2016-17 Season Recap

One year ago, I was uncertain about my future.

I had been living at my home for several months. I thought about getting a job and staying there for a while. I was happy to spend time with my family and my best mates. But when I got the funding letter from UTD, I swiftly booked a flight ticket to Dallas. I could not wait for another shot at the US and A. Ironically (and a bit sadly), I did not belong to home, not yet.

It was strange to be back at Dallas. The campus was familiar as always. I knew it like the back of my hand. Yet this time I was not a college student anymore. Now I was older, supposedly wiser, but I doubt I was any less foolish. It took me a few days to settle down. And in one unbearably hot day, so typical of Dallas, I met my graduate supervisor. He promptly made one of his graduate students cry in front of me. Wow!

Just like that, it did not take me long to decide I would need to leave this insane supervisor. The problem was he paid my tuition and stipend, so I had to wait. Soon I realized his research was not bad. My project was fun, at least I understood what I was doing. I coded everyday, and I was able to work with some interesting machine learning problems. In early November last year, I came to NYC to participate in a student competition related to my research. I prepared virtually nothing for my presentation but put on a brave face throughout. Of course I won nothing, but I liked it enough to want to give another shot next year. Somehow I thought it was okay to keep working with my supervisor.

Unfortunately, I could not escape the fact that he was truly insane. The next month, on Christmas Eve, he sent an email asking why I did not work. Then he forced me to come to the lab on New Year’s Eve. To do what? To prepare a syllabus for his class in the Spring semester. The madness did not stop there. The week after that, he threatened to fire me for not attending his lab’s weekly meeting. The only issue? That was the one and only meeting happening during the whole semester. I simply had enough. It was time for one more change.

I applied to the Computer Science department last Spring. I knew this was the right choice even though funding was not guaranteed. CS had always been my favorite subject. My best projects during college were always in CS classes. I should have moved to CS three years ago, but I thought I would enjoy being an electrical engineer, and it was a safer option since I got accepted to graduate school as an electrical engineering major. I pushed on, hoping that somehow it would work out in the end. That was perhaps my biggest mistake to date. But I do not regret making that decision. Failures and mistakes are needed because eventually they guide me towards the right way.

Now the 2016-17 school year has ended. And I’m alive. And still jobless. I tried to find some internship, or at least some on-campus job, but I cannot. The potential employers from industry are not impressed with my experience. The only “job” I’ve ever had is being a research assistant. They rather recruit a software developer with Javascript and/or Mobile Dev experience, not some daydreamer who has an empty portfolio. On-campus job? Funded graduate students are ignored. They must be thinking that the school has paid me enough money. It totally makes sense. I cannot complain. I have to do something else.

When summer began, I considered joining some program related to data science and machine learning, and one such program stood out: Udacity Self-driving Car Nanodegree. It is one thing to learn about deep learning, but learning leads to nothing without practice. I need a fun topic to apply machine learning, and I love driving cars myself, so why not try self-driving cars? Plus the self-driving car industry currently needs a lot of talents. I should give it a try. Even in case self-driving car is not for me, I can still apply my machine learning experience into another field. I cannot lose in this game.

In near future, besides the Nanodegree program, I hope to accomplish two things: (1) start a great project of my own, and (2) finish a large portion of a rigorous book (it should be Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning by Chris Bishop.) I believe there will be a lot of posts on these projects. I will write more to organize my thoughts on my study of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

A new beginning.


Author: Tri M. Cao

Music with my beloved HD 650 headphones.

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