I am in the sad business of NOT being a tea-drinker or a coffee-drinker. So you can see my problem: As my already exorbitant workload forces me into becoming a nocturnal creature, I have nowhere to turn, to keep me up at night. Yes, it’s only been a few weeks since the semester has started, but my initial energetic, squirrel-like excitement has been reduced to the excitement of squirrel droppings. I’ve already had multiple urges to abandon all pretense of a healthy lifestyle and consume large quantities of chocolate cake while binge watching Netflix. It’s a sad state of mind.  

Nonetheless, I know I will eventually make it out of this phase of self pity. However, that doesn’t stop my present self from sorely missing summer’s radiant embrace (Or being a Houstonian—summer’s murderous, heat-stroke inducing grip). The thought of summer conjures up visions of luxurious swathes of time. Time. Something us constantly-busy computer science students just don’t have. Conversely, this summer I had extravagant amounts of free time because I did: Nothing. 

Now, I’m being overdramatic. I did get a few things done: summer school, acquisition of some business experience, and a start on some personal projects. However, due to several factors, what I did not do was complete a swanky CS internship.  You know what I’m talking about—the ideal internship in some coastal city, replete with pictures of scenic hiking vistas, tastefully minimalist office spaces, and trendy meals. In other words, the kind of internship many CS students aspire to earn. Each successful summer internship is like a shining stepping stone to a glorious future career. If not an internship at some of the most revered companies, then any solid internship will do—gaining experience is key. So, my lack of a summer internship is probably some sort of a sin in our world.

I don’t know what percentage of the UTCS student body didn’t have an internship this summer, but I’m confident that I’m not the only one. If I’m being brutally honest, this is not a cool situation to be in. Maybe I am imagining things, but people judge you if you tell them that you didn’t do an internship (or something of substance) over the summer. They’re not saying it, but I can see it in their faces: I’m glad I’m not her! It’s simply the result born from a culture that expects progress and achievement 24/7, 365 days of the year. Subsequently, I had a variety of unpleasant feelings to deal with: An oppressive pressure that I was losing some competition, guilt from failing, dread over what recruiters would think next year, etc. It was hard not to feel slightly bad about myself whenever I talked to my classmates about our summers at the beginning of the semester. I got the feeling that the world wanted to paint the word “LOSER” on my forehead.

However, I’m exaggerating the magnitude of those negative feelings, I can honestly say that I had the BEST summer in a long time. Summer break actually felt like a “break.” When was the last time you took a real break? I got to be with my family, spend time with my sisters, and relax. Most importantly, being home in a comfortable space gave me time for some quality introspection.

Introspection can happen anyplace and at anytime, but it’s a lot harder during the semester when classes and your “future career” are screaming in your ears and constantly demanding excellence. So this summer, I asked myself questions such as: What do you reallllly want in life? Where do you want to be in 5, 10, 20 years? Are you pursuing your passions like you promised yourself you would? How much have you changed since high school, and is it for the better? And this time, I couldn’t avoid answering to myself by using some urgently-due assignment as an excuse.  

I didn’t have concrete answers to every question, but I learned a lot about myself. Some of it I liked and some of it I did not like. For example: I realized that I didn’t want to actually go to graduate school for computer science; I only wanted to earn my Ph.D. in the way that little kids want to grow up to become superheroes. Also, over the last couple years, I had become a timider person than I used to be, and as a result was missing out on valuable opportunities (I need to change that!) And, I had been neglecting a lot of my passions and hobbies and using school work as an excuse. This was a shame because your passions and hobbies are what make you an interesting person.

It’s amazing how much you won’t know about yourself if you don’t consciously take the time to reflect. The most important thing I did this summer was to vastly improve my self-awareness. In my opinion, self-awareness is the one key to understanding life, being happy, successfully navigating the future, and realizing why you have the problems you do. I also reconnected with the world outside of the CS bubble we all tend to live in and came back to school with a refreshed, optimistic, and relaxed mind.

Computer science is such a competitive field that it is easy to feel like you’re not doing enough. I would bet that even our most successful classmates feel this way. However, at the end of my summer, I concluded that I had spent my time wisely. So, don’t quote me on this, but I would say that:

  • It’s okay if you spent your summer mostly learning how to bake the most delicious cupcakes and taking frequent naps.
  • It’s okay if the most significant thing you did this summer was to teach your little sister how to play the piano.
  • It’s okay if you all you did this summer was to watch sci-fi movies and go to the library too much.

Really, it’s okay however you spent your summer, as long as you were gaining self-awareness and being honest with yourself about your actions.  So, if you didn’t do an internship this summer, that doesn’t make you a loser, failure, or a bad CS major. I’m not trying to glorify idleness because in all honesty you probably do want to snag an internship or two (or three) some time before you graduate because they are valuable experiences. What I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t let four months negatively define yourself as a student or even a person. There are a lot of ways to get “ahead” in life and a summer internship is not the only way.

Happy Thursday! :)

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