The ITE building houses many classes for computer science, a hugely popular major at UMBC. However, as with any major, not every student finds that they are as passionate about day-to-day work in the field as the dreams they hope to achieve through it. Photo by Alex McKenzie
Idealism is a lovely illusion. When you can reimagine the bad as good or the good as great, it can seem like there are no limits. I bumped into this phenomenon during my freshman year. While many students are uncertain about their direction when they enroll at UMBC, there are also those who know with certainty what they want to do — or at least they think they know. I fell squarely in the latter category.
Computer science was my calling. In my eyes it was about changing the world, about solving revolutionary problems to change how we function, be that through an app, new technology or software — I didn’t care. I simply wanted to make change. While the thought of helping others called to me, I would be remiss to not mention that my own ego — and the thought of fame — played a part.
Jump ahead to the end of the school year. I was a passionate freshman ready to help the University of Missouri on one of their research projects. However, it didn’t take long for the storm of enthusiasm, passion and eagerness to give way to utter dejection. Within the first week of research, I found myself miserably bored and resentful, hating coding and wanting to be doing anything else anywhere else.
My main fault was the idealistic view I had towards computer science and programming as a whole. Was this idealism a fun way of looking at life? Absolutely. There are few things more empowering than the belief that what you’re pursuing will make a real difference or propel you to fame and fortune. However, there are a few caveats.
While grandeur and greatness are achievable by all, the chances of such success occurring overnight are incredibly slim. And so, if you dream of greatness, you also have to dream about the mundane, mind-numbing and tedious grind of day-to-day routine and practice because that will be absolutely critical as well. It’s important to have a realistic view of what you’re getting yourself into.
After learning that lesson the hard way through my research freshman year, I have chosen to stick it out, tempering my expectations, shuffling aside my idealism. No longer is computer science my holy grail; it is simply a means to pay the bills. Some days it will be interesting, other days a drag. Is this ideal? Not in the slightest. But, it is the reality I have chosen to accept.
This is not a warning against following your heart — it is just the opposite. Follow your heart completely. Not just in words and thoughts, but in actions. But don’t follow blindly. You won’t figure out if your heart is lying to you without putting the rubber to the road. So pursue your supposed passions, but be ready to break away if all you find is resentment for what you thought you loved. Because if that realization comes later rather than sooner, you might be in for an unpleasant reality.