Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Retroactive Advice

Hey everyone,

In 2 months, I'll be starting a program at a fairly decent University, doing a double degree in Math and Computer Science.

I'm not doing this because I want a job; in fact I have a pretty good job right now that I will be leaving. I find this stuff interesting, and that's my sole reason for doing this.

My qustion, which hopefully will make for a somewhat interesting topic, is this:

If you could somehow send advice to your younger self, at the time when you started in University or College, what would that advice be?

JOS Reader
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Follow your bliss...

and buy a bushel of Apple.

Our team of programmer
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

A couple of points:

1) Don't aim to leave university as a C programmer, or a Java programmer, or a graphics whiz. Aim to leave as a problem solver.

2) You're going to wonder if some of your professors are morons. Don't. Some of them most certainly will be.

3) You're going to be tempted to take that Predicate Logic course to fill out that humanities requirement thinking that the Philosophy faculty will have a lot more women. Well, they do, but they don't take that course. Trust me.

DingBat
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

I doubt I would go into computers again.  Now that I'm starting a family, etc I'm starting to question the wisdom of staying in this field.  Unfortunately, the more programming I do, the more hooked I get.

Lee
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

First of all, you need to have an idea of what it is you want to do once you have your degrees.  There are two major areas you can go into: business or science.

If you plan on going the business route, then I would suggest getting a Bachelor or Arts instead of Bachelor of Science and a finance degree instead of the math degree.  Be sure to take Spanish or some other foreign language.

If you plan the science route, then a math and a BS degree makes since.  But, you may want to concentrate on the kind of science you like.  Chemistry, biology, physics, etc.

I agree with Dingbat, be a problem solver, not a programmer.

Bryan Shaw
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

To: Past Self
From: Future Self
RE: University

A few notes regarding the next four years:

1.  You will have loads of fun ... try to have a little less.  Your grades will thank you.

2.  Meet tons of people ... networking makes the world go round.

3.  In second year, ask out the hot law student, you dumbass!

4.  Don't worry about failing calculus ... you won't really need it anyway.  Algebra ... that's another story.

5.  Get involved more with your faculty a little more.  There are lots of smart people, both profs and students, who are more than willing to help you out.

6.  Get a job!  Working in your field during university will prove to be an immense benefit later down the road.

7.  Despite the fact you hate artsy-fartsy crap, take a minor in philosophy.  Its like math, but with words.  Plus, there will be a severe deficiency of women in you faculty.  This is not the case in the Arts department.

8.  Go to class for your CS and math courses (which you won't do).  This stuff you can't learn from a book.  Skip your elective classes (which you will do).  This stuff you can learn from a book. 

9. Repeat: go to class.

10.  Languages, Grammars and Translators is an awesome course.  Unfortunately, your prof won't speak English.

11.  Computer Architecture II is an awesome course.  Unfortunately, your prof won't speak English.

12.  File Structures is an awesome course.  Unfortunately, your prof is an ass.

Well, Past Self, study hard, have fun and remember that this is just the beginning of bigger and better things.

Cheers,
Future Self

schizo
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Go to class
Keep up with the work
If you're stuck, ask for help
Be careful what you do to who. It appears women have networks that rival the internet.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

I live in the US and when I was applying to colleges I didn't even think of applying to overseas schools. After I did junior year abroad and had such a great experience I realized I limited myself by not looking at schools outside of my home country.

Tom Vu
Wednesday, June 25, 2003


I spent 5 years in college and never got a degree, but I did learn a few things:

1. Read the material before class. Do your best to teach it to yourself, then let the prof fill in the fuzzy areas.

2. Don't think "I'll never use this". You simply can not know where you will be or what you might be doing 10,20,30 years from now. If they teach it then consider it worth learning. Leave the practicality of it to your future.

3. Go to class. (Amazingly enough..this seems to have an effect on one's grades.)

4. Finish. It's gonna be much easier to finish while your in the swing of going to school. If you quit with the hopes of coming back "some day", it probably won't happen.

Mark Hoffman
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

I'd noticed this "send advice to yourself" thing around 3 months ago. One was a friend telling me she'd been talking to her friend about it. Two was actually on slashdot, and I forget where the third one was.

Are we really that filled with regret that we want to change our lives so radically?

If I could send any message back, I would tell myself the importance of fiscal responsibility. Something I knew, but didn't really follow. Reduce your expenses, invest what you've got, and if I could be specific - buy such and such stocks and sell them at such and such a date.

I'm pretty happy with my life otherwise. I think I did fairly well at following Joseph Campbell's advice. (follow your bliss)

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Advice to my younger self:

Don't be sitting in the damn computer lab with all the other geeks at 3AM on Easter Sunday morning, desparately trying to get that project done.

Get out of the lab and get involved with more social events -- hang out in dingy clubs, go surfing, get involved in some crusade.

Don't major in CS or EE -- major in something worthwhile like Ancient History or Law or Conceptual Art or Cognitive Science and just keep up with all the development journals since you'll learn more and that degree, granted with high honors, won't get you a job anyway if you don't know all the flavor of the day apis.

Top of the Class
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

JOS Reader wrote, "I have a pretty good job right now that I will be leaving. I find this stuff interesting, and that's my sole reason for doing this."

My first response to your post was - Huh? Then I realized that you are one of those people who really should be living in a different era when attending a university was primarily about obtaining more knowledge rather than obtaining a high paying job.

I really like the advice that Bryan Shaw gave.

Imo, if all you want to do is study math and science because you find these subjects interesting then simply buy some books and start studying.  A formal education in math and science is worthless (from getting a job standpoint) unless you plan on eventually going into a field that requires people to have an extensive academic background in math and/or science.  Of course, if you are rich or somebody else is willing to pay all of your school expenses then you should completely ignore my opinion.

I have always found astronomy to be a fascinating and interesting topic of study. Instead of attending college to learn more about this subject, I simply read as much as I can on the areas of astronomy that interest me -- it's called having a hobby.

One Programmer's Opinion
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Learn another language.

Travel abroad (either semester abroad, after graduation, or during summers). Use that language. This is the only time in your life when sleeping on the train or on the floor doesn't seem like a bad option at all.

Get to know people, and be known by people, including your prof's. As others have said, networking makes the world go 'round.

Grab as much knowledge out of that university as you can. This may include auditing phys ed so you can learn to cha-cha/foxtrot/mambo, hit a golf ball, swim, do karate, etc. Sing in the glee club, play in the orchestra, try out for the play, etc. In real life, you just don't get opportunities to do these kinds of things very often.

Lauren B.
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

I double degreed in math and philosophy and have never had any problems finding a high paying ($85+/hr) programming job. My advice is to not be afraid to quit a course if it seems stupid. The guys telling you to major in finance instead of math are assholes. I can't think of any job where it is useful to have a B.S in "finance" vs. mathematics. Especially since there are about 100 times as many business and finance majors as math majors. Also, try to avoid taking computer science courses. Most of them are bad.

Actually, the main advice I have is to not listen to anyone else's advice. Just do what makes you happy.

hello
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Oh. the only actual advice I have is to try to stay in shape, and make a bunch of friends. Not sure what your plans are in the future, but there is nothing lamer than being fat and friendless.

hello
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Note to past self: Just "follow your bliss", it'll take you where you want to go... the money will follow.

From future self.

HeyCoolAid!
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Note to self: Watch the Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers when it comes on PBS to get a great quote "follow your bliss." While you're at it, take his advice.

Note to self: Once there was a man who lived on a mountain known far and wide for his wisdom. A young man trekked up the mountain to seek his advice and found him carrying a large heavy pack up to his home on the highest peak. "What is the meaning of life" the young man asked, and the wise man put down his pack. Immediately the young man understood. "I get it! I understand.... now what?" and the old man picked up his pack and continued up the mountain.

Note to self: The Buddha was meditating on a mountaintop with some of his students. Anger and Jealousy came to visit, and the students shooed them away. "You cannot go in there, that's where the Buddha is," but Anger and Jealous got past the students. The Buddha immediately recognized them and said, "Ah, my old friends, come in and sit down."

Accept yourself for who you are.

Note to self: The things you don't like about yourself now probably won't change by the time you get to be my age. Learn to accept these traits and you'll be much happier with yourself and the choices you make.

Note to self: You have a great life.

Note to self: Buy Yahoo, sell in y2k.

Note to self: Patent this device that can send messages back in time.

and my personal favorite, from Richard Lewis from his television show Anything But Love: One day you're going to have to make a choice. That choice will affect the rest of your life. Whatever you do, don't choose betamax.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

* the Joseph Campbell interview with Bill Moyers

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Make sure you go to the courses and the labs. This is the most important advice, and will have a lot of effect on your grades.

Also, you will never find yourself with so much time in your hands for learning something - so, learn like hell.

However, try to also have fun, meet people, go to parties, etc. If you don't, you'll be very sorry later (I know I am).

Drake
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Add in the advice my father gave me:

1) Assume nothing
2) Follow up and check

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

To: Past Self
From: Future Self

Spend effort to study that Linear Programming course. Otherwise you would just barely pass it.

Study for knowledge, not for passing exams.

Have fun in your sophomore year. That's your last chance.

Don't take more than 6 courses per semester.

Rick Tang
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

>  ...thinking that the Philosophy faculty will have a lot more women

A friend of mine did a sub-major in art history specifically because it had the prettiest girls, as far as he could tell. He ended up marrying one, so it would have to be considered reasonably successful.

.
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

I've tallied all the books I've read over the years - hours studying, and realized that, except for the teacher interaction, I have roughly the equivelant of 3 or 4 degrees since college.

A lot of people around here who no longer have fun. That's sad. (sad upsetting not sad pathetic) I'm going to start a new thread.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

To Me:

1. Don't get too swept up in web programming, everything else fell too easily to the background.  Now I get gut pains every time I see a job offer requiring C++.

2. Take advantage of all that freetime and do more independant projects on the side.  Big, complicated, earth-shattering projects.

3. Don't get so attatched to her.  The stupid bitch.

Anon
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

If you wan't to learn something don't set foot in a university (not true for everyone, but true for me)

Daniel Shchyokin
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

If a future you could somehow send advice to you as you are now, what would that advice be?

Dale Emery (www.dhemery.com)
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

I'm pretty happy with my university experience but

Network with peers and faculty.

Going to class is important but I grasped that very quickly.  Plus I had the habbit of being known by the 15mins of the teachers so skipping class was very hard - they always noticed.  The only advice here is don't ask such hard questions - teachers don't knwo the answer and you get stuck researching and presenting to the class.

Also quickly learned just don't take that 7:30 class - even if they give out money you'll still miss it.  Or if you are a morning person don't take the 6p.m. one.  Anyway - work on your schedule and be the first to register.  Your girlfriend will be extatic you have Fridays off for long weekends and plus you won't be stuck with the mumbling idiot teacher that everybody hates.  This requires you to ask around about courses and profesors.

DON'T take that incomplete - a B in the hand is better than an A in the bush. 

Taken like 5 philosophy classes- - teachers were all guys, very few hot girls :-(  My luck came out of photography.

and finally using the save bug in Civilization to find ou how fast you can score gazillion points is a real waste of time.

tekumse
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Advice to self in 1994: "Buy tons of AOL, sell it all end of '99."

anon
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Always talk to every professor during their office hours so they know your name and so that you understand everything that confused you during their lectures. This is something I didn't do, but a collegue of mine did and his grades were quite a bit better than mine. :)

dmooney
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

note to self:

Avoid americans, they are boring and dont ever say anything interesting or useful. 
Favorite topic of conversation:  themselves

while were at it, if you were _interesting people_ what would you be talking about now?
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

"Avoid americans, they are boring and dont ever say anything interesting or useful. 
Favorite topic of conversation:  themselves"

Note to self: Learn how to spell and use grammar correctly, it might make people take me more seriously.

Realist
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Think about how you might like to spend your time, don't just 'drift' into things because you have a natural ability at them.

Do you like being told what to do by untalented people? If not then don't end up working for a financial organisation behind a partition.

Avoid loud and opinionated people.

Realist
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Oh and here's a good one, contrary to Joel's opinion, people who smoke and drink are better at sex, and generally much more fun to be around.

Realist
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

If I could send a note to myself ten years ago, I'd have had a lot happier ten years. As it stands I spent ten years worring and making myself ill about something that not only wasn't a bad experience but was so good I wish I'd done it ten years ago...

I'd also mention that the opinion I held about everyone was completely wrong, and end with a note to the effect that I should have more fun. Much more fun.

Katie Lucas
Thursday, June 26, 2003

"I can't think of any job where it is useful to have a B.S in "finance" vs. mathematics."

Especially if you want to get a job in Finance, study Math, not Finance.  They're always looking for people who can come up with new ways to make money, not people who studied the old ways to make money.

I agree with the language and go overseas advice.  I did a 1 year internship during grad school in Japan, and it was the highlight of my academic life.

And to everyone making notes to their selves-in-the-past:  why not take all that advice and implement it into your life now?

Jim Rankin
Thursday, June 26, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home