benc's blog

The Value of Old Friends

August 2, 2018 • ☕️ 3 min read

I had dinner with one of my high school math teachers tonight. Those of you who have known me from my high school days to now will be able to tell that my behavior has changed a lot - and not in a particularly good direction. I've had a niggling feeling of this for a while but I've pushed myself towards the CS world too hard. The majority of my valuable output in life is either code or organizing efforts for VandyHacks 1.

I enjoy both of those a lot. My website is ridiculously overengineered not because it has to be or needs to be but because I enjoyed exploring all the fancy toolchains found in today's JavaScript ecosystem. Putting together VandyhHacks and seeing people put out all sorts of cool projects that they just learned how to create is incredibly satisfying. However, they do not make up the sum of my passion. Back in high school, at IMSA, I spent most of my time on debate or Student Council2. I certainly wasn't the most productive person and I was also very naive about the impact of some of the stuff we were doing. But, I was fulfilled. I did a lot of cool things that I felt good about bragging about. Nowadays, my projects have scaled in terms of expense and impressiveness to the world - but they have not scaled in terms of fulfillment. VandyHacks involves coordinating a team of about 50 people and a budget of $75K. StudCo was 15 people and a budget of $8K. And yet, I got more out of StudCo than I have out of VandyHacks (and, I suspect, will).

I had a lot more hope back at IMSA. Vanderbilt has made me hardcore cynical (and it's not like I was an optimistic back at IMSA) which has corrupted my world view. Every time that someone says something good to me, I find some way to twist it into being something bad. The world is mostly a bad place but it's certainly not deserving of the type of hard-core cynicism I've been giving it. That cynicsm has left me 2 years into a CS degree, on track to work for some big programming company, making big $$$. I don't want that. I have never wanted that. And yet, here I am.

Anyways, back to my high school math teacher. This particular teacher is probably the 2nd or 3rd most valuable teacher I've ever had. He taught me the value of hard work and taught me how to struggle through problems - despite the fact that I spent a few weeks with a 30% in his class. He was always supportive of the sort of stuff that I did with StudCo - even thought a lot of it came at the expense of his class. We had dinner tonight and had a massive bitch session about a lot of things (mostly education focused). But a lot of it was about how it could be improved if the right people were put in the position to do something. It reminded me of the late night talks that we had at IMSA. It reminded me of the big stuff that I wanted to do there and how my ambitions had steadily decreased since.

I got a lot of soul searching to do. I don't think this will be a fast process. Transitioning into doing something other than just CS (whether that be teaching or data analysis or public policy or something) will be hard. But I think I gotta do the hard work. I owe the person that I used to be when I met this friend that.

Epilogue: The writing in here sucked. I know that. That said, it was much more stream-of-consciousness than anything else that I publish. Would be interested in hearing thoughts.

  1. You can loosely consider the stuff that I do for classes as "valuable".

  2. Much to my parent's chagrin, school is not on that list.