Gambles : Not a Success Story
For some gamble to make it into a long Medium post, a success should often have been the result. If you win, you talk about how you got there. If you lose — you keep quiet, and go about doing your thing. But what if you’re nowhere?There’s no clear victory or failure in sight. And to be honest, sometimes that’s way more exasperating. If you’ve won — great. If you’ve lost — eh, well you tried. But what before that? Just nothing.
Or just everything? I’ve heard and read that success is more of a journey, a mental state — and I am starting to feel that a lot more now. It doesn’t always have to be some known, concrete, pronounceable title that you can then finally talk about. Sometimes it can just be very vague to the world outside but a very positive feeling within — about the choice, about the situation, about the process.
Yeah, I left a job I just got promoted at, to end up in school again. Everyone around me keeps getting promoted, and more promoted, and even more promoted. Hey, I’m not gonna lie. I feel like a fucking moron sometimes. Sure, I am not a 60 year old starting her PhD or anything but I’d say flipping careers from management consulting and entering into the world of research and CS — not easy. Am I loving it? Yes. But easy? Nah. I wake up every morning excited about trying to put together Multi-Task, Multi-Kernel and Least Squares SVMs. But does code just click? Not even close.
And, why even do a masters in something for which there are so many bootcamps already? Why sacrifice 2 years of cash flow for something you could quickly do in 3 months and get a software developer job right after? Well, perhaps getting an “SDE” job isn’t even my goal — at least not the only one. The thing is, I really do like to study, to be on campus, to do research. And if it means I will have to go back to living more frugally and cautiously, unlike how my fellow 26 year old ex-Berkeley classmates and ex-consulting colleagues are living, I am quite fine with it. If it means I reject Ivy Leagues for a state school so that I can pay state tuition, or none at all — by working part time — just so that I study more, yes I am fine with that too.
Programming doesn’t just glide into my thought process. I struggle, a lot. People in bootcamps can do it quicker than I could in a year. Maybe I just like to mess with myself. Maybe I just need a brand new challenge. Maybe its a revenge against the familiar, the doable. How the fuck did I go from writing a thesis on Financial Economics to A/B testing in an email marketing group to taking graduate classes on Computational Genomics?
There’s a history. I won a genetics olympiad in India — the only one I ever won. I thought I’d pursue medicine but realized I couldn’t pull that off. I switched to engineering but didn’t last there also. Finally settled for Economics and Business. But then I switched to Data Analytics. An NLP project on mental health somewhat convinced me to flip back to certain things I left a decade ago — some of the engineering, some of the genomics, some of the science. It’s not really that I am hell bent on getting “closure” . But some of my adolescence still lingers on in me and somewhat helps put some pieces together of the choices I make.
Research rarely makes sense. No one except you and your advisor bothers about your it. But you know, for many of us it doesn’t matter. Research impacts the world in the most latent ways that there are. Rarely can we quantify the “returns” on a research paper someone publishes. Sure, that paper gets cited by one more paper, and then that gets cited by another, and then that by another…and so one… until one paper leads to some sort of decent enough change — a policy, a law — that can then possibly be quantified in some way.
Nonetheless, that oldest paper someone wrote —the one only just read by the professors and students who wrote it, and a handful of others who chose to cite it — that no one cares about. But many of us really are okay with being far removed from the visible, measurable impact, while knowing we are doing something that will goad that sort of impact. My corporate colleagues find it hard to relate to this kind of peace. Anyway, this wasn’t supposed to be a defense against research. Just more of pseudo-defense against my gamble.
Another point I just have to make — I wrote my undergrad thesis on mutual funds managed by women didn’t get enough folks rolling in their money. Obviously, Economics or Business wasn’t a paradise for us girls. But damn is engineering another horrendous beast altogether. You have to get used to men — grads doing the same thing for a decade or more — flaunting their genius and knowledge on you. Sometimes even being delusional enough to think that is what will make you like them. You have to also get used to sometimes feeling left out of “bro plans” if you commit the crime calling out any sexism or arrogance (sometimes, even if you don’t). It is just part of the game. It sucks, but it is.
Once again, not easy. But hey, I’ll say again — life is about the moments. The things you learn along the way. Maybe the Machine Learning job or the PhD I envision never happens. But no one is taking these 2 years from me — the ML algorithms in genomics or the personalization k-means clusters in mental health studies. It is very likely I don’t get to use either in whatever I end up doing eventually. But no one takes away from me the fact that I enjoyed learning all this and making my tiny bit of impact somewhere. As one of the saying goes: “Either way you’ll be fine”. I try to assure myself that’s the case. If I realize this gamble worked — terrific. If I realize this gamble didn’t work — of course, at least I tried.
As is very conspicuous by now — this is no underdog success story. Nothing happened. No “How I get an ML job at Google without a college degree” stuff. This is something a little more special. This is the story of the journey. The goal is the same — you reach it or you don’t. If you reach it, you backtrack to find how you got there. If you don’t, you bracktrack to find how you didn’t. Sometimes both backtracks are the exact same — we just pick the pieces that justify our current situation. So I figured I’d write this before I succeeded and wrote a “how-to” about it or failed and disappeared into oblivion.
Not saying you quit your job today and do some random thing you thought of. I was thinking about this for a while. Quite a while. I didn’t just dive into it. In fact I thought for a bit too long. But yes, I took a gamble and I have no idea where it lands. And as long as I just appreciate how much I enjoy and treasure where I am right now, it does not matter much. Not to me.