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! 

Being UNDECLARED: The most misunderstood college phenomenon

Maybe being undeclared in college isn’t the MOST misunderstood college phenomenon. After all, college students do hordes of odd things that would never fly in the real world- living off naps, cheap food, weekday parties, and a primal urge to do whatever it takes to pass classes- and somehow being undeclared became one of “those” things that people kind of shake their head at or give questioning-mixed-with-pity looks.

Listen, everyone. Being undeclared is nothing to problematize. In fact, I would argue that being undeclared is a beautiful time in a college student’s life, a time of bountiful self-discovery, endless wonder, sprinkled with the right amount of apprehension to keep you on your toes.

However, it’s hard to feel that way when a typical conversation as an undeclared student goes like this:

“So what’s your major?”

“Oh I’m undeclared.”

“Oh cool, so what are you leaning towards?”

“I have a couple of ideas but I’m really still not sure.”

“So you have NO idea what you want to do?” (insert look of scorn)

“Wait what, no, I most certainly did not say that, I just said I’m not sure. I’m looking at a lot of options, and want to be open to different opportunities”

~At this point in the story, let’s revert to a “Choose Your Own Ending Format!” The choices are:

1. “Oh gosh, sounds like you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you!”

2. “I’ve heard a lot of people do Psych or Econ, maybe you can do that.”

3. “How interesting, I’m pre-med/law/optometry/podiatrist, so I in no way can relate to this struggle you’re going through, but good for you!”

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This polar bear feels your pain.

Alright, I’m sufficiently tired of this. As a previously undeclared student (and I’m talking years of being undeclared, I would venture the label “former professional undeclared student” is fairly apt), I’m taking a stand for all undeclared students out there.

So here’s my public service announcement about being undeclared.

THINGS TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT BEING UNDECLARED

  1. Really think about what it means to be undeclared. Oh so in a world of possibilities and a college full of opportunities, you have yet to confine yourself on a path to studying different variations of the same topic for four years straight? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!
    Does this make more sense? Being undeclared is not a choice to be an aimless wanderer, it’s the choice to have the absence of structure and feel free in your decisions to explore and try new things.
  2. When you’re undeclared, you have the option of taking a bunch of different classes and they can be anything from science to history to squirrel feeding. For some people, this works for their personality. And if you’ve never thought about how much your personality permeates your life, get ready to have your mind blown. Some people are naturally, inherently, more inclined to embrace variety and so taking a lot of different classes is actually beneficial for them. Some people might say they’re “all over the place” but I like to think of these people (myself included so this is only slightly biased) as trailblazers and explorers.
  3. Don’t fall into the trap of “doing what everyone else is doing” or  choosing something that is “economically sound.” What does that even mean? You are not everyone else- you have your own personality and your own set of values and whatever you choose to do should be in line with those parts of you. When you’re true to yourself, you have less to explain about your motivation and choices and this is an endlessly useful tool when you run into conversations like the one described above.
  4. When you’re navigating the waters of being undeclared, just remember, this time in your life ends soon. One day, you will eventually have to leave college with a degree in your hand that says you majored in _______________. My main piece of advice for those undeclared students is to be positive; a lot of the struggles you experience as an undeclared student are the result of your reactions to social stigmas and let’s remember how well those work out for everyone.

A lot of information here comes from my own experiences being undeclared and I can confidently say I did not come into college with any of these conclusions. I was lost and scared and annoyed about feeling like the only undeclared person in a sea of people who, in my mind, had their head on straight, and it wasn’t until I took a lot of self-discovery and self-improvement steps that I learned the truth: I am not an anomaly.

And so how do I stand here now, as a senior looking back on my time in college with the wisdom to write this post? I’ll say trial and error played a large part, but I needed help, and that came from the UCLA Career Center.

The Career Center was made for people who (want to go to law school/med school/grad school/know what they’re doing) have no idea what they want to do. Not only that, they understand and encourage taking the journey that leads you to your best outcome in your future career and life, which is making the right decisions based on your personality and values and strengths. At the Career Center, you can take assessments on these topics and discover more about you. A counselor will help you decode these tests, and their insight is similarly invaluable.

And check out the Career Exploration section of the library! There are books on everything from personality types, choosing a major, and my personal favorite, the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which gives you realistic ideas of future careers you can have. So for those of you who only have a fuzzy idea of what you want your future career to be, this book gives you tons of examples of real careers and even if you’re not ready to make a choice yet, you are always more than welcome to be enamored by the idea of being a teacher one day and then flip to the back of the book the next day and want to be an urban planner.

Finally, let’s get rid of the notion that being undeclared is painful. It’s not, and if it ever gets to you just remember…

ImageBe you. Be awesome. And come to the Career Center!