Childhood Experiences

Over the last few days I’d been working on a post that described in disgusting detail the issues I’ve been having with the kernel regression method I used to get an idea of how my average running pace has improved over the last several months, but last night WordPress decided to gobble the entire post up. mv * /dev/null, indeed. Therefore, while my frustration with that topic wanes, I’m writing instead about some srs bznz.

As Seen on Facebook

I recently saw this posted on Facebook:

Interesting article. I remember having this debate when I was in college. I had both excellent and useless internships…but I can frankly say that every experience I had as a camp counselor contributed to my growth as an adult and member of the workforce. One might even say that I did not “waste a minute.” I think that people who never spent time at camp have a hard time understanding the value it adds to a person’s life.

Here is the article referenced, for your convenience. I highly encourage you to read it before continuing; it’s short.

Clearly, Space Camp never involved target practice.

It’s an interesting thought. I was a camp counselor for elementary school children for two years in high school; I’ve also been an intern for a supply chain company, IBM, and Google; I was a co-op for two years in a professional training department at Georgia Tech. I even worked with a three-man construction company for a summer.

From my own experience–the key word here being anecdote–I’m going to go ahead and spoil the joke: I wouldn’t trade a single one of those summers for anything else.

Stay with me awhile while I spin a yarn!

Yarn Spinning

The summer before my sophomore year of high school, my parents and the parents of a longtime friend of mine I’d known only through baseball (who now works at Facebook, JUST SAYIN’) put their heads (and wallets) together, and ambushed us both with a ridiculous surprise: they’d put down the money for us both to attend the Advanced Space Academy rendition of Space Camp!

I still remember almost every detail of the experience: the bunks, the tours, the lectures, the mission training and planning, the rides, the socializing, the scuba diving, the military training (yes, we went over to the Aviation Challenge camp that was nearby for a day, for a taste of what not-civilian life in this field might be like), and in particular: the final 6-hour mission that featured system failure after system failure in the most diabolical way, and I cannot begin to describe the excitement of actually solving the problem at the 11th hour, and bringing the shuttle crew home safely.

The next two summers featured a different camp: I was one of a handful of counselors for an all-day children’s camp involving arts and crafts, sports, and of course swimming!

Admittedly, the dodgeball sessions got a little intense.

There’s absolutely something to be said for the people-to-people aspect: regardless of how abused you are by the kids you’re in charge of, it’s unavoidable that you will be their idol by the end of the session. And nothing beats the feeling of a parent of an otherwise-resolutely obnoxious child approaching you at the end and listing the positive effects you’ve had on their child that you were too stressed to notice. That is changing someone’s life for the better. It’s kind of the point of all this, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The next summer was working for a construction company owned by the father of a friend. It was an intimate operation: there were 3 of us. I learned a lot about building and fixing (and yes, destroying) various indoor and outdoor appliances. I also internalized the value of giving your customer more than they expect.

College began, and I turned my attention to internships: first with a now-defunct company called Marc Global, then a two-year co-op with Georgia Tech, followed by summer internships with IBM and Google (and a Summer of Code for Mahout).

All of this, of course, pales in comparison to The Lady’s experience: not only did she hold a prestigious internship with a local newspaper one summer–I printed out every single one of her articles, proof that she did a lot more than just “fetch coffee”–she spent another summer babysitting 7 kids every day. Not just any 7 kids, but special needs children that required a special kind of babysitter. No camps to speak of, but you’d have be one cold-hearted individual to make the argument that she doesn’t fit in the same bracket of life improvement that the article’s author (and the Facebook poster) implies.

Ok, enough boasting, get to the point

Here’s the point: I learned some really cool things from every single experience, and wouldn’t trade any of them for anything. The article dances around the idea but never quite capitalizes on it: the author’s daughter knew what she enjoyed and wanted to stick with it. That’s the main point. What comes across instead is that we should all aspire to be camp counselors; that’s just as false as the idea that we should all pursue unpaid internships. In both cases, we’re doing exactly what the author said we should be avoiding: becoming just like everyone else in this dog-eat-dog world.

Well-roundedness is a virtue to be cultivated; passion for an activity is a value to be treasured. Summer camp is just as valid an activity as a software engineering internship, even more so if software engineering isn’t your passion or forte. Seeking a prestigious internship not because you want it, but because “it’s what will get you ahead in this world”, seems like a lose-lose situation to me. As does the situation of replacing “prestigious internship” with “camp counselor.”

Also, this line in the article royally pissed me off:

“[…] and her outrage that someone glancing at résumés would believe that a 20-year-old who fetches coffee at Google is more impressive than one who spends days and nights nurturing, teaching, organizing, comforting and inspiring.”

At this point I knew the author was missing the main point because he had a very specific agenda. First, Google does not hire interns to “fetch coffee”; just try going through the interview process with your ego intact, regardless of whether or not you get the job. Second, I see no mutual exclusivity with “Google” and “nurturing, teaching, organizing, comforting, and inspiring.” Particularly not if you think about for more than a couple seconds and do more than 0 research. And third, nobody–and I mean nobody–would prioritize a resume with “Google” and no accompanying description over a nuanced, detailed, and well-recommended resume with a highly experienced camp counselor. Particularly if that counselor went above and beyond by filming, editing, and producing a documentary.

Zzzz, are you done yet?

If you haven’t done it, don’t knock it. A well-rounded background will count for a lot in this world. At the end of the day, your experience is anecdotal: because you learned a lot from camp counseling doesn’t mean it’s the only way to learn a lot. My experience is also anecdotal, and so is The Lady’s, but what they do is prove that there’s more than one way to skin a cat in this “real world”. Do what you love, and the rest will fall into place.

Judge, and watch others cease caring about your opinion.

I’ll leave you all with the best joke in the world:

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About Shannon Quinn

Oh hai!
This entry was posted in Articles, Google, Graduate School, lolcat, Programming, Real Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Childhood Experiences

  1. eksith says:

    I vaguely recall posting this comment ages ago, but it bears repeating…
    Damn it, Shannon, why is your life awesome?!

    Also, kudos to The Lady for being quite badass. My mom is a teacher who has to work with kids with special needs from time to time so I know handling two or three is hard enough; I can only imagine what seven would be like.

    The youth are the pillars upon which today’s civilization will rest tomorrow. Better to cultivate those experiences, not just in skill but also in mindset and values, so they may be moulded into a strong core. Lest we face a spectacular collapse.

    Skills can be collected as life grows, but it can’t grow without living first.

    • He’s overselling me. I babysat 2-3 times per week (though they were typically 10-12 hour shifts, if that counts for anything) for a summer and a half. Though still pretty exhausting…

      And I expect that part of the reason I wasn’t a coffee-fetcher at the CJN was because it was such a small paper, so I actually got to write a TON (for which I am eternally grateful. Not sure I’d be where I am today without my numerous clips from the paper). Though I still had to do some grunt work – including photographing advertisers’ ads, typing up handwritten letters, and stuffing mailes – but I think that’s to be expected. We all have to work our way up the ladder, yes?

    • magsol says:

      I harbor no illusions that I’ve been incredibly fortunate and lucky in my upbringing. Even so, I know I could always be more grateful.

      I can’t say I’ve ever babysat for more than one or two kids at once, and certainly none that were adopted specifically because of their special needs. She’s humble (one of the many reasons I like her 😉 ) in her comment below, but it was a pretty intense job.

      It feels almost as though “doing what you love” and “padding your resume” have become two separate tasks, for which the latter is usually given priority over the former. I realize it’s highly idealistic to expect the two to be the same…but I suppose that’s exactly what I’m advocating.

  2. Pingback: As I lay failing at research… | theatre of consciousness

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