Friday, November 5, 2010

Wise Words From a Wise Man

A post on 2p2 reminded me of a story from my past. I have been quoted as saying that life is all about the generation of stories, and I have been remiss in telling them on my blog. So here we go; the details of the specific timing might not be 100% accurate, but all of it happened.

Towards the end of my college career I found myself in a bit of a predicament. I wanted to stick around for a Master's Degree (M.Eng) because I wasn't really ready to leave college, had been planning to do so all along, and needed only one (1) more class to finish the requirements (plus something called a thesis no biggie amirite?). My predicament had many components. I was super busy in the fall (I had just started dating Danielle, was about to tie the MIT Swimming and Diving record for "times quit", and despite my plan was whole-heartedly job hunting, which required a lot of time at the career center and several trips to other cities for interviews). I didn't REALLY have a project. Like I sorta had a few leads but nothing very promising. And my financial situation was a complete disaster. That was the big one.

MIT was pretty good about financial aid, but I simply didn't qualify for very much my first 3 years at the school. Both my parents worked solid white collar jobs (teaching and engineering) and with a total household income comfortably into the 6 figures an only child simply wasn't gonna get much from MIT. I qualified for loans and stuff, and went through the rigamorale of applying each year, but really just so I could get a few grand in loans. Little did I freaking know....MIT has a policy that white kids (and probably Asian kids too I think) only get 4 years of aid, no matter what. So freshman year when I applied for aid, qualified for like 3K in cheap loans, and my parents forgot to sign the notes (lol remember that dad? I got off the hook scott free that year), I burned an entire year of eligibility. Now 18 year old me might not have been smart enough then to realize it, but 21 year old me certainly saw the writing on the wall. I had heard of lots of students receiving their M.Eng in 5 years, but receiving both degrees at the end of their time at MIT, effectively staying an undergrad for their 5th year. Why would you do this? Financial aid was one reason. Underrepresented minorities got 5 years, first of all. Good lord that pissed me off at the time (I have mellowed a little on the matter, but boy oh boy was I mad back then). You see what had happened my senior year was a little unexpected, and to make a long story extremely short I received a great deal of financial aid because of some serious changes in my parent's situation. If I'm not mistaken my parents barely paid a cent for my 4th year, and I actually took a loan from my friend Chris ($1500, interest paid in 30 packs of bud light I'm not even kidding). As an aside here, it's not like my parents didn't have any money, and it's not like they wouldn't have given me every single dollar they had if I had asked. They most certainly would have. I just didn't ask because I knew things were difficult enough for them without money becoming an issue so I took matters into my own hands and was lucky enough to get a favorable outcome. If I hadn't, well, I'd have probably come to them hat in hand like any 21 year old kid would.

If only I could have undone that useless year of aid I took freshman year, all I'd have to do is not march, stay an undergrad, and get 2 more semesters (or heck maybe just one....I only needed one more class and a thesis) for very cheap (a couple thousand). But that couldn't be undone; I was screwed unless I could somehow come into funding for my 5th year. I searched and searched, thinking (correctly) that I'd make a pretty decent Teaching Assistant (which came with a monthly stipend and full tuition). Being a Research Assistant was going to be tough, since I didn't really have many good relationships with professors and doing so is extremely expensive for them (basically they spent 50K on you out of their own budget for a year's work). Try and try as I might, though, I couldn't land a position. The problem was I was really only qualified to TA a few select classes, and most of the professors who taught those courses already had all their help lined up. It got to the point that my basic plan was to take the fall semester "off" and complete my thesis while unregistered (not technically allowed) and then somehow pay for the spring semester wherein I'd take my class and finish up the project and only incur 15K in tuition bills, not 30.

The end of the semester came and went (it is worth noting that I did in fact graduate, meaning I was free to cut bait and run at any point, except for the small matter of having not accepted a permanent position anywhere which I could literally have remedied in 6 weeks at the drop of a should have seen me I was a fucking interviewing machine at this point, a site to behold. I did an 8 hour day of white boarding at Microsoft for crying out loud. And answered the pirate question cold...knocked it out of the park...come to think of it that was for LimeWire the next year but whatever point is I was a stud) and I moved off to Manhattan to start what was purported to be "software development" position at Deusche Bank. It was, hands down, the worst 3.5 weeks of my life. The job was terrible, I had basically no responsibilities other than hacking with pearl scripts (something I barely knew how to do) in a horribly complex system, and I didn't even have a cube. I sat at a row of computers in a room that was close to 80 degrees, sweating my balls off day in and day out (those of you who know me can understand how truly awful this was for preferred ambient temperature is 66 degrees, give or take 1). On top of all this, since I was dirt poor and was only there for the money (I could have taken a position at Intuit outside of Boston, but didn't have a car and would have been paid some idiotically little amount less so I didn't take it cause I was dumb) I didn't have an apartment and instead chose to stay at the Columbia Sigma Nu House. Just wow....the entire fraternity was on the swim team, but their attitude about life during the summer simply wasn't in line with mine and let's just leave it pretty much alone.

So anyway I'm working this terrible job, living in this terrible place, just hoping I can somehow survive the summer, when what happens? Patrick Winston shoots me an email, saying he has an opening; would I like to TA 6.034? In what was undoubtedly the worst trade in the history of all TA staffs at MIT, Jake Beal, who had taught the class for something like 5 years running, was going to step down and work on his Ph.D thesis with another source of funding (one big upside for MIT prof's of teaching large classes was that they basically got to use all their own Ph.D students as TAs....6.034 had 5 TA spots I think) and I was going to step in and take his place. Eventually disaster did not ensue, but such an outcome was far from assured. Anyway, I worked the job at DB a few more days before I'd had enough and, no longer needing the money, bailed and moved back into the only place I've really felt at home for the past 10 years.

So I get back to MIT and realize I need to go meet with Patrick to see if there is anything that needs to be taken care of before the fall semester starts. I get into his office and this intellectual giant is sitting behind his computer; he waves me in with one hand, but is still just sitting there looking at the screen clicking away with his mouse, terribly vexed. I wait patiently for him to say something, anything, but have to wait what feels like 2 or 3 minutes before he finally, without taking his attention away from the screen, says:

"You know, by now I should have a 100 yard penis"

1 comment:

DK said...

Did you shack his hand after he finished?