Pulling A Programming
30 May 2012
I just realized that programming has shaped and changed so much of my life. I learned and experienced a plethora that I would never have otherwise. I should put it this way; ‘I pulled a programming’.
One of the reasons that drove me to programming was not only my interest in it, but also that I couldn’t stand high school. I did it as a timid way of rebelling against the system. But while most rebelling are shooting oneself in the foot, this particular one turned out to be great.
As a typical high school student in Korea, it’s nearly impossible to give variations to your life as school starts at 8 AM and ends at midnight on weekdays. (On weekends school starts a little late at 9 AM and you must study for yourself till 6 PM).
So when you return home1, most students have no option other than but to take a shower and go to sleep. Some extend their studies from school into the night. And most of those in their last year of high school(which I am) have no choice but to do so to prepare for the looming CSAT. (You should feel the dreariness of our classrooms).
But I couldn’t stand using my time at home for just sleeping, and I was too angry at the system and mentally tired to extend the studies from school at home. However, if I do nothing but sleep at home, it would mean that every day will be just like the day before for three years straight. THREE YEARS. As I said, no variation whatsoever. Who could stand that? Not me.
So what I’ve chose to do is to program using the night. I start as soon as I get home and stop at about 3~4 AM, so in effect I hack through the night every day2.
Well, for the first half of my first year of high school, ‘hacking through the night’ may have been an overstatement. Because I’ve been mostly wasting my time in search of Korean documents.
As it is with most non-english communities, Korean programming communities are no exception to a lack of high-quality documentation as localization by a few has its limits. At some point I was practically looking at partially translated versions of man pages written in the 90’s. Sure, there are books, but my parents were against my tiny rebel so I had no way of getting them.
So I took the hard way. I knew the english alphabets and basic grammar, so I ditched the inferior translated versions and dived into the ‘english’ part of the web to read original contents. At first I couldn’t even fully understand the very first sentence in an article. But knowing that there are no better alternatives, I had to push myself.
Long story short; for about three years of programming and forcing(but enjoying) through english man pages, Wikipedia articles, blog posts and recently added to the list, Hacker News, I’m now quite competent in reading and writing english. At least compared to my peers.
Compared to my peers who has been trying to cram english into their heads for at least 5 years. I was infinitely faster in acquiring the language because I know they will never be as good as I am. They study english only for CSAT, and maybe later on in their life for job interviews. Whereas I ‘picked up’ english doing what I enjoy: programming. And I’ve seen enough to know that enjoying doing something is the only way to be the best at it.
So in this aspect, programming has helped me to acquire fluency in a new natural language. (Of course, not to mention programming languages). I think that alone compensates for my sleeping time invested.
Thanks to my experience in programming(however little), new opportunities opened up to me. One of them was that I was able to take the online computer science course that KAIST provided, which extended to a few week-long camps at their CS department, and another from ETRI.
I had great experience at those camps that I would exchange for nothing. The memory that lingers on the most is the feeling of all those heated technical, academical discussions with other students. They excited me more than anything I’ve ever done. Guessing, this is what hackathons and startups must feel like, no?
I can confidently say that those week-long adrenaline-pumping-geek-talk camps helped me much more than those years-long braindead classes I have to put up with at high school. I even feel sorry for those stuck in high school like prisoners in jail3. But they are not real jails, so I can say to them. Oppertunity does not come to you. You search actively for them. Why subject yourself completely to the rigid system you know you hate?
Of course, you can’t catch all the chances. I failed to pass many times at initial screening processes. With not so many of them avaliable to me, failing at such an early stage hurt a lot. So I learned to always assume the worst. But when given the chance, enjoy, do my best, get the most out of it, and be grateful.
But I know that after graduation, or maybe even earlier, I’ll be making my own chances. With programming. And I’m pretty excited just by the thought of it.
So now you may ask, “What did you do with programming itself?”
To me, the joy and the charms of programming has always been in getting to the lower abstraction layer. I’m not good enough to elaborate, but in essence I mean thinking deep into the core, the fundamentals. I found joy in academic knowledge. For example, algorithms, language design, AI, et cetera.
Pulling a programming implies that you program. So what did I make during my rebel? Well, I don’t have much to show the world because I learned a bit late that the only way to learn to program is to start a real project for the real world; make something useful4. After all, I didn’t program to show someone else.
But I’ve still got a lot of time to start a real project. Now as I look at it, they look pretty damn fun, too. I believe with what I’ve learned till now and had my interest in will help me a lot on my way.
My life as a high school student is nearing its end, and college admission is only a few months away. I rebelled small, so I managed to do just fine at school. So no worries there on college entrance. I’m just glad that it’s coming to an end. But what have I got to say to others?
The thing is, a lot of students in Korea don’t know what they really want to do. Sure, studying for the CSAT is of course important and certainly staying upwind, and if you score high it’s all good and that’ll get you to college.
But they will always be the minority. In the end most are left with a doubt and distrust; “What the hell was high school for?” What’s even more depressing is that the so-called teachers in high school had planted the false impression that after taking the huge foul from the system for three years, they’ll be freed. Well they’re not.
I’m not trying to be pessimistic here, and maybe it’s just me being too paranoid.
But if you’re a student in a situation like mine(I’m talking to you, Korean highs!), I want to tell you to deviate. Why submit yourself completely? My way was programming, but it doesn’t have to be the same with you. Endure high school, and at the same time do the things you love to do. Maybe you could pull a something!