Closing A Chapter

Lately my life feels very partitioned, as I gaze back at it.

Really the stuff until the end of high school is at least muddled enough that it feels like I didn’t change enough. Then I graduated high school, and that chapter closed. I went to college, and grew a lot, changed quickly and pleasantly. Sometime in March-April-May of 2013, I felt a shift again. I was suddenly more active in the way I went about being friends with people. And then of course, the first half of the Mudd chapter came to a close, as I drove off knowing I wouldn’t be back until the spring semester. And then my internship at Windward was easily a partition, because it was in a new location and with (all but one) completely new people and experiences. And looking ahead, studying abroad will also be a partition, where I’m even farther from everything I’ve known than ever before.

Don’t get me wrong, the partitions aren’t entirely disconnected. But to me they represent periods of growth in specific directions, of specific experiences that I can categorize together…and they lead into each other, in complex ways. And it’s because they all clearly close that they must exist in the first place. If something ends, that means it had to startand that’s what got me thinking about partitions and things.

For now, the Windward chapter has mostly closed for me. While I actually intend to do a bit more work for them (via remote desktop) before I go off for Budapest, I’m no longer there, immersed in the experience. It’s very different.

I have an agenda in this blog, so I’m getting to that now. The above was actually all rather tangential! But interesting to think about. Is this true for other people? Do most people see partitions in their life?

Windward did a neat thing where we had an exit interview. The main focus of that was to give me feedback (what could I do better as a software developer?) and for me to give the company feedback (what could Windward do better?). I thought this was a wonderful idea, and to me it really characterized Windward well. Even as I’m leaving, as an intern, they still care very much about my opinion. They want to keep improving. And even knowing that I could choose not to come back, they still care enough to give me useful (and brutally honest) feedback, which I appreciate. Sure, it’s great to hear praise (which there was plenty of in the exit interview), but the more useful things comes from feedback that can burn a little to hear (I actually agreed with basically everything they had to say about how I could improve, which was excellent, but the fact that they were willing to say those things to me without holding back means a ton to me). And this doesn’t come as a surprise from Windward – they’re hard on you, because they want to help you improve, and they do everything they can to improve the company too. It’s awesome, and the kind of environment I like.

Of course, when asked what I thought Windward could do better, I didn’t have much to say. I really like Windward. I like the way it’s run. Employees are treated well. Things get done. People help each other. It’s a ton of fun to simply be there. And no one minds if I set-up crazy amounts of colorful pipecleaners in their office. Seems like a good deal.

EXHIBIT A: PIPECLEANERS (thanks to Erika for the pictures)

rainbows :D Also Nerf guns, and Nerf gun wars :)

And my favorite part of Windward, by far, were the people! And as a result of the people, the atmosphere in the office. Everyone worked hard, but when it was time to take a break they were really fun to be around and socialize with. As I’ll talk about later, people were awesome and happy to do things outside of work. When it wasn’t time to be serious, people were silly in the same way that I’m silly. Everyone was just so wonderful. I can’t put it down in words very well.

Back onto my little outline (thought up during the 20 hour drive from Boulder, CO to my home in Washington).

  • Personal growth – technical

I’ve had a lot of personal growth since entering college, as I’ve said. I had a lot of growth at Windward too, although it seems to be much more in the way I think and view things than hugely external.

At any rate though, I had a lot of technical growth while I was at Windward, which makes sense. Let me tell you about it a bit. The first two ish weeks I was there I coded up (with the wonderful Sarah) an awesome demo using Autotag Word templates and ASPX, neither of which were things I had any experience in. The feedback we received was that it was great, even when we ourselves weren’t satisfied with it. From this alone I learned how to just dive into a problem, even if it looks terrifying because of multiple new elements (ASPX/HTML, Visual Studios, Team Foundation Server, Autotag…). And it was even better than that, because it wasn’t just being given an assignment and learning how to do it with the tools provided, but it was deciding what the assignment should even be. “Make a demo” is a very open-ended problem, so we had to figure out what would make a good demo (with some guidance of course), how best to present it, and then how to actually implement all of that in a totally new language. It was critical to see this transition from more clear-cut school assignments to the broader, and often vaguer problems posed in the real world.

And that was only the first two weeks or so. Dang. Once we got started on our main project (for me, writing the .NET engine to integrate the Salesforce database into Autotag and writing the wizard for this tool in Autotag), it was another dose of being thrown at a problem I had no experience for. In this case there was a stronger direction, because these datasources should operate the same way previous ones did, but I didn’t know anything about datasources at the time. I had also never worked in C#, and still wasn’t very familiar with Visual Studios or TFS at that point.

It was difficult and frustrating at times, because I just felt like I had no idea what I was doing and that’s pretty frustrating for most people. But again, being exposed to these kinds of situations and learning how to deal with them is an experience possibly even more valuable than finding the literal solution to our problems. And if we did get really stuck we could always ask one of the full-time devs (probably En-jay!) for help.

Oh, aside from learning new languages and tools, I also learned a ton of debugging and problem solving strategies. Break point all the things! General heuristics on where to check for problems. How to utilize Visual Studios as a really useful debugging tool. A lot of it is just general heuristics which are hard to write down.

And of course, just a lot about how a start-up (or I guess slightly past start-up stage) company works and how the real world is different than school.

  • Personal growth – social

I think a lot of this developed a bit before I got to Windward, actually, but Windward really helped cement this development for me. After the first week or so I was tired of not having things to do on the weekend and being cooped up in the apartment. After a bit of worrying and thinking as I tend to do, I e-mailed the dev team at Windward to see if anyone wanted to hike (the group seemed fun enough even from the beginning). Lo and behold, people came and hiked with me. And then they did it again. It quickly became a weekly thing that I looked forward to, and that I was actively in charge of organizing. People who had initially not been interested changed their minds and asked if they could come. I was even able to bring friends from outside the work group to the hikes and other events I started to run. It was a ton of fun. I guess what it was for me was that I became really involved. I didn’t have time to go on my computer after work and update this blog or do anything else, because I was out hiking, watching anime with people, participating in Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, and going to board game night. Instead of being unsure if I wanted to go to something or worried people wouldn’t come to something I was organizing, I just went for it.

It doesn’t sound as important or, uh, dramatic as it feels. To me. As someone who has tended to identify as shy and is always concerned about what others think. And everything I did was well-received here and reciprocated. It was excellent.

And solving all the problems I could and coding successfully here and succeeded at all these social quests helped me establish my self-confidence firmly.

Yeah…it’s more a feeling than something to put down in words…

And naturally there was a lot about becoming more independent as an adult. Managing an apartment with cooking, dishes, cleaning and whatnot isn’t as scary as I thought, although it is a bit of work and needs to be done in a timely fashion. Good practice for going abroad too.

Yeah. This summer was awesome. I made a lot of friends. Even if I never have the chance to see everyone again (which would be very sad), I enjoyed every minute of it and am glad it all happened. Maybe I’ll be back one day; I don’t know what the future holds.

Thanks for everything!

Wendy

  • On a logistical note, I will probably do one more blog here, which will be a technical Salesforce blog. I’ll be doing the rest of my blogging over at http://golden3point14.blogspot.com/ , so if you want to keep up with my Budapest journeys and/or my introspective tangents, I invite you to head on over. :)

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