Zerø Wind Jamie Wong

A letter to my 18 year old self

This is an open letter I wrote to myself in 2014 after completing my undergraduate degree in Software Engineering from the University of Waterloo. It’s addressed to my 2009 self, to be read just before starting university. Now in 2018, I’m surprised how much of this still holds and is still needed advice for me.

April 25, 2014

Hey you,

It’s me: you. I made it. I have my iron ring1. I guess you aren’t worried about failing to get here, but here looks a little different than you probably hoped it would. You’re not going to work at Google, and even more surprisingly, you won’t want to. You’ll discover that in your own time, so let me calm some of your fears and instill in you a few more.

In high school, you were the techie among your friends, and that was cool. It made you different and interesting and helped you create cool things to show your friends. In university, you’ll be surrounded by people with similar skill sets and interests. Your classmates will catch up to you. You will panic a little when this happens. Calm down. You’re not competing with them. Respect them, and learn from them, and never compare your accomplishments with theirs.

Make friends within your program. They’ll help you get through material that doesn’t click in your head as quickly as you’re used to. You won’t get integration, electromagnetics, or feedback control the way you got most things in high school. They’ll also end up being your teachers and your roommates. They’ll keep you motivated to do all your work, even though they won’t motivate you to go to class.

Oh yeah – you’re not going to go to all your classes. Thinking less of the people who skip in first year is going to make you feel pretty stupid when you almost completely stop going to class in upper years. You’ll stop going initially because you learn the material faster by reading textbooks in the library, but eventually you’ll just focus on learning through assignments and cram when you need to. This is maybe not ideal, but it’ll free you to get more exercise.

Make friends outside your program. As odd as this might sound to you now, you’re going to get sick of being surrounded by people in tech 24 / 7. Talk to a diverse group of people. Socializing in university will become a conscious thing. You won’t make friends during lectures like you did in class during high school.

Never stop playing badminton. Join the executive team as early as possible. This will be one of the most transformative things you do in university. Going out for dinner with them will make you feel more socially confident. The friends you make through badminton club will make you feel like part of a community in a very different way than your class does, and a few of them will be critical to meeting the incredible girl I’m with today.

Get more comfortable talking to strangers. Whenever you go meet a group of people, you’re not going to get along with all of them. That’s okay. Calling for pizza delivery over the phone should not be a source of social anxiety. Traveling will help with this immensely.

Open up to people. To get people to open to you, sometimes you have to go first. Find people where this comes naturally for you. When you do find them, don’t hold back, and make sure to let them know you care. Talking to them in groups of people will be very different than talking to them 1-on-1. This is true of everyone - especially your family. Do what you can to stay in touch with your family and get to know them. There’s a lot more going on in their lives than you think. Schedule Skype dates and dinners with family and friends.

Be humble. People will learn about your achievements in their own way, and if they don’t that’s okay. Being approachable and fun to talk to is far more important than deference. Stop wearing tech shirts and hoodies all the time. It makes you look simultaneously aesthetically oblivious and less approachable.

Don’t stop reading. Read non-fiction, science fiction, and some of the classics. Books will alter your perception of the world, lead to some incredibly engaging conversations, and strengthen future friendships. They’ll also give you something interesting to think about during rough periods in your life. You’ll extract more meaning reading a book for 20 minutes than 2 hours of skimming Hacker News. You should still look up this Hacker News thing though, it’s pretty handy.

Experiment with what makes you productive. You’ll think at first that to-do lists work for you, but they really don’t. You work better on pretty much everything in the morning, before you check your email, go on Facebook, or read Hacker News. This is especially true when you have to read a lot of notes, or when you want to write anything at all. Let yourself take naps while studying.

Keep a journal. It will let you reminisce, maintain your confidence, and organize your thoughts in difficult times. No matter when you started, you’ll wish you started earlier. You’ll find the act of writing itself cathartic, even when you do have people to tell your worries to.

Face your problems head on, but use the support you have. Even if your problems seem insignificant compared to others’, that doesn’t give you an excuse to ignore them. If you’ve been thinking the same thought on and off for years, it’s not going to go away by itself.

Oh, and when you go ATV riding, if you feel like you’re shifting around a lot, you’re doing it wrong. Hug the chassis with your thighs. Trust me on this one, you’ll save your ankle a world of hurt.

— Jamie Wong, University of Waterloo Software 2014 Alumnus

  1. The iron ring is a symbol of completion of some undergraduate engineering programs in Canada, and a reminder of the responsibility we hold to keep people safe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Ring [return]

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Zerø Wind Jamie Wong
Up next Feel those feels January 11, 2019