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@CoffeeFlux
Last active Mar 8, 2020
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What would you like to do?

The biggest things were real knowledge and a drive to learn for me.

The career advice I got was pretty bad in hindsight, but I can't blame people without domain knowledge for not believing me when I said I had more than enough coding chops to get a full time job straight out of high school despite no formal training.

My emotional health wasn't great for a long time, but I attribute that to a combination of my being an ass to people and my eventual burnout (which was pretty directly onset by Lynn Reed) more than any sort of systemic issue.

However, across the board my classes and their focus on memorization and a strict curriculum rather than research drove me away from real learning and understanding, which I think is pretty sad.

In elementary/middle school I was pretty blatantly limited in educational opportunities because the priority was on students at risk of failing the SOLs. The most amusing example of this was probably in elementary school when I think there was a mandate (I forget if it was from the principal or school board) to test students in the 4th grade to see if they should skip to 5th grade math. They gave us an old 4th grade SOL, and if we scored high enough we passed. I think they didn't expect anyone to pass, but when me and one other kid did they had us then take the 5th grade SOL, and we were required to again get the same passing score. I still passed, so they eventually put me in some 5th grade math class, but then in 5th grade they didn't know what to do with me so I got to just retake it. Despite passing the 5th grade SOL (which they taught to very strictly) at the start of 4th grade, I had the 'pleasure' of taking 5th grade math twice.

I legitimately thought I was bad at and hated foreign languages until I learned Japanese in my free time. If I hadn't found an online community of people who showed me otherwise, I'd probably still think that. My free time spent on reading fiction followed a pretty steady decline for most of middle/high school, and I only really rediscovered my love of reading through getting into Japanese books then going back to English.

I don't think most of my high school courses did anything to cultivate a desire towards independent research. I did this a lot with programming in middle/high school, and to a lesser extent with physics and math, but that was basically it (and the physics/math was mostly programming-applicable topics). The time I spent programming games/contributing to open source projects required me to get only a couple hours of sleep a night, at least until I burnt out and mostly stopped doing my schoolwork at all. Eventually I discovered online communities that would read, synthesize, and discuss research in the humanities and it turns out I really enjoy a lot of it! Now that I have the time and mental capacity for it, I spend a bunch of my weekends reading things like this, this, and random papers/blogposts, but I didn't really have the time or motivation to do so until I stopped caring about my formal education. In general, I learn way faster when I can just churn through books, papers, posts on my own like this with some guidance and suggestions on what to read next, and I've known that for a long long time, but there's not much room for that in our educational system. As such, the standout classes at MW for me were ones not tied to any sort of standardized test and that mostly focused on just reading and discussing various writing (the political theory course being a good example), but we were pretty heavily disincentivized from taking those instead of APs.

Finally, I received nearly zero direct support in my efforts to get good at computers outside of online resources and some very kind, patient people in online chatrooms. I had a few teachers who at least recognized and were positive towards my interest (including you—thank you! Truly! You'd be surprised how unsupportive most of my teachers were, even in college!). The sole exception was, amusingly, Mr. Saunders's class at MW. I know the class had a reputation for being a free A, but in hindsight having very open projects and no real exam gave me time to just work on interesting coding projects and enjoy myself. It really helped that he was directly supportive of my interest and open source work, and even worked to try and get me paid trips to professional conferences. Even in undergrad I never had any professor like that. I should really send him a thank-you at some point...

I was promised college would be different, but there I discovered that I could never attend any of my in-major courses and still pass them with a perfect score. There was actually an attendance grade in a lot of them, but it was only 10%, so I'd just only show up on exam days, eat the 0 for my attendance grade, and walk away with a 90%. A bunch of the courses had group projects, so for those I'd just go into a lab in the evening, do the project in an hour or so on my own, and then submit it, so I still didn't have to actually go to class. Obviously this was not a very positive experience, and from what I've seen of the undergraduate CS curriculum at top universities I don't think it would have been different had I gone anywhere else. My non-major courses were mostly more of the same from high school, the only exceptions being my literature and graduate-level math courses.

Anyway, hopefully that gives you a little more insight into where I'm coming from? I just feel like my formal education has largely been an impediment rather than an asset to my learning and passion. I don't think my experience is typical, but it's definitely left me bitter.

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