Monthly Archives for November 2012
Earlier in the year, I made this site have a more readable and responsive layout. My brain seems to like it, as it has yet to force me to put off everything else in my life to redesign it. One of the easiest things to pull off responsive-wise in WordPress is truncating your navigation menu list to show less links if there is less space. Continue reading
Yesterday I wrote a post about my Masters project and someone reached out to me about our graduate program not having a thesis requirement. I figured it was a good time to tell the story of Jenn Schiffer: Graduate Failure.
I started my graduate studies immediately after getting my Bachelors here at MSU in 2007. I wanted to be a professor, plus my application for Graduate Assistant was accepted; I’d get teaching experience AND continue to be paid to go to school. A Master’s program is typically two years, with coursework done throughout all 4 semesters. The final requirement for graduation is the completion of a “culminating experience.” Our department had 3 options back then: thesis, project, or comprehensive exam.
I wanted to do a thesis because I wanted to go into a PhD program afterwards. I was really interested in latent semantic indexing (warning: MATHEMATICS INVOLVED, H8RS) and so I wrote half a paper on using Wikipedia’s free data to improve context search. All was going well until my final semester when I had to get jaw surgery because of a stupid root canal-induced infection. Then Jimmy (then boyfriend, now ex) fell ill and couldn’t work. Also, I hit a wall with my research. I decided to bite the bullet and take a leave of absence so I could take on more freelance work and focus on both of us getting better before I can focus on my studies. I also decided then that I’m not really into being a professor and, instead, would probably like to just code instead of straight-up researching and teaching.
My short leave of absence turned into a couple of years. Then in July 2011, I found myself hired full-time here at MSU and it became a good time for me to get back into the graduate school game. We had a new faculty member who did research in software engineering, and I new that she and I would be a great fit to start a project on assessment. That became my culminating experience.
The degree was 5 years in the making. In those 2 and half years of being “in limbo,” I felt like such a loser for not being able to just finish what I started and get shit done. I saw students that I trained as Graduate Assistants graduate before me, find work, etc. When I presented my project and posed for photos next to the cake Bev’s husband made for me, it seriously felt like hundreds of pounds had been lifted from my shoulders. The weather was shitty, my hair was a mess, and I hated my outfit, but I felt like a million bucks/Beyoncé.
Those few years of feeling like a failure felt like a lifetime. There were times when I’d find my half-written thesis, or notes from all the research and articles I’ve read, and go lay in my empty bathtub and wish I was a shark or something equally cool. It sounds ridiculous now, but I felt like I didn’t deserve to be where I was at in my career – like, why would people hire me to write code for them when I can’t even finish a goddamn Master’s degree? Now I’ve got my diploma, framed and on the floor waiting to be hung up, and room on my shoulders to worry about other things – like getting back into studying LSI and continuing work on my projects without literally losing hair over the pressure of all the shitty things happening in my life then.
Whenever I feel like lost, I can look at the framed diploma and think 1. I can’t believe how much money it cost to frame that thing, and 2. I’m not a loser, I’m effing fabulous! It doesn’t always work right away, but it’ll do until I can hire someone to follow me everywhere and tell me how awesome they are paid to think I am.
I set my half-written thesis on fire. What did you do this weekend?
Re-approaching shitty software I’ve made is like looking at photos of me with braces and listening to Blink 182 – NO THANKS, DO NOT WANT TO DO THIS, NOPE. I’ve prided myself on keeping my focus on the present and future, not the past. I learned, though, that sometimes I need to take a quick look around so not to lose something I’ve worked hard on.
I think about this now because it’s been about six months since I finished my Masters and I have not had the time to go back to my software and improve upon it. I’m not saying that it is shitty, but it was made in a 3-month period. Also, about 1/4-1/2 of my attention was paid to watching all of Battlestar Galactica and X-Files on Netflix.
My goal for this week is to break open that code and come up with a game plan for feature additions and improvements. I hope to have it ready for deployment within my department for a beta run during one of our Summer 2013 semester sessions. See, now that I’ve said this publicly I must follow through or else all of you will run me out of this town and onto an island inhabited solely by orthodontists and Tom DeLonge.
Do any of you have projects “in the vault” that you want to get back to, but fear seeing a snapshot of your past (or poor code formatting) and dying of embarrassment?
Oh, and on a totally related note, I did some investigative journalism and Twinkie consumption for Baristanet last week.
Do you need a degree in Computer Science?
I get asked this question all the time. Usually it’s because someone finds out I’m a web developer and they figure that most of my knowledge of current technologies are self-taught – which they are. Web development, and everything else related to Computing, is a learning field; I’m always learning and intend to continue learning for the rest of my life.
That’s not to say that my years in college were pointless. In fact, going to college was probably the greatest thing I’ve every done and will never regret. My two degrees are the biggest accomplishments of my life, followed by the fact I’ve been able to keep my cat alive this long. I still haven’t figured out which of those things were the hardest – being that Jefrey right now is trying to tear a new portal into my couch.
A degree should be more than a piece of paper that says you studied a major. It should be evidence of an experience you had that just happens to be concentrated in a specific subject. The career path you take is a test of whether you really earned that piece of paper by taking the skills that your instructors taught you, no matter how theoretical or practical they may or may not be, and using them to solve problems in the real world.
I think that one of the most important things I got from going to college was confidence in my work/craft. My childhood, to put it bluntly, sucked. College was my escape from the harsh reality of a broken home and a past that I wanted to pretend never happened. I had been working up to college my entire life. My high school teachers told me I could be independent and do whatever I wanted to do. I think a lot of kids take this for granted, but that support and encouragement literally saved my life.
When I came to Montclair State, it was a new world with new people, and I had a blank slate to start from. There is no feeling in the world quite like that. I met great open-minded people, but also encountered those that I wholeheartedly disagreed with on everything. It was refreshing to not be afraid to have an opinion, which was something I was not entitled to until I was kicked out two days shy of my 18th birthday. I had done a lot of growing up in those 6 months between moving on my own and going to college, and I knew that I needed to make the most of this experience or else I’d end up like someone I never wanted to be.
When you feel confident in yourself, you have an ambition that drives you to get to a certain goal, and you just know that you’re going to reach it so long as you keep working towards it. Explosive swearing and crying are totally acceptable and, of course, inevitable*. I always joke with my dad that no matter how mundane a task I want to complete is, something or someone always tries to get in my way. You can’t let those obstacles get you down, though. If I did, well, I don’t even want to think of where I would have ended up. Probably somewhere gross and filled with spiders.
Where I work, who I work with, and what I love to do sits upon the foundations built from my college career. It also should be noted that my main job is in the department that I earned both of my degrees in and, since I am happy with my life at this point, it’s obvious that I made the right choice in going to college. I stuck around and, now, have the opportunity to be a part of that same support system for current and future CS/IT students.
So, yes, I think you should get a degree in Computer Science if you want to follow my path, which maybe (probably) won’t be the case for you. If you depend solely on the strong opinions of non-degree-holders who tell you it’s pointless to go to school, or biased professors that say you will end up on the streets if you don’t go to college, then you’re going to explode from the stress of making such a decision. I say try college out for a year. If you hate it, drop it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re a loser for it, because only losers call other people losers, and you shouldn’t listen to losers. Because they’re losers.
Just do you, babes.
* I cried for a minute last night over an SVN command that wasn’t working for me. I have no shame shedding a tear or two over version control. I believe it’s made me a better human.