Learnings of Four Years at UC Berkeley

As of this moment, I am a UC Berkeley alumna, along with thousands of students at Berkeley who graduated alongside me. Congratulations everyone!

Four years is an extremely long and incredibly short span of time. As a graduate, students have accomplished and learned so much, and yet four years is only a drop in the bucket in terms of how much life and knowledge we have yet to attain, yet to develop.

I grew up in Illinois. When I heard that my family was going to move over 2,000 miles away to Los Angeles, I didn’t think this would ever happen to me. I thought I would be like my peers to go to the local university and do other normal things for a while. The news soon warmed up to me, and I grew increasingly excited to try living and breathing in a completely different world in Berkeley. I was definitely not disappointed.

College was my starting point for the real world, for accomplishments, and for learning. At Cal, I studied business, but went off to the computer science department and found my place taking CS classes, tutoring, and creating Computer Science Mentors. At Cal, I stopped eating meat. At Cal, I went from an awkward freshman at CalSO to a slightly less awkward but only slightly more functioning adult. At Cal, I supported hundreds of students through academic course planning and unofficial Haas advising. At Cal, I gained my freshman-15, then lost 30. At Cal, I began calendar journaling my four years and detailed my discoveries. At Cal, I found love. At Cal, I discovered a dream. At Cal, I understood the dangers of low self-esteem, and spent many nights emotional and learning how I can get out of the trap. At Cal, I faced many challenges. At Cal, I learned so much more about myself, and found that I have much more to learn.

And as a new graduate, I would like to provide my own learnings from the past four years amidst all the advice from great commencement speakers, and perhaps this would help someone on a rainy day.

Try things multiple times.

As a freshman, I was interested in consulting, like hundreds of other Pre-Haas students. I saw consulting as a way to combine business and helping others, as that was something I really liked to do. I thought it was the best fit. To do that, I figured the best way to learn would be to join cool and prestigious student organizations that would validate my abilities to be successful. As a sophomore, I was rejected everywhere I applied to. I took it hard, and figured that since I was still lacking in a lot of knowledge and etiquette, consulting probably wasn’t for me.

So I gave up on consulting. My interests in business were very similar to this rejection. I moved from marketing, to consulting, and to human resources, and I grew increasingly frustrated with my lack of interest, which was directly from my lack of capability, only I didn’t know that at the time.

It wasn’t until I got into computer science and learned that failure was okay that I was focused on the right reasons: being frustrated with my capabilities, but proud of my motivation to overcome obstacles. And finally I found an industry, despite my business background, that grew to love and accept me too. There was always more to learn, and that’s a good thing.

If I received such information before computer science, I sometimes wonder if things would be different. Perhaps I would have stuck more with business and joined a consulting organization, perhaps I would be a consultant working long hours at the Big Four. Perhaps not, perhaps I would still be in the same predicament as I was, and ask the same questions to very different people. Perhaps I’d get different answers, and a different outcome.

So keep trying. Trying implies attempt with the possibility of failure, and if you fail, it’s okay. I learned to not be content with my failure, and to study to overcome it. We all will fail at some point, it’s about how many times we fail until we finally get what we’re looking for.

Don’t keep opportunities away by thinking it’s not for you.

My biggest mistake is thinking that something wasn’t for me. You’ve read my consulting story. I would continue to make this same mistake over and over again throughout my college career.

My first entrance into computer science was the creation of a tool I thought of that attempts to help UC Berkeley students create their four year course plan and cross-check requirements for their major to graduate successfully. It was presented as the ultimate tool for students, containing methods to import transcripts, connect friends, and check availability of classes. However, it never launched. And this was largely because of my lack of knowledge of engineering concepts such as Agile and project management in general. It was the first time I was a Product Manager, and I did not think I was going to do this again. I would never have thought that this was the career I would want to do for the rest of my life.

That year, I took my first computer science course from the urging of another team member. I was curious, but had no intention of pursuing computer science as a career. For me, it was another tool for recruiters to notice my experience and initiative in the field. The class was difficult, and I was dedicated. Here, I learned that it was okay to struggle and develop, and so I was encouraged to continue by lab assisting, tutoring, and learning more. And that’s what I did for the rest of college: help, learn, and struggle. I continued, however, to push the idea away that I would want to be a software engineer.

Suddenly, I wanted to merge business and technology into a field. I chose product management, a career I rejected early on in college. Fate is so interesting; the things I purposefully turned down simply because I thought wasn’t for me turned out to come back to me. While sometimes it’s good to have focus, oftentimes it’s more rewarding to keep your options open, too.

Try everything.

I am most fortunate to have tried computer science, as it opened up my world without me realizing it. I met great people, founded a great organization, and it set me on a completely different track than the one I was slated on freshman year.

One of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken in college was founding and leading Computer Science Mentors. As a student who struggled in the class, I understood the challenges the department faced in not being able to provide enough support to those who needed it. CSM was a way to bring that support, something I really appreciated. But to be President of it? Me, the one who also struggled through it, had the least teaching experience among the founding team, and was also not an engineering major; how could I be the face of the organization?

Eventually, Presidency was forced upon me, and I took it hesitantly. The mark of “struggling student” and “non-CS major” as “President” was something that plagued me a lot that semester. I was worried that people would judge my status as a sign that business “was taking over”, that people wouldn’t be interested in CSM in general, and that ultimately, I wouldn’t do well.

I talked about the first point often with friends and acquaintances. But every time it was mentioned, no one seemed to care. People were often surprised that I would be so dedicated, rather than think that I wasn’t fit for the job. And in the end, over 80 mentors taught and over 200 people signed up for CSM the first semester. We had material, we had eager students, and we had mentors ready to serve them. It was truly outstanding, and to this day, we have over 700 students each year.

I say this was a risk to me because this organization could have failed. I could have done a horrible job. I could have let that idea of failure get to me and feel socially shamed. But because of a little push, I took the plunge, and had the pleasure of working with an extremely capable team that also helped me be successful too. From a risk, I ended my career in CSM with success and left its legacy in capable hands. So try everything, you never know where it will take you.

Things won’t work out the way you want them to. And that’s ok.

In February of this year, I was confident that I had secured my dream job in product management with a dream company. I was one of four finalists, and was told that I would hear back in a matter of days. I was so confident, I wrote a note to myself about what I would say on Facebook to all my friends when I graduated. I would write about my successes, my plans after graduation there, and a wide thank you to all those who helped me along the way. Reading on it now, the me only four months ago was so full of hope and excitement of the new years to come. And didn’t anticipate the pain of a time before graduation even came.

I never got that dream job. It was the farthest I got in the process with any company, and the closest opportunity I had to pursuing my dream. I was crushed, and I felt that these rejections from other companies had validated the fact that I couldn’t be a product manager.

In May, I was given the chance to gain experience in the product management field this summer in UC Berkeley’s Student Information Systems Project, a project I worked on in the past as a result of my dedication to course requirements and planning. I am incredibly thankful to them as they specially allowed me to continue to assist Berkeley students at a great working environment while at the same time advancing my career goals.

A lot of things didn’t work out these past four years. And it’s okay. What matters is that I can build websites on my own and continue to learn as a result of the technical courses I’ve taken here. What matters is that I create other teams with the knowledge I’ve gained over the years. What matters is that CSM continues to thrive with the great people we have now. What matters is that I continue on my path and accrue experience in the meanwhile. What matters is that I learn and improve every day despite of my shortcomings and all the obstacles in front of me.

Learn about yourself.

As my many stories suggest, I’ve done a lot of learning in the past four years. Sometimes, I neglected the most important part of learning, which was to understand myself. I don’t have a story for this one, but I can tell you that I’ve cried because of myself, been frustrated because of myself, and let my emotions get the better of me with those I am close to. And the fact that I was sad makes me sad, and so the cycle continues.

I think if I were able to control myself, or understand why I did the things I did, I can overcome obstacles quickly and more maturely. Self confidence is something I struggle with, even now, and I’m still learning about myself and where it comes from, so that I can tackle it with full force.

This is only a springboard for the lifetime of learning in the real world now, and I can only prepare for it with my heart. I’m very ready for it, and Berkeley’s done a great job in that preparation.

UC Berkeley, and all other colleges in the world, is a once in a lifetime experience of learning. I was fortunate to attend such a high reputable and competitive environment that is UC Berkeley, and to have met amazing people here too. Thank you to all those who have supported and stuck with me all these years. Thank you for many dinner dates, for a change of lifestyle, for a love of bassets (and my love of samoyeds), for friendship, for project and organization making, for idea planting, for weekly music making, for family, for deep conversation, for keeping in touch, for teaching, for continuing an incredible organization, for tutoring, for mentorship, for opportunity, for encouragement, for patience, and for being awesome. Here’s to more years to come.

Congratulations again, graduates! Keep doing awesome things.