Sunday, November 06, 2005

Swallowing pride, finding a focus, loving design, and breaking aluminum

CompArch is actually teaching me more about coding in a team than anything else. Piling into a room and just starting to type wasn't doing us much good, and just chunking out modules to each person wasn't working because we couldn't communicate our code to each other effectively enough to avoid lots of time-wasting debugging. I thought that since we could all write code by ourselves, we could write code together. Nope. (Yes, I'm naive.) My respect for professional engineering and design teams (and managers) continues to grow.

The second Matsci project is going wonderfully. We hauled more bikes out of dumpsters and pooled our resources to buy carbon fiber tubing and sawzalled off samples to flexure test in the Instron. There's something mildy satisfying about watching a little metal hammer literally rip its way through a hefty chunk of aluminum. Flexure testing was fantastic; there's nothing to make you appreciate ductility like watching steel bend like butter under a three-point frame. Apparently the carbon fiber test was even more spectacular because the little fibers make high-pitched popping noises as they snapped; while I couldn't hear it, I could see the jagged lines on the graph that corresponded to the tiny crackles and the sudden drop that was the rest of the fibers snapping (which I did hear - it was like a gunshot. Awesome!) Soon we get to learn to weld. About 15% of the reason I was all about bike frames for a matsci project is because it was a good excuse to learn welding.

It's amazing how much more smoothly things go the second time around. The worse you do the first time you try something, the more you learn and the better you do all the times thereafter (assuming you learn from your experiences, that is). It's not that we know what we're doing, because we don't; I think it's more that we're comfortable improvising around the space of Matsci and that we know better where that space and our skills can take us.

This week was the first time I've ever dropped a class. Analog-Digital wasn't going well, and between doing things badly now (and then never looking at them again) and doing them well later, I would rather take some time, read some books, play with some circuits, become more prepared, then come back next year and take full advantage of the course. I know it shouldn't make any difference, but just having the class dropped makes me feel so much more free and gets me jazzed up about playing with the material (because it's optional now! it doesn't count! it's for fun!) I also know I waited far too long to talk to Oscar about this. Mostly this is because my pride is very high. I'm still learning how to fail. I'm not comfortable with failure yet, so I don't recover from it as well as I should. I think I missed out on that part of freshman year where I was supposed to learn how to fail, get used to not being the "fast kid" in my classes, learn how to ask for help instead of giving it all the time... and now I'm afraid to because it's "too late" for me to learn something that everyone else learned two years ago. It's a dumb thought. I'm attempting to overcome it. But I still feel like I'm supposed to know how to be pefect already.
On a happier note, I had formerly worried that TAing would be a strike against me when I was looking for a corporate job. I thought I'd be behind since I've never worked at a business before, but it was pointed out to me this week that I'd actually have a more developed set of communications skills as a result (which may be why I write so much documentation for my teams and end up explaining things to non-technical people a lot). Look, ma! Academia hasn't rendered me happy-but-useless. Go go gadget cross-applicability of skills!

One thing I've come to realize is that I really love design. I'm not excited about technology because it's technology. I like engineering because it's a great tool I can use to make stuff happen. That's what keeps me up through cranberry-juice fueled allnighters - not so much the code itself, but the thought that the code I'm writing will be useful to someone. I like societal problems that can be solved with technology more than I like purely technological problems. It's caused more than a few doubts about my major (I've been on the verge of switching to Systems or Design multiple times), but I reasoned that I'll be more useful as an ECE that can design than a designer that has seen a little of everything. It's IDEO's idea of a T-shaped person; depth in one area, ability to work across all areas. I'm not sure if I'm going about it the right way, or if it's something I should even be going for. At any rate, I still feel like I'm wandering about without a depth; there's no one thing I can point to and say that it's "my thing," since I still like playing with everything under the sun. This is a bad thing if I'm going to grad school, since I'll need to pick something for my thesis, but I'm not sure how much of a liability it'd be in the working world.

One of the biggest things I'll miss about being a student is the flex time. I can stay up 'till 5am working on things when I get really into them, and then a few days later I'll be able to crash and sleep in until noon because I don't have class until the afternoon. Granted, this is rare, since I usually have work and meetings in the morning, but on a few wonderful occasions per semester, it is glorious. I've never felt good about chunking my time into neat little blocks, but I'll have to learn it soon. There's a balance between not allowing yourself to tangent (which stifles cross-idea-pollination, where most of my happy thoughts have come from) and letting yourself tangent too much (which makes you task switch to the point of utter nonproductivity), and I'm not sure I've found it yet. How do you manage creativity? That was a badly parsed, oxymoronic statement, but how do you organize things so that you don't have to organize them? (For the record, I'm an INFP.)
Class registration time is coming up. I'm not sure what I'm taking yet, but it will include humanities. I've had no AHS since my Foundation freshman year.

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