Building New Worlds

As part of the application process for Holberton School, we’re asked to answer two important questions: why Software Engineering and why Holberton? My initial response was something like “welllll, why not?! Isn’t it obvious?!” I’m not sure that this would have sufficed..but a still simple and short answer, but much more loaded, would be that I’m interested in “Building New Worlds.” Hmm, just what exactly does that mean? It means changing the way we view and run our societies, our businesses, our banks, our schools, etc. Software Engineering has captivated me in its potential for enabling this change. For instance, we can design and organize systems, run calculations and projections, and literally build new worlds in virtual realities, all of which are only possible because of software. Holberton offers the most innovative and complete way to make the best software engineers between of its educational model, location, and spirit. So why is all this perfect for me?

Growing up I had a deep passion for Math and the Sciences, in particular Physics. What I loved(and still love) most about them is that feeling of solving a really difficult problem no matter how long it takes, whether it’s Algebra, Newtonian Mechanics, etc. My affinity for the Sciences, like Physics, also stems from getting to the root of how our world behaves. I loved reading about Astronomy ala Carl Sagan and how our universe works. You see, I always have had a thirst for understanding the how, the what, and the why of everything and everyone(I guess you could say I’m asking for divinity?). And though I never became a formal Scientist or Mathematician, my burning curiosity has never left me. Hollow answers and/or dogma don’t cut it. Instead, I’m a firm proponent of “reasoning from first principles,” as Elon Musk said so elegantly, and questioning your reality. From this yearning to solve problems and to comprehend, I want to do my part in contributing to the gradual obtainment of insight and technology to shape our world into new and better realities.

Enter Software Engineering. Although I now realize that “Software is Eating the World”, until late in my college years, I’m not sure that I had ever really interacted with any Software Engineers, Computer Science students, general programmers, etc. I was never encouraged by anyone. The topic was really a mystery to me. I knew that technology powered our world as I was constantly on my computer writing papers, sending emails, and socializing on Facebook. I’ve also always been a huge Science Fiction geek, so I loved technology, but didn’t have a firm idea how those worlds inside the tech worked. In the 4 years since college, I’ve experimented being an ESL teacher in Italy, and an Italian food supply chain/business analyst in New York City. Both of them were great learning experiences about teaching and business, but I ultimately realized that they weren’t my “calling” so to speak. They didn’t challenge or inspire me properly. Maybe no job or career is really perfect, although I know I could do better.

Just over 6 months ago, while earnestly searching and contemplating what I really wanted to do with my life, I stumbled upon “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming via Python” on MIT’s online educational platform, edX. I’ve been hooked ever since. Not a day has gone by when I don’t wake up and think: I can’t wait write some fresh code and learn something new about CS/Programming/Math today! Now that I’m “plugged into the software/tech ecosystem,” I’m inspired daily by my favorite technology and apps. From education(i.e., Khan Academy, edX, etc.) to productivity(i.e., Evernote) to personal development(i.e., Headspace for meditation and Mint for personal finance) to music(i.e., Spotify), software is truly eating my world. On a lower level, I become amazed when I begin to scratch the surface on just how computers work, from their hardware to their Operating Systems, and how the two interact. And I marvel at the latest innovations and their potentials, in particular VR/AR and Machine Learning/AI. It’s my mission to make software of similar caliber to the aforementioned. Now it’s just a matter of how best to get there? How best to become a “10x software engineer?”(of course by now this is a misnomer)

Besides the traditional CS degree, there are now an ocean of options available to learn software engineering. It’s truly marvelous. And before I say why Holberton is my favorite, I’d like to first say that in general this country needs an Education Revolution. We have a student loan bubble that may soon burst, an ivory tower that often doesn’t teach their students proper knowledge and skills for life and career success, not to mention we still lag behind many other countries in math and science despite how much money we spend(which also reminds me of healthcare in this country, but that’s for another story..). While revolutionizing education in America is certainly no small feat and I’m no expert, there are some ideas that I think can be swiftly implemented. For example, instead of teachers lecturing to dozens of students with different backgrounds and proficiencies, “Flipped learning” as advocated by the likes of Khan Academy, and Project-based learning with mentors as aids, can dramatically increase learning at a fraction of the cost. Obviously, one could write books(and people already have) about this topic, and again I’m no expert, so I’ll leave it at that.

Back to the ocean of learning opportunities..We now have the likes of code academy and edX to in-person, immersive bootcamps, online immersive bootcamps, self-pace online programs, etc. I’ve found the past couple months of researching which program would be best for me to be more exhausting than learning about Software Engineering itself! Now don’t get me wrong, there certainly are many success cases from these programs. It’s a matter of fit. After being recently accepted to some of the best in-person bootcamps, I’ve concluded that even the best bootcamps lack the level of depth that I personally yearn for. I’m in it for the long-run and want to make the best of my Software Engineering education. I don’t just want to rush into any job for the sake of having a job in tech and end up being unhappy and learning bad practices(i.e., hacking). Holberton’s project-based curriculum mimics real world software engineering jobs and offers great depth through a wide range of projects. You’re also going to take part in a 6-month paid internship, so by the time you take your first official Software Engineering job, you’ll be incredibly well-qualified for high-quality jobs. Bootcamps also tend to lack a strong mission and connection to community. Holberton’s community offers a strong sense of purpose by striving to include diverse individuals, which tech as a whole needs. They also strive for equal opportunity regardless of economic background. There is no upfront tuition, and they strive to find you affordable housing, and to help you live frugally while living in expensive SF. Holberton “for the knockout.”

My idea of “Building New Worlds” stems from Software Engineering’s tremendous creative potential, of its power to free ourselves momentarily from the physical world to surpass our physical, biological and socioeconomic constraints. Not to run away from the physical world, not to abandon it, but to augment it and ourselves. Doing so as a society requires bold and innovative systems in both software and education, systems that I yearn to help create. Holberton best renders this new path forward for me and perhaps our society. I hope to join them in their mission soon.