In many ways, it was just another day of class. But as I sat there awaiting the final exam of my first graduate computer science course, Advanced Algorithm Analysis and Design, I wondered if my studies had prepared me to succeed at this level. Most of the students surrounding me were PhD students, and their experience in this subject was greater than mine. For a moment my mind flashed back to a time three years earlier. It was the day I told my wife that I wanted to go back to school, starting over in a new subject, to get a Masters degree in computer science. Then I plotted a course to make it happen.
Unlike the degree that I completed nine years earlier, there were no liberal arts or elective classes in my plan for this new degree; it was all math and computer science. I wasn’t sure how well I would fair since the last math class I had taken was when I was a junior in high school. But I moved forward with my plan and one by one, I received an “A” in all of the undergraduate math and computer science courses that led to me sitting in that classroom surrounded by fellow graduate students. Would this class end in the same manner?
Two weeks later, I was walking across the campus of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. I was starting my second summer internship with Sensorpedia, so I was heading to over to meet up with my mentor and lead developer of Sensorpedia, David Resseguie. After catching up on what we’d been up to the past several months, David told me that one of my first tasks of the summer was to write a blog post. He said to write about something I had learned this past school year. For those of you that don’t know David, that might sound a little silly… to just write about something that I learned. For those of you who do know David, you know that learning is very important to him. He knows that good ideas can come from a wide variety of sources, and a great way to facilitate that is to continue to learn new things.
For those of you still hanging on to my opening story about my Advanced Algorithms class, I can happily report that my 4.0 GPA in this subject remains intact. So the question was now before me: Of all the things I learned this past school year, what did I feel was worthy of writing about for this blog? A quick thought back revealed several possibilities. Should I write about the inner workings of the proof of Rice’s theorem from Theory of Computation class (which gives us the fact that only trivial properties of programs are algorithmically decidable)? Or should I write about the mangled NP complete proof for the Hamiltonian Cycle problem (where we transform an instance of Vertex Cover to an instance of Hamiltonian)? Perhaps the topic should be more programming related. I could write about the nights spend debugging my bipartite network flow program. Or just as easily I could tell of my experiences implementing Unix pipes. Which topic truly deserves the honor?
To answer this question, I will ask one of my own. Why do we ask our kids to clean their rooms? Is it to rid ourselves of the feeling the chaos? Sure. But isn’t another main reason that, as adults, we understand the importance of having the things we need access to accessible when we need them? We know that the investment of time to clean one’s room pays off. Now, how does this relate to my past semesters of math and computer science studies? As I reflected over these months of study, it dawned on me that the things that I truly learned were things that I had already learned before: the power of preparation, hard work, and in particular, organization. Of all the things that I’ve studied in this journey of my new degree, it is these simple, timeless qualities that I have again learned to be priceless. It’s true that I might not have the raw intelligence of some of my classmates. But I have found that I can make up that difference with these other qualities. I found that if I spent the time necessary to organize complex issues, I could perform at a high level. I found my investment of organization paid off.
Others also know the power of organization. When Bryan Gorman and David Resseguie started Sensorpedia, they knew the potential of organizing the world’s sensor data. Sensor data was somewhat available, but not organized. One type of sensor data was often times not compatible with other similar types of sensor data. There was one proprietary format after another. It was harder to have access to certain data when you needed it. Sensorpedia seeks to fix these problems. It seeks to organize complex issues and data sets, so that our users can perform high level tasks. How ironic is it that my lesson learned has been a core goal of Sensorpedia all along?