For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about RIT a lot lately.
I had a weird dream earlier this week that Erin and I went back to visit, but of course it was the bizarro dream version of campus. Then yesterday, I was filing a stack of papers that hadn’t been dealt with for a while and found the alumni magazine that arrived weeks ago.
I’ll be back on campus for a day or two at the end of August. I’m flying up to Buffalo to spend a long weekend with my family, and I’m going to make sure I plan a day in there to spend at RIT.
I’ve only been on campus twice in the past three or four years. Erin and I drove to Buffalo for Christmas two years ago, and on the way back, I took her on a quick tour. Because it was that week between Christmas and the New Year, the place was deserted, and only the new Barnes & Noble was open. This March, we were there for an evening for the CSH 35th anniversary dinner. We got to go into a couple buildings and see some of the updates to the Student Alumni Union, but I’ve only seen the outside of the other new buildings and don’t even know what most of them are. It’ll be nice to have a day to wander around, see what’s new, and visit the buildings I used to spend all my time in.
A little over a year ago, I realized that I had been out of college as long as I had been in: four years and three months (I switched majors a couple times so it took me an extra semester to finish up). I started to write a post about it then but never finished. It’s still hard to wrap my head around; those four years were such a significant period of time in my life that it’s hard to accept that it’s already been so long since it ended. I’ve since married, moved a half-dozen times around DC, and worked for three different companies, but the pace of college life is such that it feels like more happens in a year there than three years in the real world.
I know I’m being ridiculous, of course. I used to look down my nose at the guys that wore their high school rings and letter jackets; they were living in the past, and if their glory days were already behind them at 19, what did they have to look forward to? But now I find myself in a similar position: were my best years the ones I spent at RIT? Have I been slacking off so much since I left that I don’t have anything to show for the last (almost) six years? I mean, a wife, a dog, a nice apartment, and financial stability, sure: but what have I accomplished technologically?
Every now and then I consider looking into the graduate programs available at RIT. I had considered sticking around to get an MBA right after finishing my bachelor’s, but I wanted to get a job and make some money for once. It was the right decision: I didn’t know it at the time, but business classes would have been useless to me before I had a couple years of experience in the real world.
For a while, I thought I wanted to work my way into management, but I’m no longer sure it’s for me, so an MBA wouldn’t make sense right now. I could go back for a master’s in IT, but I don’t want to get into anything like server administration or network security, and those are the kind of things that one gets an MS in IT for. A master’s in computer science might be interesting, but probably not applicable to what I actually want to do for a living.
Really, that’s just the long way of saying that I want to go back to school, but have no justification for it. I know that there’s no way it would be the same if I went back now, but I miss that kind of life: work enough to buy groceries and beer, and spend the rest of the time hanging out and learning new things. It’s the kind of thing that anyone could do with a part-time job and a library card, but there’s something about being in a place where hundreds of other people are doing the same thing, and interested in the same topics - you don’t get that in the real world.
I’m glad I went to RIT, even though I’m still paying for it now (only a few payments left!) In the first year or two after I graduated, I remember griping to my mom about the student loan payments, and she’d remind me: “You could have gone to UB.”
SUNY Buffalo had offered me a scholarship - something around $3,000 a year, I think. At the time, tuition was only slightly more than that, so I would have come out of college with minimal debt, if any.
But it was worth going to RIT, in a large part because of Computer Science House.
Everyone in CSH had been the computer geek at their high school. All of us had been the go-to when a computer stopped working or the administration decided to setup a website. So, probably like a lot of others, I thought I was hot shit when I got to college - and immediately met all these other people who knew way more than I did.
For a little while, it was demoralizing. I felt like I had been at the top of the ladder, only to find out that the ladder was twice as tall as I thought. It was months before I realized that a more apt analogy was that I had been at the top of that ladder, but that ladder just took me to another ladder to climb: I might have been more technologically capable than a lot of people I had known before, but would never be a better coder than the people I met in my first weeks of college.
And that was OK. Most of us wouldn’t be, but the competition between us drove me to learn more than I would have otherwise. I don’t remember ever trying to one-up anyone - it wasn’t that kind of competitive spirit - but like many of my floor-mates, I was always trying to do something new or interesting or different.
And ultimately, that’s the real value I took away from college. Sure, there were liberal arts courses that significantly expanded my worldview, and some courses in my major where I learned skills for my eventual “real job.” But it was the projects I did on my own time that really taught me what I needed to succeed - and more importantly, they taught me that there will always be someone smarter, so I should always be trying to do something new and interesting to keep up. As I said, I don’t think I’ve been living up to that ideal lately, but it’s always at the back of my mind.