The Autumn Leaves Depart

Well I can’t believe it came so fast, but here it is: the end of yet another semester of college. It’s been a tough semester and it’s definitely been an experimental term with the return to in-person instruction. New faces, new friends, new commitments, and new missions. I had two final exams and a final presentation, and the past two weeks or so have been filled with preparation, studying, and whatever the metaphorical equivalent of “elbow grease” is for brainpower.

I decided to only take 12 units this semester so that I could afford to allocate more of my time to my on-campus clubs and organizations: the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), Solar Energy Association (SEA), and HackMerced. As such, the only classes I ended up taking were Full-Stack Development (CSE 106), Operating Systems (CSE 150), and Computer Networks (CSE 160). 106 was a lot of fun and I thoroughly enjoyed the class, although I will say that the pace of it was quite sluggish in my opinion. 150 was a very important and fundamental class for my line of work, although the professor was honestly a B-grade educator; I’m sure he’s an excellent researcher, which is his primary trade, but as an educator, I cannot confidently say that he was the best educator for the subject. 160 was likewise a very important and fundamental class for my line of work since I literally work in IT networking and am soon to work in network security, and the professor, Al Cerpa, was an amazing educator; I’m truly inspired by his genuine passion for the art, and I’m more likely than not going to be taking his Networking of Embedded Sensor Systems (EECS 262) class next fall which, although graduate-level, he has extended an invitation to the well-performing students of our class to take.

Many warned me not to take CSE 160. It’s not required for my major, but I took it as an elective. They warned me that it was difficult. They warned me that it was hard, and that I was most likely not going to be getting an A in that class and to be prepared to be disappointed. It is for all those reasons listed that I chose to take that class, and finishing it with an A+, I’m glad I did. It was difficult, and it was hard, and I fought tooth and nail to get the grade I deserved. I was easily putting in twice, perhaps thrice, the amount of effort into that class as I did into my other two classes combined. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. A class that is difficult and will make me work pushes my limits. Even if I got a C- in that class, I would have been more proud of it than the 100.3% I somehow got in CSE 106, because I worked for it. I don’t care about the grade I get out from the class; I care about the effort I put into the class. The former says something about the course – an arbitrary, meaningless, insignificant blip in the scheme of things – while the latter says something about me as a person.

I’ve made plenty of new friends this semester. From spending nights at ΑΣ’s house after chance encounters, to the childish pillow fights ΑΣ, ΙΑ, ϜΛ and I would have, to getting coffee with ΙΜ after they’d randomly met me while I was working, and the countless other memories I’ll have stockpiled away in the archives of my mind for future recollection. Perhaps there’s no other word adequate enough to describe this passing semester than spontaneous. Random, unplanned, and genuine, all ingredients for memorable and human.

I’ll miss the late nights my CSE 150 group spent in a computer lab and in conference rooms, working, programming, solving. I’ll miss the delicate balance we had to finagle together through blind trial-and-error just to score all the test cases, and I’ll miss the crisp night air biting me as I bicycled my way home for miles and miles through the dark after we’d concluded our work for the night. I’ll miss the Fridays and Sundays we spent meeting outside of school hours to complete our work. I’m grateful to have had such a great group of hardworking individuals. Yes, there were times when one or two of our groupmates may have let us down by falling short on a deadline or providing confusing and unclear code which – anyone who has worked with me before quite well knows – I find to be indicative of fundamentally deficient understandings and ethics, but no group is without flaw. We powered through, and we got it done, and we fixed our bugs, and we did it, and as critical as I may be, I can confidently say with full, unquestionable honesty, that it was a pleasure working with them. The greatest respect I may offer to any one entity is my criticism, because the understanding that they have room to improve says magnitudes about my belief that they are capable of improvement.

I’ll miss the countless hours my friend ΝΕ and I spent at my house working on our CSE 106 projects. Those projects were truly difficult and it was so, so hard to test every single edge case and make sure our submission was perfect. It was truly a pleasure working with him for hours and hours on end, plugging consistent hours and finishing projects slowly and steadily but surely. They were truly a great thinker and problem solver, and combined with my C programming skills, we never had any unconquerable difficulty creating solutions after first understanding problems. That’s a mindset that I’d like to see more in the people I work with: first taking time to fully understand problems and hypothesize solutions before tackling them. Performing thought experiments to come up with theoretical results and verify edge cases in logic before code is a valuable methodology that I’ve observed in all people I’ve perceived to be great problem solvers.

I’ll miss spending hours with ΣΗ during my downtime at work, helping them with CS and adjusting to life in the United States. I’ll miss the spontaneous Costco trips, Starbucks sit-downs, Raley’s runs, and everything in-between. I’ll miss sometimes rushing to get to my labs on time because I woke up late after spending the night at ΑΣ’s, or because I stayed up too late the night before studying, or for any other hundred reasons I may have had. I’ll miss meeting with ΚΛ after class to work on solving some problems together for our projects. I’ll miss bicycling to school in the early morning with the cool autumn breeze in my hair. I’ll miss the chance encounter last Monday after spontaneously running into ΑΣ, ΙΑ, ϜΛ, and ΤΒ at the Lantern Cafe after my CSE 160 final exam, late into the night, in the rain and the wind, just joining them on a whim to go to Applebee’s. I’ll miss coming in on a Sunday during high wind advisories to work on our project with my CSE 150 group. I’ll miss going to Paul’s Place with ΠΒ and ΕΟ after we had just gotten back to campus, or with ΣΗ sometime later. I’ll miss the people I met while tabling for the SEA, and I’ll miss teaching Python to such an awesome group of students, and I’ll miss going from meeting to meeting with all of my extracurricular project groups to assess, assign, and act. I’ll miss being a part of UC Merced’s first CTF, teaching newbie teammates the tricks of the trade, and having fun more than anything. I’ll miss “Hack the Power!” which I’m so, so proud of, and I’ll miss the hours and hours of preparation and soldering and programming and assembly and everything else that went into it.

There’s so much about this semester that’s been memorable. There’s so much I’m proud to have been a part of and there’s so much more I wish I could have done. This was a great semester. It really was, and although I’m sad to see it pass, I’m glad it happened. To the memories made, and to the memories to be made.

Happy trails.