If I were to summarize this year, Infinite Jest-style, I’d go with The Year of Pushing Myself to the Limit. A recap: for my 6th semester, I took 23 credits while having a part-time job and becoming a TA for Calculus. The next semester, I took 24 credits while working on my bachelor thesis, a paper, and a conference talk (more on these later).
I’ve been met with a lot of “are you crazy”s, and “why”s, which I never really reflect upon until now. To answer the “are you crazy”s: now that I think about it, kind of. To answer the why’s: I used to glamorize the idea of hustling and being busy. I wanted to see what it is all about. Now I feel like I can say a word or two about it.
When I was going through it all, everything seemed just fine. I felt I was more exhausted than usual, but I think it was not unprecedented. I can attribute this to a few things:
I love my major.
I love my work.
I’m surrounded with the best people.
I'm very grateful for all the things above. The absence of even only one of them would have made my experience way worse.
However, in retrospect, I barely had time to take a breather. I even timed my own lunch (30 mins max). I was always in a hurry and a constant rush. I didn’t miss deadlines, but in some (or most) cases I think I could have done better. I've accepted that it's no one's fault--you can only do so much in a day, after all.
I thought that’s how a purposeful life looks life: you're always moving, always working on something, always busy. Then I had all that and I had the chance to prove myself whether it’s true or not. It turns out the answer is not a one-dimensional answer. Was it purposeful? Yeah, sure. Was it a healthy life? Now we’re talking about something else. How much of your life a purposeful one if it is not a healthy one? Hmm.
(Hint: I don’t know).
Whatever the answer is, here are some takeaways of my experience this year:
I learned how to stop being a perfectionist while keeping the quality of my work at an acceptable level. For example, I had to consciously stop working on my homework without rechecking it ten times because I had other things I must to do.
I learned to only give rooms for things and people that matter to me. I no longer worry about most of the things I was hella worried about last year, or the previous years before.
I learned that there will always be trade-offs. The most obvious, I think, is time. There are other trade-offs as well. An illustration: despite achieving quite a lot this year, it all comes with a good amount of stress. To handle that, I do spend more money on stuff such as movies and coffee. 1 for achievements - 0 for money.
I learned to hack my brain somehow. Life was moving way too fast that I had no chance to keep everyone else updated. When things go south, it's hard for me to vent to someone because most of the time it's a really, really long story that I can't be bothered to tell anyone the full story about. So what I do, most of the time, is I talk to my brain and console myself. It sounds sad, but I'm kind of getting the hang of it now. I know the way around my brain (and my psyche) better and I feel more prepared about things: rejection, failures, sadness, etc. I made it sound so easy, but it's not. Sometimes I do fail too and when I do I'd resort to ice-cream or crying or both. In fact, that's one of the hacks I learned: there will be times when you can't even hack your own brain. If eating pints of ice-cream while crying your eyes out is going to be something that makes you feel better, then go ahead.
This year, I was still learning all of the things above. Life will always be a series of trial-and-errors, but hopefully next year I can keep these to a minimum and make room for trial-and-errors concerning other aspects of life.
Not all of these are good things, though. I lost my grandmother this year and I think this is the very first time I lost someone close to me. I grew up with her, so this was really hard. I thought I had prepared myself, but if there is one thing I learned, it is that I don’t think one can ever be prepared for something like this.
Now before I get into the good stuff, here is one funny observation: most of these things are unplanned. I never really write goals/resolutions because when I did (I used to!), I never actually stuck to them. If I did write them last year, none of these would be on my list not because I didn't want to, but because they all seemed so far-fetched. However, I do not think that these things just kind of happen, either. It might not take a good plan, but it does need to take a good amount of courage. I’m going to pat myself in the back for this one because I think, in this particular aspect, I did well.
So, without further ado:
I had my first hackathon and my team and I snatched the third place at Midtrans' Hack-a-Ton of Data. We worked on a promo analytics app + dashboard. Yours truly got to present the work to Midtrans' and Go-Jek's CEO (in such a short notice)!
I dyed my hair blue. Nothing happened (everyone kept asking "what happened? Who did this to you?", I just wanted to!)
I co-authored (and presented) my first paper on predicting the amount of donation for crowdfunded social projects at the 2017 International Conference on Advanced Computer Science and Information Systems (ICACSIS). Not only I learned a lot of materials related to the substance of the paper itself, I also learned a lot about the technicailities of writing a paper and gained a little insight into the academia life.
I gave my first technical talk on building data-driven web applications using Flask at PyCon ID 2017 in Surabaya. A week before my bachelor thesis' deadline, no less. But it was worth it! I met the most awesome and nicest people ever. I also got to learn a lot of interesting things such as async in Python 3, speeding up Python using Rust, functional programming in Python, and analyzing music using Python. There are lots of things I need to improve, but hopefully there will be more opportunities to come.
I wrote my bachelor thesis. My thesis defense will be at the first week of January! Fingers crossed.
Thanks to my part-time job which I had for, what, almost a year? I got to code a lot (I seriously owe this part to the folks from the Data Sci team at Midtrans). Constantly coding every day gave me a new confidence in coding--I went almost a year without coding at all because the classes didn’t require me to and I was busy doing other things. There was time when I designed posters for pocket money—in fact, I still get random messages from people asking if I still accept orders or not (I don’t). For the first two years of my undergrad I probably opened Adobe Illustrator more often than I opened my code editor. Then there was the year where CompFest happened, in which I learned a ton about managing humans, networking, and running an event (all great stuff! I've written plenty about them here, here, here, and here) but definitely with zero coding involved.
Coding was the last thing on my mind up until earlier this year, but heck, it feels good to be back. It reminds me of what I liked doing when I was a kid, the magic, the reason why I'm here, everything.
Aside of helping ship a few projects in my part-time job, I managed to get a few side projects done:
... and then there are other stuff I haven't open-source'd yet, mostly because of messy codes such as my bitcoin.co.id API wrapper and script.
Now I think this deserves its own section because despite being a CS student, I'm extremely insecure about what I do and what I'm capable of.
I don't think I'm the typical CS student. I'm not naturally good at math; I worked super hard to understand it with all my might. I have to get all the fundamentals right before the more advanced stuff makes total sense to me. I also don't do competitive programming stuff either, as I find more joy in building stuff (of course, the two aren't mutually exclusive!). I still get the "am I really good at coding or am I just good at finding answers on StackOverflow" kinda feeling. When I took compilers last semester, on my first day I had someone ask me: what are you doing here? Are you really taking this class? I asked back, what do you mean by that? and he was like, nothing, I just didn't expect it. As a way to hack my brain, I learned to turn all those sayings into "I'm gonna do so well in this class you're going to regret it". I think I kinda did it, and I also discovered that compilers are hella fun, so 1 for me and 0 for him.
Anyway, the points above are why being comfortable in coding is a super huge thing for me. When I entered undergrad, I knew coding is something I love, but I never thought it'd be something I do a lot. It just seemed super unattainable at the time. Now I still don't know a lot of stuff and there's still a long way to go, but I'm getting more comfortable with coding (and even with the idea that this is not going to be a walk in the park).
It turns out that I got to travel quite a bit this year. There was the impromptu trip to Singapore. Then a week in Bali, in which I spent most of my time working on my assignments because I'm responsible af:
I went to Bandung with my workmates, which was fuuun except for the part where they discovered the blog that I made when I was on the 3rd grade:
I spent two weeks in Inner Mongolia (ghost city! Grasslands!) and Southern China. I have tons of photos but I haven't got around them yet.
The best part was when my flight got cancelled and I was practically penniless because I had spent all my money on useless things like cup noodles (because exchanging money back to IDR would be a hassle) and there was no ATM. Pro tip #1: never spend all your money before you're really sure you're going to board that damn flight.
I barely read any book this year. I swear my 14-year-old self is going to cringe if she knew. The only books I remember finishing are:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
The Desire of Elsewhere by Agnes Chew
Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future by Joi Ito
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
Although I don't read many books, I do read a lot of papers! I think I should start keeping notes on each paper I'm reading so that I do not forget them. Scratch that, I think this should include books too (this and this for inspiration). Update: I decided to take the plunge and build my virtual bookshelf where I'm going to keep track of my reading! Nothing fancy, at least it gets the job done.
The only sketches I do this year are the ones that I did in Bali.
I do practice piano more often though. I find playing the piano before coding helps me to unclog my brain somehow. Some of my favorite tunes to play are A Tale of Two Sister's Epilogue, Sebastien Tellier's La Ritournelle, Bleachers' songs, and The National's songs. Speaking of music stuff, I also went to watch Honne's concert.
I didn't write as much as I'd love to, but I did write a few posts:
I wish to write more technical posts next year! I already have tons of ideas, now I just need the motivation...
To be honest, I've been struggling to do other non-CS things (like sketching) because a tiny part of my brain believes that I'm wasting my time. Of course I'm totaly wrong. However, fighting the feeling has been a real challenge. Which brings me to...
Find the balance between CS and non-CS things. Ship more projects without neglecting my hobbies. Read more books, do more sketches, get back to learning French, write more fiction, yada yada...
A slower life. I'm still not sure how a slower life looks like or how to achieve it. It could be picking less activities or doing things more efficiently. But one thing for sure is that I don't want to be in a rush all the time. I still believe you can still have a good, fulfilling, purposing life without constantly being in a rush.
Be nicer. This is my favorite and something I really strive to succeed in. It's not that I've been evil all this time... I hope. But over the year I've met many so many nice people (like, SO MANY. I love each one of you) who would go out of their way to help me, and even to this day I still think "why?". It's surprising (and very humbling) that, among other qualities that they have (which are a lot! Intelligence, experiences, etc.), what inspires me the most is their niceness. It was not something that I thought much about. Now it's pretty much all I can think about, because I now realize it has so much to do with everything.
Some initiatives I care about: accessibility to researches (see my PyCon talk!), women in technology, utilizing IT to solve issues that are especially relevant in developing countries. CompFest 8's theme, Step Up Indonesia's IT Potentials for the Challenges of Tomorrow, has stuck with me all these years. I hope to get to work on these next year.
Learn more stuff, like infrastructure (I found ML infra to be interesting + super important) and systems programming. Learn stuff that scares and still makes me uncomfortable.
Despite having a lot going on, there are still some things I haven't managed to achieve yet. A lot, actually. It's OK! Another part of my ~brain hack~ is learning how to get around of these comfortable things. What I feel about this year is that there are things I haven't achieved yet, but this year feels like a natural progression of getting there. Looking back, I don't think it would have made much sense if I managed to achieve everything this year--if I did, my life would have looked like a Hallmark movie where everything automagically happens that it leaves soooo many plot holes in the story.