Jason Lindquist (jlindquist) wrote,
Jason Lindquist

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What do you want?

Never ask that question.

-- Vorlon Ambassador Kosh

Rene wrote about that question today. My comment to her runs down a path that's better explained here than by droning on in someone else's journal.

Coming into college, I wanted to be an EE major, specialize in everything (RF, semiconductors, hardware, software, you name it,) and be an 'A' student. I wanted to do some undergrad research, work some internships, do stuff with the IEEE student branch. Yeah, I'd been something of a slack student in high school, but I thought I could make a new start in a new environment that I really fit into. And when I was done, I'd get a job anywhere... I could handle anything, work in any environment.

What happened was, I didn't improve my study habits enough, or soon enough. So there went the 'A' status (I just missed the Dean's list my first semester, and that was the closest I would ever get,) and I failed to learn enough in Physics 108 to do well with semiconductors, which I decided I wasn't much interested in anyways. They're kinda neat in theory and all, but you can't do anything I considered cool with them. I missed the basis for RF too, which I lost interest in, but then wished I grasped better once I started working for Qualcomm. The IEEE branch was a bunch of resume-padders, a lot of whom aspired to management, instead of doing anything interesting or productive. Research? You have to have an idea you'd like to explore. That requires creativity I don't have. Internships? They mostly go to people with far better grades than I had.

I did land a co-op with Argonne National Lab. It was basically lab tech work, maintaining measurement and data collection equipment. But there was a lot of downtime (thank God for remote X Windows displays!) That taught me I wasn't wild about working for the government. There didn't seem like much room for initiative.

Being a strong student would've eaten up a lot of my time. And that would have been time away from my social development. Freshman year, I hung out a bit with my roommate and suitemates, but there wasn't a whole hell of a lot we all liked to do together. I spent a lot of time out prowling the campus by myself, or sitting in front of the keyboard, which wasn't unlike the previous four years. Sophomore year I stared meeting the people I still hang around with today. The next summer, I finally fell in with the campus ACM chapter, which dovetailed with the crowd I rollerbladed with. Now there were interesting projects to work on (stealing "valuable study time",) and something to do when we needed a break. Those projects spurred my professional interests far more than coursework ever did, and the skating and socializing kept me sane under the stress of those same classes. I hadn't understood how important that was, I really couldn't be happy being a 24/7 student.

Interning or co-oping off-campus would take me away from friends I was making, so I really didn't want to leave again. My first summer on campus (after the Argonne co-op semester) I only took two classes, and didn't work. But all my friends did. I learned from them that there was a lot of valuable experience to be had in campus jobs. Even working as a computer lab droid got you busy with troubleshooting and some people skills. I didn't know that coming onto campus.

In the end, my shortsightedness led me to the (false) belief I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, which gave me enough confidence to get started towards something. The difficulty of finding my limits, coming to terms with them, and the course correcting from that and from discovering possibilities I had been blind to, that's another story. (Junior year was really a bitch...) But you can't learn from mistakes you can't make because you won't get off the porch in the first place.

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