually seasonally (read: around career fair time) and often following a traditional route or circuit according to the state of pasturage or food supply (read: free pizza and Tiffs Treats). Considering that I start off my day in class, traverse through a series of either info sessions, tech talks, or panels, and by sundown end up in either the GDC 3rd floor lab or (if I’m lucky) in my room, I think it’s safe to say I’ve become an honorary nomad. It’s not exactly a glamorous lifestyle. I don’t really care for an endless supply of free things and free pizza; I could do without consuming greasy triangles 3 times a day. It’s all starting to get to my head, and every time I close my eyes it’s almost as if I can see the company names etched on the inside of my eyelids:
In a nutshell: I’m going crazy.
So why all this? Partly because I’m doing my level best to get an internship this summer. Partly because it’s actually been very educational to talk to various people in the tech industry. Partly because I’m aggressively making up for the fact that unlike the last 2 years, I’m no longer afraid to be a computer science student.
You read that right. For the longest time I have been afraid of my own major. Background info: I wasn’t always a CS major. Unlike a lot of my peers I didn’t come out of the womb implementing data structures and coding apps. I came to UT as a chemistry major, with no previous programming experience whatsoever, and made the life changing decision my second semester to transfer into computer science. It was love-at-first-sight and easy going for the first several months in the carefree land of CS 312: Intro to Programming. It wasn’t until the semester after, when I threw myself into the world of honors classes, that the proverbial rug was pulled out from underneath my feet. Except instead of falling on my face, I was falling into the lava filled mouth of a volcano.
It was new everything: new classes, a new way of taking tests, a new way of doing projects, a new way of being successful, and worst of all a whole new social climate to navigate. It was like speaking a foreign language from a handbook when my peers were already fluent. As a result, I unearthed all my old, early-adolescent shyness and and donned the cloak of a painfully uncomfortable introvert. My new best friend, imposter syndrome, and I spent a lot of time time together.
It’s actually kind of embarrassing to think back to those days. I avoided GDC like the plague. I was scared of everyone, but I’m not sure why. Would they see through my façade? But what façade? I was a real CS major right? Above all I avoided the 3rd floor GDC lab. It seemed to be a hub of genius people doing genius things and I was totally unqualified to enter the sacred space. My first career fair, exactly a year ago, was a flop. I was purely a bundle of nerves—there was no brain to think with and no mouth to speak with. I actually walked in circles for two hours, slightly petrified, before working up the courage to talk to a recruiter. Naturally it was a lukewarm experience, as were the rest of my interactions with companies that day. I did not have any notable experience to talk about and lacked the confidence to make up for it. Unable to sell myself, I resigned myself to acquiring as many t-shirts as possible. However, the day wasn’t a total failure, and by my tenth recruiter I was feeling like I had shed at least a few layers of my fear.
This (currently depressing) story does have a happy ending. After experiencing that infinitesimally small upswing in confidence at my first career fair, I threw myself into my classes wholeheartedly, asked more questions, went to more events, and contributed to the department in as many ways as I could. Basically, I did my best to wrangle my irrational fear into a dark cave in the back of my mind. I became a mentor for WiCS and volunteered at CS events and found that by helping others, I was helping myself (so cheesy I know). I proved to myself that I knew what I was doing. The biggest favor I did for myself was talking to others. I realized that many of my peers, regardless of age, gender, background, and experience, suffered from various degrees of Imposter Syndrome just as I did. Even though people avoided talking about it, everyone was wrestling with their own uncertainty. My classmates were just better at faking it. Learning this made it easier for me to relate to the new world I had chosen to inhabit and slowly, with experience, my old confidence came back until I could no longer recognize the shrinking-violet of a person I had been.
This week my career fair experience was a complete 360 from last year’s experience. It wasn’t the miasma of high-strung nerves, anxiety, fear, and “swag” that I remember it as. Honestly it was a lot of fun. I genuinely enjoyed talking to the recruiters and engineers and realizing all the different options I had after I graduated. I also learned that if I am happy and confident about who I am, then recruiters enjoy the conversation more. I was so caught up in socializing (and of course angling for any and every internship opportunity) that 6:00 pm came too fast and I found myself wishing for more time so I could get to all the other booths. I left career fair feeling deeply grateful that the universe had led me to where am I am today and with the warm, fuzzy feelings you get when you know the future is going to be wonderful.
My revived confidence and ease in my “new” skin is not just restricted to career fair. Even though it took me a long time, I have finally settled into life as a computer science major. GDC has become my new home, and (UNFORTUNATELY) the 3rd floor lab even more so. As a result of Operating Systems, on most weekends, I transform into a lab hobo and camp out between the banks of computers. Except instead of delicious s’mores I only have my broken code to pass the night. Despite the stress, I love it all.
For CS majors out there who think “they’re not good enough” or who just lack confidence—because I know you’re there—I want you to know the following things:
1. You most certainly are good enough. You wouldn’t be where you are today if you hadn’t already proven yourself before.
2. Almost everyone is just as scared as you are.
3. It will get better if you sincerely try.
4. It is all in your head.
One day in the future, you will be rewarded for all your handwork and it will be one of the best feelings ever. I know from personal experience: getting emails from various companies for interviews over the past few days feels better than eating chocolate cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Honestly. It motivates me to work harder and on the days I get to go to sleep, I wake up excited for the future.
Happy Thursday :)