When I tell someone that I am a Computer Scientist, and that I am working towards finishing my Master’s Degree in it, many of them remark on how “smart” I must be to achieve such a goal. I am taken aback by this response as I do not view myself as any more intelligent than they are. What, then, makes Computer Scientists fall into such an automatic assumption?

The answer may lie, not in the intelligence of the individuals, but in the way that they interact with their surroundings. Their world.

I am a Computer Scientist, but my skills do not fall solely within that realm. I am an avid baker. I surf and skateboard. I am mechanically inclined and can fix my own vehicles. I can play multiple instruments. I am known to write occasional prose and poetry. I read frequently – and in various topics. I keep up in current events. I have an extensive knowledge of movies and music. I play billiards at the competitive level. I am an amateur scotch taster.

The question is why did I decide to develop these hobbies and skills? The answer, for me at least, is that I was curious. I started baking bread because I was curious how it would work out. I got quite good at it through trial and error. Now, I can bake a decent loaf or two with no trouble at all. I have even made artisan loafs at the request of friends. When I saw a Youtube video of someone playing the ukelele I thought that it would be fun to play. I went to the music store, bought a cheap ukelele, and started to play some basic tunes from online tutorials. Now I can play a variety of songs – which goes well for when I’m surfing.

Many Computer Scientists are just like me. It is unacceptable for them to “not know” what to do if they need to, say, sharpen a knife. They will go out and learn how to sharpen their own knives. If there is a problem, they try to fix it. If there is something they do not know, they try to learn about it so that, next time, they will know. We are constantly learning. This might be brought on by such a fast-paced field – where first-year textbooks can be outdated before the students graduate.

This trait is not limited to Computer Scientists. There are many who are driven to better themselves. Sure, it takes some grades to get into Computer Science, but it takes grades to get into many fields of study. The “smart” that seems to be automatically associated with Computer Science may derive from this need to better ourselves – and solve problems. This builds a large skill-set that helps us solve even more problems.

And solving problems is something that we are very good at doing. Maybe that is what “smart” is after all.


The Art of Failing

The story is well-known and so are Thomas Edison’s words: “I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

Those words, spoken or not, highlight the essence of “failing”. I use that word with some sense of disdain; for I am a firm believer in its non-existence – at least for me. Definition: Fail: “To be unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal”. Thomas Edison would eventually discover a method, and the correct materials, to construct a long-life light bulb. He achieved his goal and so I see no failure in his method.

Too many times there are those who speak prematurely. A goal is the intended completion of a process set out at a previous time. This usually includes a “bar” or standard that will be met and will signify the meeting of that goal. The goal is at the end of a process – a journey. How, then, can someone label the process a “failure” if it is still in motion? The answer is that they cannot. The only person who has the ability to convert a process into a failure is the one who set the goal. How refreshing it is, then, to know that the only way that one can fail is if they choose to stop progressing towards their goal.

I have encountered this extensively in both my academic and professional careers. I have failed extensively in both, but I found that what is more important is not how much a person “fails” but rather how much that person sees things through – how they pick themselves up and keep moving. Out of my original group of post-secondary friends only a third ended up graduating from the Faculty of Engineering. I was one of them. I can confidently say that I was not the most naturally gifted of the group, but I was driven. I saw my goal and I wanted to meet it – be it hell or high water.

This quality is also prevalent in entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs have a higher threshold for risk. This means that they take chances. They may be calculated, but they are still risks. Sometimes those chances do not work in the favour of the risk-taker. Some may call these occasions a “failure”, but what an entrepreneur will tell you is that it was a learning experience. A life lesson. One way to not do it. Just one bulb in Edison’s 10,000.

When I find out that a “bulb design” didn’t work I don’t whine about all of the hard work it took to make it. I move on. I start designing the next bulb based on the lessons learned previously. This is a process, and I haven’t met my goal yet. But I will.