In my college Arabic class, we used a book called "Al-Kitaab," which featured a rather homely young woman named Maha. At the beginning of class, our professor would pop in the VHS tape to introduce the lesson (side note: I might not be young). This was Maha's chance to talk slowly at us in Arabic, usually while sitting on an overstuffed piece of furniture and rocking mom jeans.
Chapter 1 was titled, "I am Maha," where we learned that Maha was an Egyptian-American college student in New York City. This was followed by Chapter 2, "I am Very Lonely." This was our first hint that Maha was not particularly happy with city living.
By Chapter 4, Maha's depression had only gotten worse. In "How Do I Memorize All the Names?" Maha despaired over her inability to remember all of her extended family members. For someone who professed to be so lonely, you would think she'd be happy about her latest predicament. But no, even from the grainy video, Maha's anxiety was palpable. I remember wanting to reach through the screen, to take Maha by the hand and tell her, gently, You need to get it together, Maha.
To this day, when I think of Maha, I think of a woman in a perpetual state of unease. How WILL she memorize all the names? How will she handle her upcoming trip to Egypt? What will she do when her only friend, Laila, moves away?
As strange as it might sound, I am so, so grateful to be at a place where I'm not always comfortable, and things are not easy. That's called learning, and it is exactly what I signed up for. I won't get into too much detail here because it's still early in the program, and I have a ton more to learn and do, but I have some early observations to share:
- People are good to each other here. It's one thing to be given a lecture on how you're expected to behave. It's another to actually see it happen in daily interactions at every level of the organization. I've been struck by the culture here, which, more than anything, has created a safe environment for students to learn. It is very, very important to get this aspect right, and Hack Reactor just nails it.
- Learning how to learn is more important than learning how to code. We aren't just learning new material at break-neck pace to cram as much information into our brains as possible. We're learning this way because, in the real world, stuff changes fast, programs break, and you need to learn how to adapt quickly and with minimal flailing.
- Students are not customers. In College Unbound, Jeffrey Selingo talks about many things that are broken with the institution of higher education, including profiles on colleges that treat students like guests at a private club. Hack Reactor does a good job of treating students like students. Their mission is not to make me happy, or make my days worry-free, it's to educate me and prepare me for what it's like to be an engineer.
- This is... kind of fun! One thing that's really surprised me is how happy I've been with no freedom and no social life to speak of. Yeah, I'm in front of a computer or in a lecture 12+ hours a day, but I also go to the gym 2-3 times per week, which I never thought I'd have time for. Before I started, I assumed Hack Reactor would be a total grind that I'd barely survive. It really hasn't felt that way at all. Even after class is over, I always have, like, 3 other things that I want to pick up and learn. There is always more to do, and while I sometimes have a Maha moment (which is, incidentally, the opposite of an "Aha!" moment), I'm jumping out of bed in the morning because I can't wait to get started, even on Saturdays!