Can’t Help Falling in Love

While I was getting my first degree in animation, I have a very vivid memory of the first homework assignment. My professor stood at the front of the room, explaining how excited she was for us to finish it. She described how she fell in love with animation. After spending days or weeks doing nothing but drawing near-identical images over and over, until you’re almost sick of your own work. But then finally, you’re done. You put all those images together, and bam! You just drew an object in motion. You made it come alive. You feel a rush of pride, seeing your work come together to create something new.

I felt exactly that, when the assignment was over. I love animation. I love creating things that can be amazing, beautiful, helpful, or just fun. It fills me with joy.

I also felt it again, in my first class at OSU. The first time I created a meaningful program, even if it was simple. Spending days staring at code until my eyes hurt. Working through problems to find solutions. Creating something that can have an impact on someone else.

Movies and games have always been a pretty big part of my life. As a kid, I wanted nothing more than to make them for a living. While things haven’t always gone the way I’ve wished they would, and I don’t know exactly where it’s going either, I think my younger self would be proud of me. I like that feeling.

Fix It In Post

There’s a saying that I’ve heard a lot when doing animation work, which is “We’ll fix it in post.”

It’s one of those things that people say when a problem pops up during production, but it’s too much trouble to fix in order to meet a deadline. So “we’ll fix it in post” means that the problem gets pushed down the line to post-production, where last-minute changes have to be forced or thrown together.

I’ve found this concept to be pretty common in software development as well. When design for a piece of software isn’t fully fleshed out from the start, you’re more likely to stumble into unexpected problems. And the easy thing is to always say “we’ll figure it out later.”

While this is sometimes necessary, I find it’s often a costly decision in the long run. Things that should be resolved get pushed along until there is no choice left in the matter. Sometimes the quicker, last-minute solution isn’t the best one. Sometimes it’s better to take the time and figure things out from the start.

When getting into a big project, it’s easy to feel like you want to skip ahead to the “fun” parts, or to put off the smaller details. Ultimately, however, it’s harder to succeed when you don’t first establish your goals and all of the finer details that will guide the rest of the process. As much as software developers (myself included) love to dive into coding, developing a blueprint (i.e. a thorough design document) is going to benefit you in the long run. Every step of the development process is important – even the ones that aren’t quite as interesting on the surface.

Three down, seven to go

Ever since I was young, I’ve had a strong fondness for movies and video games. It’s the reason why I wanted to be an animator. Frankly, it’s something I would also love to do with my Computer Science degree.

Although I have experience with all of the work involved in animation, I ended up being most interested in a specialization called “rigging.” Rigging involves building the foundation of making a character or object able to move – not dissimilar to our own skeletons and muscles. The thing about rigging is that there is actually quite a bit of programming involved. Instructions on how to build a skeleton, where to place things, what size they need to be, how they should move – it can all be written as code in any given 3D program.

That is what led me here, to studying Computer Science at OSU. I found out that I really coding. That I love doing all the foundational work to build amazing programs or content. Big or small. I really love building things that people can enjoy, either for a moment, or a few hours, or every day. That’s the stuff that I want to do, whatever format it might be.

I’ve been working with my Capstone group for a couple weeks now. When we were looking through the list of available Capstone projects, the Text Based Adventure Game leapt out to all three of us, so we teamed up. And while there were quite a few projects I would have been thrilled to work on, I admit I’m pretty excited about the one we chose. I’d really like to make a decent game that I can use as a portfolio piece at the end of this term.

We’re through the third week of the term, and so far we’ve been putting time to the design of our game. I have spent a lot of time learning how to craft stories in my previous work, so I feel like this has come in handy. We’re creating a game with a haunted house theme, and I’m looking forward to how it continues to develop.

It begins

The beginning of the end. It sounds so ominous, when you put it that way, doesn’t it?

I am a 33 year old woman. While that doesn’t necessarily say anything about my computer science journey, it feels important because of the context of being an older college student.

I already went to college once, for animation, and was fairly successful at it. I like animation, I’m good at it, and I spent several years making cheesy car commercials. I made a life for myself doing it. Bought a house, got married. For all practical purposes, I’ve made progress doing the things I expected to do after I went to college the first time around. I really enjoyed the work, and I gained a lot of valuable experience throughout that process.

Unfortunately, I reached a point where continuing that career just didn’t feel as feasible for me anymore. While I enjoyed a lot of the work I did, there were also significant drawbacks to being an animator. Job competition is vicious. Poor working conditions are rampant, workers are often paid less than they deserve, and a lot of the work involves short-term contracts or relocation.

When I lost my last animation job, I struggled to decide whether I still wanted to deal with those particular challenges. It was a big change, a very expensive one, and I hadn’t been in school in years. I wasn’t sure if I could still do it or not. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. Obviously, I made the decision to move forward with my computer science education.

It’s been a wild ride. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way. In the last 4 years I’ve spent trying to get here, I’ve faced some of the most difficult challenges of my life, both in and out of school. I’ve struggled to find the money and support to keep going, every step of the way. I’m surrounded by people younger and more knowledgeable than me. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve failed, and I’ve sacrificed some valuable things in order to get here.

Like just about anyone else, I struggle with imposter syndrome. Feeling like I don’t belong, or like everyone else has it all figured out when I don’t. Even though I know I’m not alone in pursuing later education, I find this to be particularly difficult when I’m in classes full of bright-eyed, passionate, intelligent 18-year-olds or 20-somethings. I chose OSU’s Computer Science program because it seemed more suited for people like me. But no matter where I went, the journey was always going to be my own. Nobody else’s experience will ever be exactly like mine. All I can do is try to make the most of mine.

One of the most important things I have learned about myself in this journey is to not underestimate myself. I have accomplished things in the last four years that I never thought was possible. I’ve spent so much time distressing over whether or not I could do certain things that it’s easy to not notice all the things I’ve done. That even when I fall down, I know that I get back up. That even when I fail, I try to fix it or do better next time. That when I need help, I can ask for it. That if I’m feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing, then there’s a good chance that everyone else is feeling the exact same way. More than anything else, this is what I hope to carry with me through the rest of this class, and afterwards. No matter where I end up.

Even without all the technical knowledge, that’s still a pretty crucial lesson to take with me into the future. The ways that I’ve learned to solve problems, rely on myself, and communicate with other people will be useful to me even if I never get a job as a software developer. Even if I failed this class and had to take it again, I would survive. I will still get my degree. Because that’s what I do. I keep going, and I keep trying, and I don’t give up. I’m not about to start now.

The end that draws near is inevitably going to be the beginning of something else. So even though I might not know exactly what that future will look like yet, it sure is a lot less ominous than it sounds.