Senior Wisdom: Kevin Chen

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Who is he?

For our Senior Wisdoms, who else could be wiser but our very own bona fide Tech Man and WordPress extraordinaire, Kevin Chen? As someone who reports to eat prereqs for breakfast, Kevin dishes out advice on 6000-level seminars and bootlegging.

Name, School, Major, Hometown: Kevin Chen; SEAS; Computer Science; Pleasanton, California

Claim to fame: Once, I calculated that there’s a 1 in 3 chance you’re running my code on your phone right now. If that’s not enough, my photo of pizza rolls is now the first picture Yelp shows for John’s of Times Square. If you ever go there, get the spinach and mozzarella. Those pizza rolls are the best thing ever.

Where are you going? Over the summer, I’ll be working on software to help people take better photos. After that, I’m coming back to Columbia to finish up a master’s in CS. Although I’m not sure how my parents talked me into another year of school, I have recently come to accept it as a fact of my life.

What are 3 things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2020?

1) Some first years plan out exactly which classes they’re going to take for the next four years. Don’t do that. Planning is overrated. In fact, it can even be harmful, if your interests have changed but you’re still taking classes based on your original plan. Instead, get your prerequisites out of the way as quickly as possible, then take whatever classes in your major sound fun that semester. You’ll find what you like more quickly that way. (Speaking of prereqs, most of them are bullshit. I eat prereqs for breakfast and you should too.)

2) Most science and engineering professors lead graduate (6xxx) level seminars from time to time. Consider taking one of these during your junior or senior year. It’s basically a nerdy book club. You get to hang out with the professor and read papers by top researchers in the field. You’ll see firsthand how those big, important ideas taught in your classes had humble origins in a research paper written by some PhD students in the 80s. I know that sounds hard and boring right now. But trust me — eventually, this place will teach you so much that you’ll be able to manage it.

3) Once, on the #1 train, I met a hawker / street vendor carrying two giant bags of merchandise to his next location. The nearest open seat on this crowded train was all the way at the other end of the car. So, I did the obvious and logical thing: I agreed to watch his wares while he took a break. Three stops later, he thanked me with a dozen bootleg copies of Straight Outta Compton as he stepped off the train. I peeled off the shrink wrap only to discover a dozen empty DVD cases.

New York City is full of hilarious things. So don’t forget to take a break from school, travel below 110th Street, and make your own stories.

“Back in my day…” We had to pay $1.25 for each load of laundry, carried it upstairs both ways, and we liked it!

Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: This website you’re reading right now? I’m the one who keeps the server running.

What was your favorite class at Columbia? I took Advanced Programming in my first year, when I was a little punk who ran around thinking he knew everything. It took coming back as a TA to make me realize that I don’t. The last three semesters of teaching have softened my personality and reminded me of what it’s like to be a beginner again. Some AP students think they’ve learned a lot from me, but joke’s on them — I actually got the better end of the deal.

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? I’ve never been disappointed by a quesadilla or pizza (given that it’s not from Ferris). You can’t say the same about oral sex.

One thing to do before graduating: One of these days, before the steps are completely covered, I’ll go there and find the exact place I sat on during Days on Campus. I’ll sit down for awhile, thinking about how much has changed in the last four years. The hot sun beats down on the granite slabs. My thoughts are interrupted by a metallic clink. I look over. It’s Alex Della Santina. On the brick-covered walkway, she’s pan-frying a burrito.

Any regrets? My biggest regret is not figuring out what I wanted to do earlier. Freshman year, I joined some extracurriculars that I soon fell out of love with. But I stayed active anyway. I wish I wasn’t afraid of quitting, no matter how much I (incorrectly) thought people depended on me. In every case, they did just fine. And quitting was great for me because it freed my attention to focus on other things that I enjoyed.

Our Tech Man via Pixabay

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