The Transfiguration

everything is sacred

Decision of the Day #2104

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Decision of the Day #2104

For the last couple weeks I’ve been jumping through hoops, taking a number of coding challenges as part of the application process to a school of sorts called App Academy. They sent me an email yesterday officially admitting me, and tonight I accepted their offer.

App Academy is a peculiar sort of institution. It’s a twelve-week course in various aspects of programming and web development, and very intensive; they estimate 80-100 hours of work per week. It sounds like quite a sprint, an incredibly dense packing of information into such short time.

There are other coding bootcamps, but this one has a unique approach to tuition: at the end of the session they help you find a job, and you only have to pay if you get one. This makes the entire prospect a possibility for me; I’ve been living on a very slim budget for the past year, and my pockets aren’t deep enough to invest in anything up front.

For the past six or seven months I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to do next with my life. At lunch with Michelle last week, I mentioned that I was considering pursuing a more programming-oriented career, shying away from academia. She sent me a lengthy email the other day about finding your funktionslust – essentially, pleasure taken in doing what you do best. She wrote how research could be hers and encouraged me to for my own, whatever it might be – although I think she might have been a little disappointed that I wasn’t keen on staying in the sciences. This is part of my reply:


The ideal thing really is to find work doing whatever your funktionslust is, eh? But not everyone finds that their greatest strengths are very employable.

I’ve been thinking about this possible career switch for at least six months now – going back and forth about what I really want to do. My big struggle with it, though, has been that I don’t feel like I have one particular funktion that really, really calls to me – there are so many things I want to do! Writing, coding, photographing, researching, creating of all sorts – and I haven’t been able to work out a way to tie them all together. Never mind all the little hobbies besides that, the climbing and reading and video games, and seeing friends in the middle of the week.

But after working for a year and a half at the lab, I think I’ve decided that what I would gain from continuing a career in research doesn’t outweigh the things I would give up for it – at least not in the field where I’ve been working. fMRI is so limited in what it can teach us about consciousness, as is every other technology we have to peer into the brain. I could spend thirty years in it, looking for correlations here and there, building up small hints about what’s going on inside us, and I’m sure it would be interesting – but it will never teach me what it’s like to be a bat. And that’s really what I wanted to learn from it, ultimately.

Programming seems like the next best thing, both because it offers so many crunchy puzzles to solve and because it involves a lot of peering into the intricate workings of a sort-of brain. If I can’t learn exactly how our brains work through researching them, maybe I can learn something by trying to build a brain myself. If that makes sense.


I’ve wanted to be so many different things in my life.

When I was five years old, I wanted to be an ice cream man. I was enamored with the Sonic-shaped treats sold from a musical truck at the park, and wanted to invent new ones myself, to create things that other kids would love.

When I was eight, I wanted to be an astronaut. Looking back on it now, I really only wanted to float weightlessly and look out at the fantastical shapes and colors of the cosmos; all the hard work and scientific pursuits involved were an afterthought at best.

When I was twelve, I wanted to be a comic book artist. I drew little Sonic comics, traced the real ones with fancy markers and smoky paper, and thought up new adventures for my hero – which lead to a lengthy piece of fiction that you will never read.

When I was eighteen I wanted to be a writer. I hoped to uncover the secrets of the universe through introspection, to help people understand each other with stories. I still write and I want to write forever, but these days I feel like trying to make a living as an author would create a sort of pressure that could squelch everything genuine in my writing.

When I was twenty-two I wanted to be a neuroscientist. Introspection didn’t have the solid, empirical foundation I needed to understand how consciousness could arise from matter, so I dove into maths and sciences in hopes of finding an answer – calculus, organic chemistry, molecular biology – and it was beautiful. It seems, though, that my biggest questions still can’t be answered, and while all these subjects are incredible, fascinating things, delving deeper into them would come at the cost of other wonderful things. Breadth versus depth.

Now, although I’m aiming for a career in programming, I don’t want to be a programmer – I’d like it to be the work I do, something I can puzzle over and enjoy, but I want to be able to step back and do a dozen other things as well. The question now isn’t “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, because you don’t need to define yourself by your job – and unless you are very inspired by a very specific thing, you probably shouldn’t. Instead I’ve been trying to trace out what I want the shape of my life to be, and consequently who I want to be as a person, and I’m hoping that taking this path will help.

I don’t regret any of my bygone goals, of course, because every time I’ve pursued one of them I’ve grown as a person, and I’ve been able to appreciate the world more with each new fascination. In a few more years I may change my mind again, and that’s quite alright – everything is worth getting excited about.

I started writing this entry feeling very unsure of myself and of the future, but dumping out all these thoughts seems to have helped. This will be a little adventure, and a few months from now life will have transfigured once again.

Keep learning, keep exploring, keep being enraptured with everything that is and everything you are.

don’t believe you’re all alone

Written by Umbrella Man

June 27, 2014 at 12:16 am

Posted in ruminations

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