Five minutes in combat is an eternity

Time management as a college student generally encompasses the execution of a delicate balancing act between a rigorous class schedule, a montage of extracurricular activities (fraternity, sports, clubs, etc), and whatever other personal endeavors one elects to pursue (start-up companies, regular exercise, freelance work, etc).  We build schedules and planners with all these obligations and activities in mind, seeking out the most efficient way to allocate our most precious commodity: our time.

Of course, I never quite agreed with the supposedly sagacious quip to “expect the unexpected.”  Logically, if one was expecting something, it would be an inherent misnomer.  Nevertheless, the spirit of this quote, its connotation, bears some truth.

I can spend all semester adhering to this bruiser of a work schedule I have laid out for myself: workouts from 8-11 Monday-Friday; class 12-1:10 MWF; senior design 3pm MWF; GSoC all day T/Th and on weekends.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Inevitably, the proverbial wrench is thrown into the otherwise well-oiled and seamless machine.

It’s a fact of life.  The battle plan never survives contact with the enemy.  The unexpected always pops seemingly out of nowhere, and suddenly our best-laid plans have gone utterly awry.  We’re forced to re-evaluate from scratch, often sacrificing a great deal of efficiency to adjust to the new circumstances.

Because I am a CS major, I have to mention this: there is a parallel here, applied specifically to software engineering.  Building good, maintainable, extensible, robust code is so incredibly difficult for this very reason: it’s easy to create software whose requirements don’t change.  But as is very evident in the computing field, things are shifting more rapidly than ever, and this trend will only continue and intensify.  We largely cannot predict where things are headed, or how requirements will change on a daily basis.  For this reason, software engineers make their development schedules as flexible as possible, allowing for plenty of time to test their applications at every stage of the development process, evaluating progress on the fly, and adhering to good design principles throughout.

Rigid, unbreakable schedules are anything but: they will inevitably snap.  I have had doctor’s appointments to make room for, friends who needed an ear, and late last week my girlfriend had to suddenly pack up and leave on a family emergency.

It affects everyone.  Our tenacity and prowess in our respective fields, then, aren’t necessarily measured by our talents; they’re measured by our abilities to wield those talents when real life insists on its own schedule for us at the last minute.  Can we be flexible and roll with the punches?  Can we expect the unexpected?

On that note, it’s time to get down to work.  GSoC awaits.


About Shannon Quinn

Oh hai!
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2 Responses to Five minutes in combat is an eternity

  1. eksith says:

    College is basically the process of shortening your life. While the rest of your life is the process of recovering from the post traumatic stress.

    It’s true you can never expect the unexpected.. In response, my solution was to expect nothing. If it will happen, it will happen. There’s nothing to snap since nothing was expected. It’s amazing how much apathy can help you focus 😉 .

    As for building robust code…
    “There’s no patch for human stupidity”. You can build the most well oiled machine in existence and someone will leave a hatch open somewhere and let rain water get in. You know it’s only a matter of time.

    People always forget that the talk and outline before the project is the most important part.

    There’s really only one solution to that. It’s to plan out exactly what the software is expected to do and how to build expandability into it by default. Don’t rush anything and modularize everything. That way, if someone does leave a hatch open to the rain, you can replace that portion with a new module.

  2. magsol says:

    Judging from how my sleep patterns have been operating these last few weeks and, to some extent, over the last five years (read: not at all), I would be inclined to agree with you, good sir.

    True that there is no patch for human stupidity, and there’s certainly no way to make an application that is in any way useful if it is completely and totally idiot-proof. Usability, security, and extensibility are always in some level of conflict with each other, and concessions have to be made one way or the other, so long as a plan is in place to somehow attend to the details that were left out.

    Or, you know, we could just go back to typewriters and smoke signals.

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