January 01, 2016
I didn’t really talk before I was 4 years old. In fact, I learned how to read before I could converse with others. According to my parents, a doctor said that I would have to attend a special school for not knowing how to speak properly.
Some kind of speech impediment carried on through the beginning of high school. I stuttered whenever I was in social situations, even the most casual ones, and still do occasionally. The following is a list of things that have particularly helped me overcome stuttering.
Joining the debate team. I wanted to decimate my stuttering. The first time I walked into the debate classroom, I watched our school’s two senior A-debaters spread, or “speed read”, about nuclear weapon possession policies at over 300 WPM.
(Aside: The reason why debaters talk really fast is because their speeches are time-constrained, and they need to develop arguments as efficiently as possible. This is the nearly pure-logos model of debate that is present in many competitive debate circuits. Some people think it is bad, and others think it is good. I would argue that it is good because it fosters critical thinking skills (the human brain can process up to 800 WPM, BTW), creates time for arguments to be developed more thoroughly, and even if there were a good reason for it being bad, the best debaters still have to “adapt” their style to the many “lay” judges who prefer more pathos and slower talking anyway.)
I thought debate was cool. It was a domain outside of the sciences that I wasn’t good at yet (I was terrible for a while), and it was very competitive. The camaraderie and trophies were thrilling, and I got to be out of town nearly every weekend. I ended up qualifying for debate nationals in 12th grade and teaching high schoolers how to debate at UT Austin’s camp that summer, so it was an early resume-padder too.
Due to the research that debate evidence required, I picked up a lot of random domain knowledge in politics, philosophy and argumentation. Most importantly though, it helped me to be a more logical and persuasive communicator, a trait that has become indispensible in my career. From speaking to recruiters to career fair, talking my way through techincal interviews with engineers, to making friends in college, I would have a significantly different experience if it weren’t for speech and debate.
Playing games. My friends introduced the game of Taboo to me in 12th grade, and I was hooked. Players have their partners guess the word on the player’s card without using the word itself or five additional words listed on the card. I liked it a lot because it forced me to describe ideas with both time and strict word constraints. I also started playing Catch Phrase last summer, which has similar rules with more lax constraints. I have had a lot of fun with this game in particular, so much that I’ve been itching to code it up or discuss various tactics in depth.
Finally, I came up with this sort of ironic game while my girlfriend and I were out for dinner. While waiting for her, I went to the first link when Googling “funny long jokes”. This “game” involves looking up a funny long joke (typically a story), summarizing it in your head, recalling its details without referencing the text, and delivering it (even embellishing it) in a way that people will “get”. It’s fantastic because it’s fun socializing practice (however shallow it is 😛), and it also builds up your short-term memory.
Can you think of other ways to improve speech?
January 01, 2016
In 2015 I…
“Figured out” the kind of people I want to spend time with. It’s a well-known adage that “you are the average of the top five people you spend time with”. Ignoring cases like, raising four babies or something, there is definitely some truth to this in college. In Fall 2014, I joined two student orgs. In one of them, I quickly figured out that the majority were mainly preoccupied with gossip and padding their resumes, so I did not re-apply to be a member the next semester. The other was Lambda Alpha Nu, a brand-new co-ed tech-interest fraternity. I was in the very first “Alpha Class” following its establishment.
The organization has left a huge impact on my career aspirations. With the founders (now alumni) working at high-impact tech companies and beginning startups, I feel like a career dedicated to computer science is my opportunity to optimize the balance between largest net positive impact on the world and my own personal enjoyment of the field during my relatively short time here on Earth.
Got lucky and had a lot of interviews. From the entire year, I completed 31 interviews and 4 coding challenges. Over two-dozen of them were during September and October 2015.
Truth be told, it was a less-than-optimal strategy! But I knew that I wouldn’t practice or gain confidence unless I actually interviewed with companies, no matter how much I actually wanted to work for them.
Went to the Bay Area three times and the Northeast once. I had the privilege of traveling out of state several times in 2015. I flew out for 2 interviews and 2 hackathons.
In late March I went to Weebly‘s beautiful office in San Francisco for an on-site trial for their software engineering internship. Considering I had never made a web app backend before 🙃, this was a huge learning experience. Needless to say, I wasn’t extended an offer, but it was an experience that really inspired me to try to get an internship in the Bay Area.
As an early 20th birthday present from my parents, I visited the 6Sense) HQ in the heart of SoMa to attend their first data science-oriented hackathon! I had a lovely experience and it was the first hackathon where I won a prize. They even got me cake for my birthday.
In November, I went to the Clover HQ in Sunnyvale for the 1st Annual Clover Network Invitational! From Thursday through Saturday we:
- Had two practice interviews with immediate feedback followed by the real interview on the last day.
- Had a resume-building workshop where I was fortunate enough to be reviewed by their head of product!
- Hacked with a few other students and one of the Clover engineers, a UTCS alum!
- Gorged on catered lunches and dinners, followed by adventures in SF and more food.
The week after Clover, I went to a small school in Princeton, NJ to participate in HackPrinceton. It helped reinforce my belief that if the endgame is working at $COOL_TECH_COMPANY, starting a successful startup, or building an awesome network, you don’t have to be at an Ivy, I was in a good place all along! But even more importantly, I realized how important resources and a network is to young engineers, better understood how privileged I am without patting myself on the back, but also how good it feels to be a mentor.
Went to a lot of hackathons. Nine, to be exact. A large reason of why I went to a lot of hackathons earlier this year is because I felt somewhat behind. I started learning how to code in September 2014 when I began my computer science major, and when I joined Lambda Alpha Nu, I felt behind as a lot of my new friends were landing all these glamorous internships. Understandably, they had been coding much longer than I have, and because of how time works, will always have been coding longer than I have, as long as all of us are alive. But after this interview season and coding nearly every day of my life this year, I feel confident enough to try to be a mentor more often.
- HackDFW 2015 - worked on MakeRoute, a PHP/MySQL web app that determines nice restaurants on the route between two places.
- SXSW Music Hackathon - worked on an Android app that filters an Rdio API playlist based on your heart rate determined by the Microsoft Band.
- ATX Hack4Change Civic Hackathon - worked on an Android backend with Parse and game logic for a collection of nutrition-oriented games aimed at toddlers, called Monstralia by the HealthStart Foundation.
- athenahealth MDP Hackathon - worked on HealthCruncher, a Python/Flask web API that calculates heart disease and diabetes predisposition probability with a basic machine learning model.
- 6Sense DataHack - built text-graph/”Fran”, a library for parsing text backup files and generating a weighted graph based on people they mentioned in texts.
- HackTX 2015 - I played around with the Yelp dataset and learned how to use RethinkDB, a key-value store that is probably better than MongoDB.
- Clover Network Invitational - See above.
- HackPrinceton 2015 - built Feelsbook. I teamed up with two NYU engineering freshmen named Claryssa and Minah who were hackathon newbies to help them get their feet wet in web development. We built a Python/Flask-based social networking site-like newsfeed that pooled data from the Indico, Clarifai, and Microsoft facial emotion recognition APIs to ask the user just what exactly was on their mind, whether something was wrong, what made them joyful, and so on, and filtered tweets based on their face as well.
The hackathon community’s been so instrumental in my development that I decided to join the leadership team for HackTX, which was my very first hackathon in 2014 (when I had just learned about for-loops). The organizing community of HackTX are all very amazing people.
I had a very productive, mindful, and lucky 2015. In 2016, I want to be humbler, feel more secure about my abilities (which involves improving them), maintain and create honest, impactful relationships with people.
How was your 2015, and what are your plans for 2015 + 1?