Are you from Cambridge? What are you doing here?

Trinity College, Cambridge

Every day of our lives, we experience plenty of interactions with others: be it catching up with a friend, watching a football game, or going for a relaxing hike. In the good old days, people’s interactions used to be confined to their immediate vicinity and daily problems. It is hard to imagine how barely 30 years ago my parents were absolutely fine with one phone call per month when my dad worked in the US over summers. Now we get anxious after one message unreturned within 10 minutes. These days, thanks to the always-on communication using instant messengers or Skype, we often switch context and teleport ourselves to different parts of the world whenever a friend messages us. Our brains process an ever-growing amount of information daily, reaching our cognitive limits often indicated by a stack of unread messages or emails. It got to a point that some people even set their new year resolutions to be more on top of their email inbox (sic!).

Such an information overload makes it easy to keep ourselves busy and find comfort in pretending that we know where we are headed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that as everyone forges their own path. However, I am glad there are people who take time to reflect. instead of blindly following everyone else. The information clutter we are dealing with every day makes it harder to discern bigger picture signal from abundant noise. One example of such signals are quotes that we tend to remember for life without realizing it. These may be wise words from your teacher, first words of your child, or historical reminiscing by your grandparents. Usually they make us alter our lives or, at the very least, reflect on them.

The opening quote of this post is one that has changed my world perception considerably. It is a quote from my summer internship at a large investment bank. During a meeting with an MD, I was sitting among my fellow Technology interns next to the quote’s author, let’s call her Person A. It did not take long to hear the awe when the speaker was introduced as a NatSci graduate from St John’s College, Cambridge. I turned around to see Person A really excited by that seemingly breathtaking fact. As I refocused my attention on the stage, Person A could not contain her emotions, releasing an impressed WOW when the announcer mentioned the speaker’s First Class Honors diploma. As I turned around, she gave me a yet another look:

“Seriously, how come you’re still not impressed? Look, this guy’s got First Class Honors from Cambridge, that’s just unbelievable.”

Although it may sounds silly, I am utterly glad I had a chance to sit next to Person A as she turned my world perception upside down. This was the moment I realized it was time I get over my insecurities about my Computer Science knowledge and the inferiority syndrome surrounding majoring in Information Engineering instead. I left that meeting room with something bigger than a couple of life lessons from an MD — with a newly-born confidence that I did not fit in that room and would be better off finding different challenges. After all, alma matter is more than a piece of paper; it is the whole package that comes with it, shaped by the people, world views, and shared values one is surrounded with. At that time, I realized Cambridge gave me something bigger than coursework knowledge — it gave me the confidence to go out in the world and embrace larger problems and challenges. I discovered that life does not finish on Graduation, but rather begins a long and exciting path of exploration with a Cambridge mindset, open to new ideas and challenges. A few weeks later, the summer was coming to a close, indicated by the higher stress levels among the interns nervously waiting to learn if they got their return offers. I had already left for California to see my brother when I learnt there were only two people who rejected their return offers — not surprisingly both of us were from Cambridge.

It has been a year and a half since then, and I have not regretted that decision since. I have grown to believe that life gives many different opportunities, and one should think carefully before jumping on the first available bandwagon. The following fall, I went on to interview for positions I had never tried for before eventually landing what I perceived as my dream job. Nevertheless, the H1B visa lottery made me reconsider my options of opening an unexpected opportunity to work for an exciting startup in San Francisco. But I finally ended up choosing it. Sometimes one just has to accept the fact that a wonderful opportunity may appear out of nowhere, making even a dream job look bleak.

Being surrounded by so many passionate and smart people in the past half a year, I’ve realized that life is more interesting, challenging, and fun when one tries to take something from zero to one instead of from n to n+1. It is worth pausing a little in our lives to look back and understand that education gives us a chance to be bold, create new things, and solve tough problems. Having said that, I am eager to take part in more software design and customer acquisition discussions, embracing yet another intellectually challenging day at work.