THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE I HAVE LEARNED – Part 2

95475-12042514041853 Last year, with choosing a major being one of my primary headaches, I, unexpectedly, decided to take a computer science course. I heard coding consumes life. I knew projects are often finished through a week of trial and error. My friend’s joke that she woke up at 3 am suddenly with a solution to one homework problems finally occurring to her head indeed intimidated me. Still, with no programming background, I was determined to take up such a challenge.

Although I was overwhelmed by the endless concepts in this new world most of the time, I was totally amazed by how everything works magically. I could still remember the time when I started to get myself familiar with the software development environment on a computer and spent almost an hour in attempting to create my very first project by carefully following the instructions word by word (even though I knew nothing about their meanings) I jotted down even the simplest codes that my professor mentioned in lectures and could not wait to run them on a physical computer after class.

However, as time went by, I became increasingly frustrated. My frustrations not only came from staring at my computer for hours without coming up with even a single line of code or frequently debugging my programs till very late at night. I felt I fell behind most of my peer who were already programming experts or gifted prodigies. Some started at a pretty young age and were already fluent in various programming languages. Others were proud of their experience in working on complicated projects with large teams prestigious companies or even have several original mobile apps to their names. People always say that talent play a large role in this industry. Am I a real late starter? I constantly asked myself whenever I had a hard time understanding a chunk of code while others seem to finish doing it so effortlessly. I attended those engineering career fairs, timid and unsure of myself. Everyone there appeared ready to impress recruiters with their glittering projects or give a perfect 90-second pitch, while I was even too afraid to drop off my resume. Why would they ever consider me? I had only taken one very basic computer science course and had so few accomplishments that I could present to boost myself. Shouldn’t people pursue things that they are good at? Why would I keep stubbornly adventuring in this new world, knowing that I would never be as smart as those brilliant brains?

Sometime I loved to seek answers to questions like “is it too late to learn to code” online. I was so surprised that so many people who also discover their passion in programming feel the same way just as I did. They lacked confidence, doubted their abilities and so they asked the same questions. I was also surprised that so many excellent software developers actually received their formal CS training and get their feet wet in the industry in their late 20s or even 30s. Much later than I did. One day I encountered a quote that I will never forget, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”This is told by one of the software engineers that I admire, who received a Phd in architecture but only started her programming journey at 27. Yes, it is ideal if we can start a thing as early as possible. However, starting late will never be an obstacle, if we are truly passionate about that thing and really want to make a difference.

Inspired by those stories shared by others, I started to redefine the formula that determine a good programmer. It is not all about past experience or age. If you have crazy ideas, if you never allow a problem get the better of you, if you see the world differently, and with at least some knowledge about the basics of programming, there is no reason why you should not be able to become an authority in that area. If you are alive, you can always pursue what you are fascinated with. Maybe I was just too anxious for success. Why not doing it now? I found the seeds (of my true interest) by serendipity. Why not sowing it now? Why not just growing it with 100% drive and determination? So I calmed down, started with basic ideas and easy problems, sought every opportunity to practice, self studied how to develop iOS apps, explored popular interview questions…I also tried to catch up and thus took three major-required math courses last quarter at the same time. Initially, they all said, “That would be impossible… You won’t make it! You can’t have three finals from 8 am to 6 pm on a same day.” However, I ended up with good grades and realized that, nothing stops you when you seriously begin to work hard. This quarter, I suddenly feel the subject is no longer that hard for me! After enough practice, tricky concepts gradually make sense and they all intertwine with each other in such a wonderful way. Also, I was thrilled by and rewarded with so many “Aha” moments that truly demonstrate my progress. So I copied this inspiring quote, neatly, on my notebook; thus, I can see the sentence whenever I open it in my later computer science courses. My tree is now growing, at a amazingly aspiring speed.

Kexin Yu | UCLA Career Center Peer Advisor B.S. Mathematics of Computation (2017)

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To Undeclared Students: Your Future Is as Open as Your Mind

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By Kexin Yu, Peer Advisor

Last week, we, as the representatives of Career Center, tabled at Major Blast 2014 and spoke to hundreds of freshmen within 2 hours. They all looked aspiring, but unsettled at the same time. They bombarded us with similar questions. “I don’t know what to do in the future.” “How can I choose a major?” “Does Career Center offer personality assessments?” I smiled to them, whispering in a voice that they could hardly hear, “Don’t worry. I know exactly how you feel. You are just as the old me one year ago.”

I was under great pressure during my freshman year. When my friends already stamped their ambitious, four-year timeline on the wall and were quite determined about their major decision, I was even struggling with my class planner for my very first quarter. I couldn’t start with the right pre-major courses. Also, being undecided seemed to me a negative state of indecision. I felt so timid (and even a little shamed) every time we were asked to introduce our names and majors to other classmates, since I was still unready and unable to determine my goals.

But I tried to calm down. Being undecided can also mean being open-minded. You can investigate new areas before you make up your mind. This is probably the last time you have such freedom to design your own dream studying plan. When you start to work, endless assignments and responsibilities consume you and you have so little time concentrating on your own interest. Sometimes, people who seem to have a clear vision about their future may be just compromising the matter with their parents. So first, I took introductory psychology, which was one of the fields that I was most eager to explore. The course offered me unparalleled insights into a brand new world. I was totally amazed by the wide application of psychology and the exciting research opportunities it has to offer. We read good books authored by patients suffering mental diseases and even got to meet the writers in person at the end of the quarter. However, it also gave me realistic views about an area which I thought I was very enthusiastic about. I then realized, although psychology is a great subject, that’s not what I want to do for a career.

Don’t be discouraged by words like, “You make little money if you do this job”. You will definitely feel uneasy about this later on in your life, since you reject the opportunity to have a try. Also, don’t push yourself so hard in the first year. Taking  GE courses and seminar might also be a smart choice. The film class, architecture history and political science that I took greatly enriched my freshman year at UCLA and led me to get inspired by the ideas and expertise of prominent professors from various cutting-edge areas.

Another advice: being strategic when you enroll in classes. Narrow down your choices by crossing off the ones that fail to appeal you. Choose subjects that not only intrigue you but can also fulfill the requirements of a great many majors. Then you will not fall very behind and graduate in a timely manner just as others. For example, I took Chemistry 20A rather than 14A since the former can apply to more science majors. Starting from scratch will definitely stress you out, especially when your peers are already half the way there! Do more research in the syllabus and contents of the courses that you are likely to choose. Sometimes having the knowledge of what material will be covered help you realize whether or not you are truly interested in this subject. Is this what you really want to spend time exploring and do it for a living?

Also, talk to peers with various majors. I originally thought I would never care about how a computer software actually works and were so prejudiced against programming geeks. And I always believed computer science is an area in which I had no talent. However, it turned out that it was only because I had never tried. A lot of my friends were “tortured” by C++ at that timem and so I also boldly took up this new challenge. To my surprise, I totally fell in love with it. Now, I’m even thinking about take Mathematics of Computation as my major. Moreover, seek answers to your questions from upperclassmen. Get to know what they consider as the most wonderful experience in those upper division courses and learn from their experience.

Remember, everything you learn or spend energy on eventually pays off. Maybe just in an unexpected way. People are frustrated when they begin to do something new because they feel what they’ve already done is just a waste of time. I also took Management 1A, Principles of Accounting, in the spring quarter. Although it seems not related to my curriculum, its philosophy influence me a lot. I become familiar with how a corporation actually runs and how to keep it organized and make best practices. This can apply to all aspects of life and everyone should at least have some knowledge of it. The course also helps me build a broad set of transferrable skills that will provide me not only a meaningful job but also a purposeful life in the future. And which employer would reject a well-rounded applicant?

Try to engage in as many self-discovery activities as possible outside the classroom. Going to Career Center to access our amazing assessment inventories can help you find your way. Also, during the spring break, I joined the UCLA Career PREP program which helps its participants get a glimpse of what a particular industry looks like through a one-day job shadowing experience. Actually, I stayed more than one day but a whole week during my host company, Park & Sylva Law Firm, after I found out that my experience was more than I could have expected. This externship provided me early exposure to professional law world and I could then decide whether or not I still want to enter that field. To get involved in a real working environment gives you more reliable facts about that industry than any TV series version. This unique experience even encouraged me to use what I gained to help other programs at Career Center grow. And that’s how I became a peer advisor for this academic year. (Now it’s only Week 4 and I still have a lot to learn. However, I already feel so lucky and fulfilled being in this position.) Helping others is just helping yourself. I grow so fast when I attempt to address the concerns of others in the best manner.

Although, sometimes my friends frown at my “random” class schedule and always seem confused, “What exactly is your major?” But, see? Isn’t it great sometimes being undecided? I always believe that everything starts with coincidence but ends up with destiny. Things that best match your capabilities and interests will come up to you while you keep wandering and wandering. Also, you should know that your major does not determine your entire career! So don’t freak out!

You should know that you are actually in great company! Studies show that 75% college students change their majors before graduation. Do not figure out all things on your own. Take advantage of resources around you. Make regular academic counseling with your advisors and eventually you will be able to make a concrete, sound choice independently.

So Bruins, take off your anxiety and embrace the chance to explore! Have a nice academic year! 

Advice To My First Year Self

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Happy Fall Quarter Bruins! Here’s to the next couple weeks of studying, midterms, and of course, some good ol’ UCLA football.

Today’s post is courtesy of me, Jesselyn. I’m one of the new Peer Advisors for 2014-2015, and I’m excited to share with you all some of my own reflections after my first year. A quick blurb about myself: I’m currently a 2nd year Psychobiology student interested in working in the healthcare industry. Which sector exactly? Consulting, optometry, public health… I’m not sure yet, to be honest. Like many other 2nd years, I’ve just embarked on my own career exploration journey, in the hopes of finding a profession that best fits my interests and abilities.

But, one year ago, I was a lost, confused, overwhelmed freshman who didn’t have a clue how to navigate the ins and outs of UCLA. So, to all the first years (and second years?–maybe even third years?) out there, you are not alone. These are the tips for success I’ve learned this past year–the tips I wish someone could have told me sooner:

1). Don’t overload yourself

Even before my first quarter at UCLA started, I already felt like I was falling behind. After all, I had heard countless stories of seniors not graduating on time or being able to finish their GEs. So I thought, “Okay, I’ve gotta pack on all my prerequisite classes NOW – no slacking.” But the thing is…I knew I would not be comfortable taking 2 science and math classes my first quarter. I was living independently in a new city, trying to make new friends, and dealing with roommate issues–all while craving the comfort and ease of life back home in San Jose. The competitive premed classes I was taking only added onto my pile of stress. So there I was, stressing out about being stressed out.  It wasn’t until 9th week that I vowed to never feel pressured to follow the crowd again.

This is what I wish I could have told myself: “Hey. It’s just your first quarter. I know it seems like everyone at UCLA is already making scientific breakthroughs, but they’re really not. Everyone thrives at a different pace. Ease into your first year, have fun, and don’t worry just yet!”

2). Being busy is good

I know this sounds like conflicting advice, but trust me. You want to be busy, but not too busy that you overload yourself. Time in college is so valuable. You only have 24 hours each day, and ideally, you’d like to spend 6-8 hours of it asleep. Therefore, you don’t want to waste your waking hours just lounging around. And, as tempting as binge watching Netflix sounds, you’ll feel more accomplished with your day if you keep yourself productive. Attend career fairs and information sessions? Join a preprofessional organization? Explore career options at the Career Center library? Whatever you end up doing, be efficient and keep your mind and body active.

3). Keep your eyes and mind open

Opportunities, especially at UCLA, are always a blessing! Sometimes you may not find exactly what you’re looking for, but as a first year, any work experience is great experience.

During my second quarter, I applied and interviewed to join a professional pre-health organization and was denied. Although I was disappointed, I knew I had to keep trying. I continued to look for other opportunities in any field, whatever was open. I soon started working at an on-campus coffee bar. It seemed insignificant at first, but that experience working as a barista was relevant and invaluable. Taking orders, creating espresso based drinks, and serving pastries taught me a lot about teamwork, thinking on my feet, and customer service–all skills essential for health careers and crucial in helping me land my Junior Consultant position at Bruin Consulting.

4). Do what YOU want

The best thing about your first year is having the time AND flexibility to explore any interests you may have, whether it’s academic or just for fun. (Archery? Psychology? Film? Sports medicine?) It’s very easy to feel “stuck” in a major/career path. The Career Center library–the second largest in the U.S.–offers an entire section devoted to Career Exploration. You can learn more about potential jobs in any industry from fashion design and culinary arts to finance and medicine.

5). If you haven’t failed, you haven’t pushed yourself enough

As cheesy as it sounds, it’s okay to make mistakes. After all, I came up with this advice because I made the mistake of doing exactly the opposite. You learn quickly when you make mistakes. You gain firsthand knowledge and experience, and (see #3) experience as a 1st year is always great addition to your toolbox. One of my fears as a first year was rejection. I didn’t want to fail because I believed that failure mean that I was inadequate–but that is not the case at all.

Failure means that you were confident in yourself and believed in your unique skills. You set high expectations for yourself and desired excellence. Even though you did not obtain the result you wanted, you were mentally prepared to challenge yourself. You have the fiery drive to succeed. So whatever it is that you seek, push yourself and apply for that committee board position, that internship, or that research position! You just might be surprised with yourself.

Lastly, the Career Center even offers a suggested “4-year plan” outlining the key steps and decisions you should be considering throughout your undergraduate years. It is so helpful for those who want to stay on track for graduation, professional school, or graduate school. Come to the Career Center on Strathmore today to pick up this free, detailed flyer!