Letter to a STEM Graduate

Danny Sepler

Senior, Computer Science major

Dear STEM Graduate,

I’m one for higher meanings. While our studies can be chock-full of specifics, there are life lessons in them too. You just have to pay attention. Someone once said that majoring in computer science (and your field too, I’m sure) is a lot like boot camp. I believe that there is validity to that. Our fields break us down. They flood us with work. They give us little feedback and, if we let them, they consume us.

Image source: Google
Image source: Google

 

Not everybody is consumed. And don’t get me wrong, being consumed isn’t a bad thing. We all get consumed one way or another. By TV shows, by possessions, by other people. But at the end of the day, there are four types of people out there:

 

  1. Those who don’t get consumed, because they don’t see it as an option.
  2. Those who choose not to be consumed, because they decide it isn’t worth it.
  3. Those who choose to be consumed, because they decide it is worth it.
  4. Those who get consumed, because they don’t see an alternative.

 

In your (as I’m sure it will be) bright and rewarding career, you will meet all four sets of people. But if there is one piece of advice I have to offer, it’s that you don’t want to be persons A or D. After all:

 

Awareness is everything.

Awareness is everything.

Awareness is everything.

 

Say these words in your head until they lose their meanings. And then keep saying them, until they regain those meanings ten-fold. Be vulnerable. Let what you do consume you, even just for a week, even just for a day. That’s what being great at anything takes. Just be careful that you don’t become overtaken too easily. That’s how you get hurt. It’s how you lose what anchors you and who you are. And losing who you are is too easy in a technical career.

 

This semester, I decided to take one of the toughest classes in my department. Long story short, we made video games from scratch. I was in group A before the class started, but the challenge was a burst of fresh air for me. I was going through a period of apathy towards my personal life, and I found my work to be invigorating — different, more important even — than anything else. So I became part of group D. I found personal fulfillment in progress. I saw bugs (tech-speak for a problem) in the games as if they were bugs in myself, and I spoke and thought about the games whenever I wasn’t in team meetings.

All of this obsession must have gotten on the nerves of my friends, but it hardly mattered. They weren’t involved in the projects. They couldn’t empathize with me, nor could they offer suggestions. They weren’t important to the game, and at the peaks of stress they were out of my scope of focus as well.

 

This all might sound preachy or unrelatable, STEM Graduate. You already work hard. (The fact that you earned a degree from a school this good only evidences that.) You also already know how to juggle your work and personal life. Hell, last year you handled a serious relationship, research, and Calculus 3, while still making the time to catch up with House of Cards.

 

But I ask you to put all of your notions of balance aside. When you begin your job, even just for a second, take your hand off of the railing. Get consumed, and pause everything else in your life. And then afterwards, ask yourself if this is what you want out of your professional life. You might get everything you wanted. You might land your dream job. You might become a Google employee. Don’t be evil, but do think about your work 24/7. Or you might decide against all of it. Shirk your technology and your white-collar job, and join the Peace Corps.

 

Your life is yours, but you can only pick the most appropriate route if you’ve given everything else a shot. I wish you way more than luck.

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