Friday, October 3, 2008

my academic journey

this is my academic journey

little kid days
i was a sports and outdoors kid. i wasn't allowed to have a nintendo and i couldn't watch tv during the week. so, that meant i found myself outside almost every single day after school from when i was in elementary to high school. i didn't need to be told i couldn't watch tv; i didn't want to. i played ayso soccer and little league baseball, played basketball and football with my friends, went surfing, hiking, bike riding, camping, fishing, etc. you name it we did it. it was a lot of fun.

i did okay in school;
  • i was a very curious kid; asking why about everything
  • i liked math and science and did everything i could to get out of reading
  • in elementary i won two science fairs for my demonstrations of magnets and the ozone.
  • for some reason i still remember winning a lei making contest and winning second place in our chess tournament.
  • i also remember taking two computer programming classes. one was in my elementary school where we learned logo. i really liked hacking logo on the macintoshes. next in my intermediate school we had a graphics programming class where we made animations. i remember these classes pretty well. i must have really liked them.

    i remember my parents going over my report card with me every term. i was always upset that my friends got money for good grades and i didn't. my parents used to say my grades were for me and only me; and that i should do it for myself. this is where i eventually learned to be responsible for my education.

    high school
    high school centered around two things; baseball and having fun. i played for aiea high school JV and Varsity teams. baseball consumed a lot of my life and homework did not. i still got really good grades, but didn't do nearly as much studying as i probably should have.
  • i didn't learn trigonometry. i wasn't interested and it showed.

  • when we had reading assignments; i would do all i could do to fake it. i don't think i read one fiction book in high school.
  • i didn't learn anything about using the computer, i didn't even know we had a computer lab.

    i'm not sure that i learned a lot in class, but i made sure we had a lot of fun. high school was a blast... but with all that, i still got pretty good grades. i graduated with honors. i even got a scholarship to the university of hawaii.

    i really learned a lot about life playing baseball. i played baseball all my life, but things changed when i started playing at the high school level. we played baseball year around and my game changed and my roles on the teams changed. i went from a bench warmer to the veteran starter. i went from a freshman follower to a senior leader. these experiences were real. i learned a lot about being a leader. and i learned a lot about being a mentor.

    i think the valuable thing about baseball was that i was able to really focus on baseball. i wasn't going to back down and i wasn't going to give up. competition drove my constant improvement of myself and my team. every practice meant something. every game was a stepping stone.

    i mention baseball in my academic journey, because there is nothing quite like high school sports. for me, it was one of the most important academic experiences that i've gone through.

    my first semester in college was shocking... my techniques for getting by at aiea high school wasn't working. i was playing to much... i couldn't BS my way through the tests by just being there in class. ha! i was actually pretty surprised. but, i wasn't playing baseball any more. so, i kind of lost focus. but, luckily some how one flunked pop quiz and a few family problems kicked me in the ass and i regained focus. this time i was focused on school. i was self driven. i didn't have a team anymore, i had to do this by myself and i better kick some butt. this was an important lesson for me.

    but! i was an agriculture major in the college of tropical agriculture and human resources. besides a scholarship, what the heck was i doing in there? this is where i made my second realization that i HATE WORKING OUTSIDE (but i love playing outside), i really don't care how plants drink water, and i really don't care about bugs and soil.

    so, i quickly left CTAHR and ventured out into taking ICS (Information and Computer Science) 101 and ICS 111. i took these classes just because i remembered that i used to like computers when i was a kid. i really had no clue what programming was.

    the internet!
    this was right about the time when i got my first computer and got the internet! woah.. i was 19 years old learning about all this crazy internet stuff. i would ask my friends what does "www" mean and what does this yahoo site do. they'd laugh at me, but i was soaking up like a sponge. it was really interesting particularly because in high school i didn't geek out like this.

    i did well in ICS 111 and i enjoyed learning java. so, i figured to keep on going. so i took another class. eventually, i told my CTAHR adviser i was out of the college and moved to ICS. the only problem was that i wanted to work with people and help people and i didn't know how would do that in ICS.

    i got a few computer jobs, learned a lot more and realized that i really liked working with computers. i got good grades in my ics class, but i wasn't learning that much. i was a senior in college taking 400-level ICS classes and i began to think what i was going to do with my life. the scary thing was that i was pretty much getting a 4.0 in my major and i had no idea what i was going to do or where i was going to work. my initial thought was that i needed to work for a web company. thank goodness that changed when i took ICS 413 ...

    ICS 413 taught by Dr. Philip Johnson turned my university education around. for the first time, i learned what it was like to write real software. imagine that... i took ten ICS classes and didn't know what it was like to write software. this class changed my life. i felt like i just learned what computer science was all about, so i couldn't bear graduating right after that ICS 413 semester. it tuns out that Dr. Philip Johnson convinced me to do my Honors Thesis. committing to this meant that i delayed my graduation for at least a year. i was in no rush, so i did it. (now, i realize that everyone should do an honors thesis).

    during my honors thesis work, i started to see that software was all about people. wring software is people management; its peopleware. AHA! i found out that i can help people with my geek knowledge. geek + people is awesome! i found my calling! i found myself using the same people techniques i learned in baseball.

    i eventually finished my honors thesis; The design, implementation, and evaluation of CLEW: An improved Collegiate Department Website.

    grad school
    now, i was about to graduate with my bachelors of science in information and computer science with high honors and was faced with another "what now". i still had no clue where i would working in hawaii. so, i applied to various graduate programs around the country, but i got rejected from all of them. luckily i was offered a spot in CSDL as a graduate research assistant. i jumped at that opportunity.

    i did my graduate research working on the hackystat system. while working on that project i got to be part of a few publications:
  • Comparing personal project metrics to support process and product improvement
  • Practical automated process and product metric collection and analysis in a classroom setting: Lessons learned from Hackystat-UH
  • The Hackystat-JPL Configuration: Round 2 Results
  • Hackystat MDS supporting MSL MMR
  • Hackystat MDS supporting MSL MMR: Round 2 Results
  • Hackystat-SQI: Modeling different development processes
  • Hackystat-SQI: First Progress Report
  • Improving Software Development Management through Software Project Telemetry

    one of the awesome things that i got to do during my graduate studies was an internship at the jet propulsion laboratory in pasadena california. it was a great experience and was really useful as a talking point for interviews, etc. not to mention a really really really really cool place. i got to see the mars rovers, went into the mission control rooms, saw them testing the mars rovers, saw them building the next satellites, watch cassini fly through saturn's rings, and talked to a lot of rocket scientists!

    after my internship i finally finished my masters thesis; Priority Ranked Inspection: Supporting Effective Inspection in Resource-limited Organizations. yay! school is over. (actually i got into the PhD program, but i decided that i was done for a while. write a thesis is a lot of hard work).

    work work work
    i entered the job hunting with relatively little information. unfortunately, my time at the ICS department didn't teach me about our local high tech industry. so, i applied to places were my friends worked. and it turns out i accepted a job where i didn't know anyone; Referentia Systems Inc was my new home.

    i've been working at Referentia for the past 3 years now. i was hired as a software engineer and now i'm a engineering supervisor. at the end of it all, i rely on much more of my soft skills, outward thinking, and the wonderful paradox than my technical skills.

    moral of the story
    i don't think there is a moral of the story... its just the way that i did it. its has been a long journey and i feel really fortunate and grateful to be where i am now.

    i think its ironic that some of the most important lessons that i use today in the real world comes from times out on the baseball field.

    there is so much yet to come. i've recently become really interested in helping others through their journey. i've learned this from leaders like ian kitajima. i've just started this next chapter but some things are already in motion;
  • making students awesome
  • Dept ICS TopCoder Software Engineering Competition
  • ics alumni association for real this time

    wish me luck!

    Ian K said...

    Howzit Aaron. Another great post. I always enjoy reading about a person's journey through life - what they have learned, and are learning. Today prepares us for tomorrow. I think you're on the path, young Jedi. I also think you've developed a love of writing and communicating!

    aaron said...

    thanks ian!

    Philip Johnson said...

    Wow! One of the best blog posts I've read ever.

    That's not because you say such kind things about me (thank you, by the way), but rather because your story shows that successful people don't have to be born with an unswerving focus and immediate knowledge of their eventual goals and passions. Instead, at no matter what age, we always have the opportunity to, in a sense, "wake up" and discover more about our true nature and capabilities. Your post also illustrates eloquently that not everything important for one's life and career is learned in school (actually, most of what is important isn't).

    I look forward to five or ten years from now when you publish "my academic journey, part II"!


    aaron said...

    thanks philip!

    there are so many things that i forgot to write. i probably should have talked about CSDL more. and i should have talked about one of the reasons why i went to graduate school. i remember back in my 413 class a grad student in your 613 class mentioned that their system was better than mine because they were graduate students (and therefore smarter or something). i was PISSED. i remember that well. and which is pretty much what pushed me to lead CLEW.

    thanks for all your support through my academic journey. hopefully the best is yet to come!