TLDR: Life updates and musings from the past 5-8 years. In order: CS, Music, Life, Future Plans. Feel free to skip parts that don’t interest you.
Looks like I’m going to be graduating soon. This semester, my class load has been substantially lighter, which naturally leaves me lots of time to reflect on my feelings about the past 4+ years at UT and high school (and also to play games). I thought I’d write it down, so if you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to, or you got tagged, here’s your one stop shop to find out. This replaces my usual yearly Thanksgiving list.
On Computer Science
I will leave the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. and a M.S., both in Computer Science. I was a part of the Turing Scholars CS honors program for most of my years there, but did not complete the thesis and thus did not formally graduate with that honor. I just found that research was not for me, at least not right now.
I found UT Austin’s Turing curriculum very thorough and rigorous; it definitely prepares you to be a top-notch software developer in the real world.
My absolute favorite CS class was 439H Operating Systems. This class and its non -honors sibling are the most feared, most hated, and widely considered the most difficult classes in the entire undergraduate CS curriculum. What got me through, besides a budding interest for systems programming, was attitude. It really does make a difference. I remember sitting alone the semester before and thinking to myself “OS can’t be too bad, right? I will learn a lot, have a good time, and get an A.” And I did. It wasn’t easy, but an amazing lecturer in Dr. Gheith and an ample amount of free time allowed me to survive and eventually thrive. In retrospect, I strongly believe that carrying that mindset from the very beginning was a key factor in my survival. In contrast, throughout these five years I kept doing quite poorly in classes where I have low interest or motivation 😬.
Most Valuable CS lessons I’ve learned:
- The technically best solution almost never wins (usually it’s the first solution or the best-marketed solution). Conversely, just because something has “won”, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have major flaws.
- Every single decision has a tradeoff of some size, even if you think it doesn’t. Similar to the previous point, don’t blindly follow fads just because everyone else is doing it.
- Keep it simple
- Think before you code
Random funny memories I have:
- I attempted to sing Dango Daikazoku freshman year at Turing Karaoke. It didn’t go well. (cc John)
- My very first university midterm Fall 2015, for Math 340L, I overslept and woke up 15 mins before class ended. Barely holding myself together, I ran first to the classroom to find myself greeted by an empty room, then to the professor’s office to beg for my life. He looked me up and down, with a pitiful look that seemed to be saying “poor freshman”, and tossed a copy of the test towards me 1. Since then, I’ve always been 15-20 min early to any exam. Thanks, Prof. Rusin, for not going too hard on me.
- Trying to build a pipelined processor in Verilog for CS 429 Spring 2016 and got so stuck and frustrated I walked 15 minutes alone from Quarters Nueces to Coco’s to get bubble tea. I drained it alone and walked home. One of a handful of instances of “depressed boba” for me.
- Cramming into Blanton 403 Spring 2017 with a million other people trying to figure out how the heck Algorithms works.
- Pranking Benjamin and Evonne Fall 2015 by stashing and reverting their changes in Git. Took a while for you guys to figure that out :P
- At the end of Operating Systems, we had a mega project where all 40+ students worked on the same project, “TearsOS”. I, along with John and Jo worked long hours in an attempt to merge into the mainline tree ahead of another team. Whoever merged later would have to deal with all the conflicts between the work of us two. We “beat” the other team to it by finishing our work first, but compromised by offering to help resolve merge conflicts. It was quite funny in retropect and the project as a whole was, although stressful, both super fun and educ ational.
I graduate a computer scientist, but I remain forever a musician. I love CS and I think I’ll love working on it day to day as a job, but everyone has an itch to scratch that that person’s day job cannot satisfy. For me, this gap is filled by music.
My primary instrument is the flute 2, which I have been playing for eleven years now, wow! Although I have played piano and violin for longer, nothing can describe the pure joy that comes to me when I play well on the flute. When every note just rings out effortlessly with a crystal clear sound – it’s without exaggeration one of my favourite feelings in the world. To play with such a sound along with tasteful style is both sublime and all at once challenging to achieve.
I owe my love for flute to my band directors and private instructors (primarily, Ms. Lori, Ms. Morales, Mr. Herrings, Mrs. Vernon, Mr. Christian, and Mr. Ruschhaupt). It’s so funny how this all began from a coincidence. I came into 6th grade from homeschooling wanting to, as I quote, “play the drums”. I still remember the day I tried out and could not hold a steady beat of 8th notes on a drum pad. With a met too, I think. Yikes. After that, we tried wind instruments, and flute was chosen essentially arbitrarily: because my eldest sister Vivian already had one at home. And thus began over 11 years of lovely flute-playing.
One of my proudest achievements in high school was pulling myself together and really focusing on flute. I don’t think it was particularly difficult for my instructors to tell I didn’t practice effectively, or much at all. I just relied on my musical knowledge from piano and coasted through middle school and my first two years of high school. Practice sessions consisted of just running through stuff a couple times. In 8th grade, I got 1st chair in the first round of region then didn’t make region band at all in the second round. Sophomore year, I floundered pretty badly at region, only slipping in at dead last chair because someone else dropped out.
Sometime between sophomore and junior year, something changed and inspired me to really focus and work hard. It was either absolutely failing at region sophomore year, or going to TMEA in the spring and hearing the top All-State Band perform Pictures at an Exhibition, or a variety of other factors. Regardless the reason, I became much more rigorous and methodical. Practice sessions truly became practice, where things where slowed down, recorded, analyzed, taken apart, toyed with, and reassembled. I actually started doing long tones for once. The results showed as I earned region orchestra and AYO flute positions both junior and senior year, and finally won the Austin Flute Society Young Artist Contest senior year 3. That really was my little moment in the spotlight. Although my flute skills have undoubtedly regressed since then (hopefully temporarily!), this breakthrough from being a good HS flutist to a great one is a constant reminder that I can do whatever I truly put my heart and full dedication towards. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.
The choice to pursue CS instead of music didn’t come super easily. Part of me felt I had the talent, but at the same time I felt it wasn’t enough, and I doubted my dedication and ability to persist in a fiercely competitive field. Additionally, I was burnt out on flute by the end of the year, and did not try nearly as hard as I should have, only submitting one mediocre tape to UT’s music school and getting deservedly rejected in the first round. In retrospect, I don’t think I could’ve handled the pressure of being a performer, afraid that it would destroy my love for the instrument in the first place. If I had gone into music, I feel like I would have become a band director instead. Either way, the past is in the past, and I can only do my best moving forward. I feel I still have much to learn and a lot of space to grow as a flutist.
At UT, I participated in EChO (Engineering Chamber Orchestra), which serves as a kind of “matchmaking service” for small ensembles. I participated twice, once in a flute duet with Kirsten and Sam, and another time in a flute quartet with people whose names I’ve unfortunately forgotten. :(
Subsequent to that, I haven’t had many opportunities to play. I find myself hard to motivate without a goal to aim towards. Even something as simple as “my lesson teacher has a studio recital every year so let’s polish something to perform” would be a lot better than just “practice and get better”. Similarly, I need an instructor to continue pointing out my flaws and advising me on ways to fix them. However, the future is bright! I feel like I have not regressed too much in these five years. My tone is still pretty clear, but my articulation and finger technique are slightly rusty. Nothing a hearty helping of etudes and a good teacher can’t fix :D. More importantly though, I’m concerned about continuing to preserve and develop my intuition for musicality. I really haven’t had a chance to practice it that much ever since high school.
I’m hoping next semester EChO will let me perform a solo piece with piano accompaniment, even though it technically isn’t an “ensemble”. If they do, I’ll probably try the Hue Fantasie.
Let me say right off the bat that I still dearly miss competitive HS marching band. I didn’t do Longhorn Band because I knew it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted the competition with other schools, the cooperative building of a product over months of hard work and dedication. As the script they announce at every UIL marching contest (cheesily) puts it, “It is the hard work they put in each day, that truly makes them champions”. I’m quite jealous of how insanely good Vista Ridge’s marching band has become since my time there, from basically no one knowing who we were in 2011 to…basically everyone knowing who we are now. It makes me so proud now when I mention Vista Ridge to a colleague who was also in band and they now reply “wait, you were the school that won state in 2018 right??” instead of “…where’s that?”
As for concert settings, I still reflect fondly on my time in the HMS and VRHS bands. How lucky I was to be in such a powerhouse of a district/region for music education. What percentage of students in Texas get to perform at TMEA once and Midwest twice in their MS/HS careers? The trip to Midwest my senior year remains one of my favourite memories of concert band, as shown in the other essay I wrote about it.
At UT, I participated in orchestra my first two years, but have not been in an ensemble since then. I miss concert ensemble, but not dearly – I like that it keeps my skills sharp, but opportunities for “special moments” like performing Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral at Midwest are pretty much nonexistent for me now. I’ve been spoiled!
Healing with Harmonies
A unique new musical opportunity presented itself to me in college.
Healing with Harmonies was a club I found
walking by the
SAC RLP one day freshman year. The super cool name drew me in at first, but
after attending an info session, I slowly started going to more and more of the
concerts. The club was purely an outlet for me to play music and give back to the
community – no resume padding, no seeking benefits for my career, none of that.
That spirit has stayed with me as I was elected Membership VP junior year, President senior year, and finally Senior Officer this year. It’s been such a great journey watching this club grow over the last four years – my officer friends always make fun of me for saying “it was worse before”, but I’m mostly serious when I say that. I used to worry and stress so much every single rehearsal and performance about logistics, the quality of our playing, whether we were actually making a difference, everything. Especially since I was the first president who wasn’t a founder of the club, I didn’t want to “ruin” the founders’ precious club, so to speak. However this year, things have just been going so smoothly. I’m so glad our new officers are so talented and dedicated and I know this club has now established its roots and will continue to be successful for years to come.
At every Turing banquet in the spring, we end by having the 4th-years give “senior speeches” (kind of like band senior speeches) that include advice for the younger ones. As expected, most people say something to the tune of “taking classes outside of CS”, or they try to give financial advice (insert “stonks” meme here). Not that those things are important, but I wanted to say something both personally relatable and different from the same old repeated points.
Essentially, my message to them was to appreciate all the relationships that they have. Often, college is a time of great growth, and many people are eager to cast away all of their old relationships and start anew. A fresh start is good, but we should treasure everyone that has helped us on our way here and on the way forwards. I think it’s a huge problem that many people seem to be leaving college with a boat’s load of “acquaintances” that you’re Facebook friends with but no truly deep connections. I’m slightly proud that the professor emeritus hosting our banquet basically pointed out my speech and said “listen to what he said about treasuring your friends”.
In line with this, and since this enormous thing is replacing my usual yearly Thanksgiving note, I’ll make it up here by thanking special people that I remember and appreciate from the past.
- My family (Ha, Van, Vivian, Victoria, Viennie): thanks for the constant love and support. I’ll have plenty to say when I graduate, so I’ll keep it brief here :D
- Jake Pokorney and Rachel Pokorney: Thanks for including me, even though I just ran around cluelessly whenever we played football during recess. (At least nowadays I know how football works!)
From middle school:
- John Cho: You were the first friend I made in middle school, in 6th grade math. I really appreciate the kindness you extended to me on day 1 and every day since.
- Julie Joo: Remember all that MS band flute drama? All but distant memories now. I hope you’re doing well!
- Kristine Chen: Thank you for all the wonderful memories from Mr. Papa’s Algebra 1 class all the way through high school. I hope you’re doing well and wish you the best at med school!
From high school:
- Kate Hardin: Maybe you should be in the middle school section though, given we were chair-buddies all the way back in 6th grade! Thank you for being my #1 fan when I was in flute lessons beating myself up, it really meant and still means a lot to me.
- My special flutes (Min Hwang, Adriana Gutierrez, Chris Dinh, Morgan Jeitler): It was really fun hanging out with you guys junior and senior year. Let’s catch up please!
- Zac Richards: Thanks for being the guy to talk to about science and cool stuff. 1.98% memories.
- All of my music educators: Thank you for everything, truly.
- Benjamin Chen: Thanks for being a chill bro.
- John Fang: Thanks for all the great CS, music, and Chinese discussions when you’re not trolling me.
From Healing with Harmonies:
- Amy Shoga: Thank you for entrusting me with y’all’s precious org. I hope I’ve made you guys proud!
- Eena Lin: It feels like just yesterday that you joined the org, but it’s actually been over 2 years! Thanks for all the boba hangouts!
- “Harmonies Hooligans” Lindsay Chu, Dorothy Le, Charles Yang, and Marisa Liu: For pretty much the entire past four years, I’ve yearned for friends as passionate about music as you guys. It’s an absolute joy to be around you guys every performance and social, so I’m extremely upset that I’m already graduating so soon ☹. Each of you are so dedicated and talented and the org is so lucky to be in your hands ❤!
I accepted a job offer and will be starting work as a Software Engineer at Facebook’s Seattle, WA office in August 2020. The plan is to graduate late May, travel in June, pack up/say my goodbyes in July, then move out at the end of the month. If I have ever crossed your mind in the last few years and you are in the Austin area anytime from now to mid-July, PLEASE contact me and let’s go out, share a meal, and catch up.
Goals for next semester:
- Pass my classes and graduate (very necessary).
- I want to polish and perform a flute solo for something. I haven’t performed solo since high school, and I think sending off my student life with a flute performance would be fitting. Hopefully EchO allows solos?
- Catch up with everyone.
- Treasure and ensure that my friendships will persist after I leave Austin.
Goals for the next few years, in rough priority:
- Obviously, do well at work and get promoted.
- Find a private flute teacher in Seattle and pick up solo repertoire again, with the same care, attention to detail, and drive for success I had near the end of high school. (Maybe I’ll try to learn piccolo this time too🤔). Incidentally, if anyone has good recommendations for flute instructors in Seattle, please hit me up. Or just if you know people in the Seattle flute/orchestra community, I’d like to get connected.
- Value each and every relationship I have, treasure and keep in touch with my friends.
- Continue my Chinese language studies, with an emphasis on real-world speaking and listening experience.
- Find a band or orchestra in Seattle to join and get those ensemble skills back up to par.
- Find a private piano teacher in Seattle and get those fingers strong and moving again.
Until the next one and Happy Thanksgiving!
A second late student came in shortly after I began. Probably made Rusin go, as they say, “SMH”. ↩
It might disappoint my old teachers for them to hear that I haven’t touched piano or violin nearly as much as flute, but that was a conscious sacrifice I made in high school in pursuit of flute, and I don’t regret it. I’ll try to get back into it! ↩