My last semester of school ever has begun. For the past few months I’ve been going back and forth about what I would study. I wrote a previous post about some of my options. The school I attend is very application based. There’s not a lot of research going on and most people just want the piece of paper. No one here expects a fancy internship at Microsoft or Google. Those recruiters have yet to show up on our campus. Students at Southern Poly just want their resume to look good. This means that the majority of people here focus on acronyms.
In looking around for a topic, I initially looked at holes in my skillset and the acronyms involved. I’m not that great with xml, css or xslt. I haven’t worked with SOAP, REST or LAMP. Although my thesis is about data visualization for software quality, I was telling myself that my thesis work should be enough “fun stuff” for me to be satisfied. Then I remembered how my parents relentlessly convinced me that a career should not be fun.
As a high school student, I was obsessed with a career in technical theater. I loved the design and build of sets. To me it was the creation of a new world within the limited space of a stage. There are just as many theater classes on my high school transcript as math classes, and I was committed to finding a great theater program for college.
To say that my parents were not encouraging is an understatement. They were so pissed off! Oh, the screams! For them, the only real jobs were the ones listed in the classified section of the Sunday paper. “Show us a ‘want ad’ for set designer,” was their common refrain. I heard this over and over for months in the living room, in the car on my way to freshman year in college, on the phone when I was at school. Eventually, they repeated this often enough that I became discouraged and dropped out of the theater program at Appalachian State.
Last week, it was finally time to put my intentions for this final semester into the system. As the acronyms were cycling through my head, I reflected on this whole show-me-the-want-ad mentality, and realized that I was in a similar situation with my last semester. I’ve got all the practical, resume-enhancing choices behind Door #1 and the topic with no want-ad attached, data and software visualization, behind Door #2. I can just see the indignation on my parent’s faces.
This is how I know, absolutely, that Data Visualization is the RIGHT choice. My thesis advisor (bless him!) helped me put a curriculum together for a survey of data visualization with a focus on software. I feel like I’ve gone back in time and re-traced my own steps. It’s like I’ve gotten a big, fat do-over as my SPSU swan song. The new Stephen Few book, Now You See It: Simple Visualization Techniques for Quantitative Analysisis my textbook along with Software Visualization: Visualizing the Structure, Behaviour, and Evolution of Software..
Even if I never have another job where I use this, even if I have to keep it as a hobby forever, it’s priceless to me that I will have the time and faculty support to broaden my expertise in this area. I have the rest of my life to learn “REST.” The important acronyms seem to change after 3-5 years anyway. At this point, I know that Data Visualization is not going anywhere. That might actually make it the most practical even though there’s no want-ad for data visualization specialist in the paper.
BTW, my parents eventually realized the damage they had done when I ended up an overqualified (and miserable) secretary. It took a few wayward years and another college degree, but I finally realized that sometimes it is necessary to ignore your parents.