University of Texas Main Building

Back to School

This blog is a collection of my failures. I have written previously about my biggest mistake:

I screwed up my life.

At the beginning, I had so much talent. I skipped kindergarten and dominated my classes. In high school, I was a straight A student who graduated sixth in my class of over eight hundred. My parents and teachers told me I was so smart. I was easily accepted to the University of Texas as an honors biomedical engineering student with a full scholarship. My first semester GPA was a 4.0.

Then everything went to hell. I failed some classes and lost my scholarship. Engineering turned into philosophy, bringing constant questions of, “Philosophy? What on earth are you going to do with that?” After five unsuccessful years in college, I dropped out and moved back in with my parents. I started cashiering again at the same grocery store I worked at in high school. Even four years after dropping out, I have barely gotten my life on track. At age 26, still having a roommate begins to look a little pathetic.

The good news is I no longer have a roommate. In fact, I not only have my own apartment but also a career too. After I returned to my hometown as a cashier, I quickly moved up to an assistant manager position. Getting to wear a blue shirt instead of a red one was marginally less humiliating.

Working retail sucks. Working retail management is even worse. I would put on a fake smile every day and deal with difficult customers and employees. I hated my job almost as much as I hated myself.

But along the way, I learned to like my grocery job. Getting to walk around the store is liberating compared to being stuck behind a desk all day. When a hurricane hits, people are grateful that the store is open which makes the work feel rewarding. Watching the coworkers you trained go on to accomplish their own goals fills you with pride.

Most importantly, working retail has made me a better person. Because every day you put on that fake smile, the feeling becomes a little more genuine. Over the years, I have become more patient, kind, confident, and empathetic. I used to be arrogant and cocky, but every hour at work helps to kill that old, inferior version of who I was. Part of me wanted to become a biomedical engineer to fix other people. My current job helps me fix myself.

For those reasons, I decided to grow my career in retail. I got accepted into the management training programming and became a department manager. In the year since then, I have enjoyed building a fantastic department. I could see myself becoming a store manager and spending my entire career in retail. I like my job a lot.

But I do not love it. My job fixes my weaknesses, but it does not play to my strengths. Many of my fellow managers have an incredible heart for people, and while I have emulated some of that from them, I will never be able to top their emotional intelligence. Instead, my strength is my technical mind. Math and science were my favorite subjects since elementary school. I love working on hard, quantitative problems.

I want to be a programmer.

I started coding in elementary school when I picked up a basic book on HTML. Despite not having chosen computer science as my major at UT, the biomedical engineering department required me to take a few programming classes, and I realized I loved the subject. However, I was already starting to struggle in my classes and transferring into the computer science program was not an option. When I was failing my classes, I always thought I could drop out and become a professional programmer. Hearing the stories of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg made me delusional. Nobody wants to hire a bad programmer, and I never learnt how to become a good one.

I would love to go back to UT and get a computer science degree. My sister is currently a Longhorn comp sci major, and she will soon be graduating with her bachelor’s. I am extremely proud of her, but part of me is jealous of her success. However, she put in the work. I did not.

UT should not take me back. Even if the university did, the competitive computer science department would certainly reject my transfer application. Even doing community college then transferring to a less prestigious state school would not work. With all my previous years of college, financial aid is unavailable for me, and I will never be able to save up enough money with my current job to afford tuition. My academic future is dead on arrival.

My mind wants to forget this dream of becoming a professional programmer. But I keep thinking about my favorite quote from How I Met Your Mother:

Unfinished. Gaudí, to his credit, never gave up on his dream. But that’s not usually how it goes. Usually it isn’t a speeding bus that keeps the brown, pointy, weird church from getting built. Most of the time it’s just too difficult, too expensive, too scary. It’s only once you’ve stopped that you realize how hard it is to start again, so you force yourself not to want it. But it’s always there. And until you finish it, it will always be…

And fortunately, programming is one of the few fields where you can forge your own path without a degree.

So I am going back to school, but I will be doing so without the help of a classroom. Fortunately, internet tutorials and my own will to succeed will help guide me. Everyday I will spend time studying programming. Right now, I am focused on learning web development. I want to get a job as a full-stack web developer, hopefully by the end of the year.

I ruined my life before by failing out of college. But if something can be broken, then it can be fixed.

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