Grad School Mad Libs

05.06.20191 Min Read — In Career

A 33-year-old __(A)__ walks into a computer science program and __(B)__

A: Programmer. Intellectual Lightweight. Impostor. F***. Wannabe.

B: Embarrasses himself. Fails out. F***s it up. Makes the most of what he’s got?

Ever since walking away from my comfortable software engineer paychecks and to go back to school to earn a Computer Science Masters, I’ve found myself often playing a tortuous game of Mad Libs.

This sort of emotional self-flagellation is a skill that I’ve mastered over the years.

It’s why managers only feel the need to play “good cop.” The “bad cop” is inside, reciting a litany of failures and weaknesses and swinging a mallet engraved with yeahbut whenever the inspiration or motivation groundhogs pop out of the ground.

I took my first quiz in graduate algorithms and got a 20% because I had forgotten all math and the Master’s Theorem and couldn’t prove runtime complexity. Pressing the lead of my Ticonderogas to paper, my self-doubts ran exponentially, dominating all productive thinking. I stared at O(nlogn) and I thought there was no way that I could get myself sorted out that quickly. I wasn’t logarithmic. I was a log: a dead wooden husk cut off at the shins and destined to be burned or turned into furniture.

My personal hell is perhaps this test. Surrounded by young Asians, fresh from undergrad, stereotypically all good at math, standing as external proof that the bad cop was right all along. That I don’t belong. That I’m not good enough. That I broke the moment I was discharged from the Army… that I have weakness in my bloodline… that I am white trash living on borrowed time… surviving on the generosity of others…

“Times up. Hand in your quiz,” said the Professor, “I’m sure that test should have been simple compared to your undergraduate coursework.”

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