Technical Interviews and debates.

Yesterday marked the last day of Tembusu Orientation Week, and it was a totally different experience of freshmen camp. In my opinion, camaraderie and friendship forged during the camp was more important than the camp itself. I’m really proud to be part of this amazing OG, Hume!

#NoPlaceLikeHUME

Yep, that's us!

Yep, that’s us!

Other than the amazing friends made, I’ve attended two events which I’ve never experienced before in my life.

Technical Interview

I did not attend this in the camp, but I was told to attend an interview for CS1101S. It’s an introductory programming module which is harder and has much more workload than CS1010. In this module we learn much more through functional programming instead of doing the same old module in C. Which I’ve already more or less learned.

Yes, I should’ve said all of those in the interview, but no. Instead I said that I’ve learnt Javascript and wanted to hone my Javascript skills. Massive facepalm. Nobody who understands Computer Science would tell you that CS is about programming. It’s about the concept. That’s just the first part of the interview that I screwed up.

Afterwards, I was told to explain mathematical function, and subsequently explain some fundamental concepts that I should’ve been able to explain. I blew it. I couldn’t do it without the help of the professor, and made some really, really, fundamentally wrong mistakes. I think it went so bad that before I even finished explaining, the professor told me straight up

Ok I think I have an idea of how good your mathematical abilities are.

Man.

Perhaps I’m really not good enough for this module? I refuse to believe that is the case. I could’ve easily used the excuse that army has led to my rusty mathematical abilities. But like I said, that’s just an excuse. 

The point is I screwed it up, and there’s no way I could make up for it. The only option that I have would be to not screw up CS1010 if I get rejected. Nothing short of an A. 

Moving on…

Debates

If you’re not aware, the last day of Tembusu Orientation Week was a Model United Nations. We discussed on ideologies, and how does it represent human rights. Yeah, if you know me well, I know nuts about these things. Plus, it was held as a formal debate, so that’s another thing I’ve never done before. Placing these two together led to me stammering in front of the mic, not knowing what the hell am I talking about.

This is probably an area that I’m lacking in. Not only public speaking, but having an opinion about something. I rarely have strong felt opinions, and Tembusu encourages us to have an opinion. 

There’s a first for everything, and everyone has to start somewhere. Just like I mentioned previously about coding and basketball. I’m giving myself the permission to suck, in order to get sorta good at something. Tembusu college is probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my life to expose me to such events.

Oh, the least important part, I suited up for the second time in my life.

The HUME-MUN (get it) team with our OGL, Alif!

The HUME-MUN (get it) team with our OGL, Alif!

After experiencing these two things which pointed out (yet again) my weak areas, it’s time to start working on them! Not going to make any resolutions this time, because I have not formulated any yet. But the idea is to keep talking, keep thinking, and keep writing.

Can’t wait for school to start and move in to my Tembusu room! :D

Keep up the learning.

I am hitting a plateau.

It could mean a lot of things when I’ve reached a plateau. 

Firstly, it could mean that I am getting good at what I do. Which leads to what I like to call a pro comfort zone. It’s the nirvana of what you’ve been working for. The highest level of your skill.

Obviously, I’m not reaching, nor am I anywhere near that stage.

It simply means that I need to switch up my methods. Plainly reading has bored me, well sort of. Coding for the sake of coding everyday is desensitising my thirst for learning new things. It’s another comfort zone, but a fake pro comfort zone. Where I think I’m getting too good for myself, and instead fall into a vicious cycle of procrastination. We all know these excuses.

Oh I’ll do it tomorrow. It’s gonna go down tomorrow, I promise.

For a change, here’s what I have in mind for the upcoming month:

  1. Start on a new project, making use of what you’ve learnt from your previous project.
    I learnt quite a bit of Angular and new Javascript tools from my previous project, but I can’t seem to understand how it comes together. I ought to piece them together by myself to see clearly how each of them are connected. Take a look at my previous project here! It’s not perfect yet, and I plan to leave it that way. There are certain bugs which I cannot find (mostly due to typo), and solving them is too great an opportunity cost. I rather re-write an app that works, and learn something more out of it.

  2. Read more, but this time, more on coding.
    I’ve read lots of other stuff, but not programming specific articles. I always thought those stuff were too advanced for me. Oh design patterns, machine learning, etc. Everyone has to start somewhere. Perhaps reading about technical topics would encourage me to understand on a deeper level what is going on. 

    That being said, I’m still going to continue reading fiction and self-help books and articles. (Yes I’m looking at you A Song of Ice and Fire) Tembusu college has a great reading room, where reading is encouraged in it. No homework allowed! A great resolution would be to spend a minimum of 15 minutes in the reading room before bed everyday, just to read whatever. :)

  3. Edit one Wikipedia article everyday.
    What?! What has this got to do with anything at all?!

    I signed up for a Wikipedia account recently, and I found that there are lots of mini-tasks on Wikipedia to be done. Such as citing sources, grammatical errors, etc. All these work on my reading, writing, and most of all, research abilities. 

    What’s more, you get to learn something new everyday when you research Wikipedia topics! Isn’t that a win-win?

    I know, this sounds as ridiculous to me as it is to you. I’m not sure if this would work out fine, but you never know if you never try!  :D

  4. Keep coding.
    I don’t think I have to elaborate on this any further…

That’s what I have in mind so far. It’s three weeks before school starts, and I have two more school camps to attend. Which leaves me with just one week to achieve these small little goals. 

Until I hit another plateau, I’ll stick with these little habits! Code on, live on! :P

Where do we go from here?

I was lazing in bed this morning, when the long awaited acceptance email from Tembusu College came. 

I made it. 

They had accepted me. I do believe that after all the reflections and lessons learnt, this is the fruit of my labour. But what’s more important is to view this not as a destination, but just the start of my journey. 

So where do we go from here?

A good friend of mine recommended a well-written article recently. It talks about internal motives and instrumental motives. The main point is that people with instrumental and internal motives, such as going to University to get a decent pay (instrumental), and to learn (internal), usually end up unsuccessful in achieving their motives. Whereas those with a lack of instrumental motives end up being successful in what they want to achieve. 

This sort of reminds me of So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. He mentioned that if you focus more on being a craftsmen of your own skill, passion and joy would come as a side product of the hard work. The true purpose of learning is so that you will emerge as a better person than you were yesterday. Be it in my craft, or the maturity of thought. All of the glamor comes as a side product of learning. 

What I’m trying to convince myself is that I’m in university to learn. To better myself, to educate myself. 

It’s only the beginning, and I have secured yet another opportunity for me to better myself. I’m excited about what the road ahead has in store, and I’ll be sure to cherish every moment of it. 

Suck less.

I’ve went for my first IFG basketball “get together” yesterday, and it was surely disappointing. Not in a sense that it wasn’t fun, but it’s hard to admit, I still suck at this sport. 

Despite all the effort put in to make sure I can shoot a lay-up properly, or make the easy open shots, I still lack the experience and IQ to run plays. Coupled with the fact that I just recovered from a bad flu, it adds up to a disaster on court. The others who joined IFG are really experienced and good players, I feel really out of place. 

I read somewhere though, that when you suck at something, there are basically just two options you can choose from. 

  1. Continue sucking, or
  2. Suck less

All my life I’ve been choosing the easy way out, which is the first option. Going down easy without a decent fight. I am pretty determined to make a difference this time. Even though there’s a high possibility that I wouldn’t make the team, at least I tried. There’s still next year, and the next, basically all of my NUS life I could be involved in the team. 

So here’s my plan for basketball this year:

  1. Build on my stamina
    I have a swimming pool at my disposal, I think it’s better than running. Consider that basketball trainings will consist of lots of running, frequent scheduled swims will probably loosen and relax my muscles, while at the same time work on my really, really bad stamina. 
  2. Watch, and learn from film
    Probably start by watching how teams run the basic plays which I ought to understand. Where I should stand on the court etc. I figured that even if I cannot run such plays, at least I could understand what’s going on and not be a burden on court. 
  3. Improve as much as possible during training
    There is limited number of trainings, so I have to improve tremendously during each session. I believe the trainings will not be catered to me, but to the team as a whole. So I have to put in some work during my own free time as well. Think I’ll figure this out by myself when training does begin. 
  4. Play during my free time
    My ‘basketball buddy’ has finally came back from HK, and it’s going to be awesome to play for fun again. Since trainings are essentially on Thursdays and Saturdays, maybe I could squeeze in a game every Monday/Tuesday as well. 

This should be the plan for now. Like I mentioned, it doesn’t matter if I don’t make it for the team. So long as I know I gave in my best this time, I wouldn’t have any regrets. For now, an important goal would be to gain some mass again. Being sick for the past week, I’ve lost 4kg. Those who know me well know how precious weight is to me, and losing 4kg in a week is a huge blow to me. 

I reckon it won’t be easy, but then again. What is?

Post Camp Syndrome

I just came back from Freshmen Social Camp a few days ago, and boy it was helluva camp. (Despite the fact that I got down with fever and sore throat the second day I came home)

Back to reality though, I realise that I’m pit against some of the best in NUS, and it’s not going to be easy to rise to the top. That being said, I should really get my shit together fast before I start to slip. There are many freshmen with programming experience far more advanced and in-depth than mine. It’s no surprise, considering that I’m self-taught and all the code I’ve written are for my silly little projects. It’s time to step my game up, and code more, and code efficiently. :)

The camp also brought back some of my social skills which I’ve lost. Apparently, spending two years in the army communicating in simple (really simple) talks have taken a toll on my social abilities. Alas, this camp is called Freshmen Social Camp. It did serve it’s purpose well :P

Tembusu finally sent me an email asking me to schedule an interview. I can’t be more thankful for this opportunity given. Having written so much about interviews previously, I hope this time things will go differently. 

Relax.

I have just submitted my UTCP application. After what happened with my USP application, I learnt a really valuable lesson.

Relax. 

I’ve been unable to sleep days before my USP interview. On the day of interview, I arrived too early at Cinnamon and was in a total mess. I look fine on the outside, but on the inside, I’m actually going through a mental hurricane. Thoughts about what were they going to ask, how am I going to respond. I summarised that for an interview, I have to prepare to a certain extent. Excessive preparation leads to a blank mind when an unexpected question is being asked.

Next, I have to address my anxiety issues, which leads to bad linguistic abilities. Nerves can be wrecking, and I suppose it is time to start controlling them. Relax the mind, maintain the clarity of thought, and articulate slowly to give yourself time to think. I recognised the importance of linguistics a little too late, but as cliché as it sounds, it’s never too late for anything. 

I am determined that if I’m given another chance for an interview with either Tembusu or CAPT, I will not screw it up. I’ll go into that interview and talk, like Bili can talk. 

Rejection.

I just got the rejection email from USP this morning while enjoying my daily cup of coffee. My heart sank.

But I told myself,

Savor the taste of failure, grow and learn from it. 

It is not the end of the world yet, I still have other options for a more holistic education. Tembusu and College of Alice and Peter Tan are at the top of my list. Thank God that they have another application window for incoming freshmen. Or else I’ll be stuck without an option. 

As I summarised previously, it must’ve been the small little things in my life that I have overlooked, thinking that they were not important. I read on a forum somewhere that “it may surprise you how much that little contribution you made matters”. Many times I’ve thought that I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t fit the mould of excellent students. It might be right to think yourself as the underdog, because then you’d improve humbly. That is what makes the story of Rocky, or Jeremy Lin, so appealing. 

But there is a catch. These people performed when it matters, that’s how they rise to fame. They performed even when the odds are against them. When Rocky went against Apollo Creed, when Jeremy Lin played his last game right before he was about to be let go. 

What I’m trying to convince myself here is this:

It’s okay to be humble, but when it comes to crunch time, step up.

This is my major takeaway from this experience. Right now, I have been given another shot at achieving what I want. I’m not going to let it slip away so easily this time. 

Never again.