In hindsight - A Year In Review (2013)

Rewind back a year. After being cut from the UCLA drumline in the fall, I was looking forward to 2013. The dawn of winter signified a new beginning for me, a chance for me to redeem myself in the heat: drum-corps season. I had spent countless hours preparing myself for auditions; I was ready to prove that I was good enough. I tried out for the Pacific Crest drumline and after two days of auditions, I was given a callback. I would audition again in February.

January came and went, and in February, I was cut.

To say that I was disappointed is an understatement. My goal had always been to drum in college. When I didn’t get a spot on the UCLA drumline, I committed myself to practicing for drum corps. Failure after failure. I felt lost, and for a while I was.

Back at UCLA, I was getting more and more involved with the Daily Bruin. Two of my friends (James and Aman, both from the Daily Bruin) and I got together and decided to participate in our first hackathon, Project Possibility’s SS12 hackathon at UCLA. We were way over our heads; all the programming experience I had came from the questionable websites I created in high school. During those 24 hours, I was introduced to a spectrum of disasters: merge conflicts, javascript callbacks, function closures, and more. Heck, I didn’t even know what REST stood for. Through some ridiculous miracle (aka. the lack of other participants), we won the hackathon.

From that point on, everything just fell into place. Winning the SS12 hackathon gave me something substantial to put on my resumé. I received an offer for a summer internship at Yahoo, which I accepted immediately. James, Aman, and I traveled to San Diego to compete in the SS12 finals hackathon. We competed in the SoCal Facebook Hackathon and ended up winning, again! I was accepted into Google’s inaugural Chrome Academy class. I was coding so much that by the end of freshman year, I was dreaming about programming.

Hacking became a big part of who I was. I was hooked. Yeah, I enjoyed winning, but what amazed me the most was how much I learned after each hackathon. I traveled all over the country to hack with people who were just as passionate about technology as I was: Philadelphia for PennApps, Boston for HackMIT, New Haven for Y-Hack. I didn’t win any of those hackathons, but it didn’t matter to me. Failing helped me see what I needed to work on, and prepared me to become a better programmer. Furthermore, I was meeting new people and making important connections. Everybody I met had one goal in common. We all wanted to change how the world uses technology. It was exciting.

I hated taking Spanish in high school, but maybe it’s not all completely useless. In hindsight, it’s kinda like that one spanish proverb. Cuando una puerta se cierra, otra se abre. Where one door closes, another one opens. It’s crazy to imagine that just a year ago, I was the kid with the drumsticks trying to march a world-class corps. And now, I’m the kid with the computer trying to change the world.

After my freshman year, I was going to make a list called the Freshman 15. It was supposed to be 15 things I learned from my freshman year in college. I never actually got around to writing that post, so I’ll just include it here and call it What I learned from 2013 (and I’ll make it 13 things instead of 15). These are mainly targeted at college-aged kids.

  1. Failure isn’t something that goes away after you achieve success. Failure will always be there. All that matters is how you deal with it and what you take from it. Learn to fail, and fail to learn.

  2. Spend time with people who inspire you to become a better person. If those people already exist in your life, put in the effort to keep them there. If not, put in the effort to find them, whoever and wherever they are.

  3. The worst excuse to not try something new is that you are not good enough to do it. I’ve spent countless hours trying to convince people to go to hackathons with me, and I keep hearing the same phrase over and over again. “I’m not good enough.” How do you expect to become better at something you refuse to do?

  4. Grades do not accurately represent intelligence. Too many people forget the bigger picture of higher education. Do not study to get good grades. Study to learn.

  5. Every once in a while, do something irresponsible. It helps keep life exciting and gives you something to talk about with others.

  6. That being said, don’t go to a concert the night before a physics final. Just don’t.

  7. Don’t judge people. All my life, I’ve been told this, but it wasn’t until recently that I stopped making fallacious assumptions about people based on how they look or what they do.

  8. Manage your finances well. You don’t have to fall into the infamous college stereotype of being broke. Saving and investing the money you earn are huge steps towards being financially independent.

  9. Embrace your natural sleep schedule. For me, I am a lot more productive after 12AM. Thus, I work through the night and take short 2-hour naps during the day. I still get in my 7 hours of sleep, just not the conventional way.

  10. Help others whenever you can. Whether it’s a homework problem or a quarter-long project, you’ll feel like a better person and you’ll also make valuable connections that may come in handy in the future.

  11. Network. 10 years from now, that weird guy down the hall just might be the CEO of a Fortune-500 company.

  12. Spend time alone. Find something you can do or someplace you can go to tune out everything around you and just think. Believe it or not, we were born without phones in our hands, and we do not need to be connected 24/7.

  13. Learn to apologize. It takes a lot more to admit that you were wrong than to act like you were right.

2013 was a huge year for me. The lessons I’ve learned and experiences I’ve gained have been invaluable to my development as a person. Here’s to a great 2014!

Written on April 2, 2014