P-GQS Symptom 3: Sweet gigs

Pre-Graduation Quarter Syndrome occurs in students either entering or in the last quarter of their degree program.

After covering the topical breadth of their major coursework, the student may have honed in what topics do and do not excite them. This allows for their coursework to be exciting and meaningful in the development of their career. Filler classes seem to be fewer and farther between, as the student has progressed through major requirements and on to the elective and senior coursework.

Despite the hectic nature of the job search and the uncertainty that the future holds, this quarter is lining up to be pretty awesome. I had initially planned on transitioning my summer internship’s work on to my senior capstone project, but when I saw the opportunity to work on a reinforcement learning project, I couldn’t pass it up.

To give a little background on why this project is so exciting to me we have to go back to my senior year of my first undergraduate degree, in 2019. I had already decided to minor in computer science at that point, but I had not really decided what to focus on within the major. That’s when I saw this awesome video from OpenAI. OpenAI, Elon’s tech company devoted to the development of AGI (artificial general intelligence) for societal good, created a playground in which agents were to learn how to play hide and seek. These agents, hiders and seekers who’s roles I’m sure you can deduce, learned the strategies of the game without human interference or guidance. The hiders learned how to move blocks in order to create enclosures that the hiders couldn’t walk or see into. Subsequently, the seekers learned how to use ramps to invade the buildings that the hiders had created. The seekers even figured out a bug in the physical laws of the game eventually and exploited it to attain victory.

These agents were learning and, what appears to be, thinking. Back when I saw the video for the first time it was absolutely mind blowing to me, and to be honest, it still is. So when I saw the chance to create something similar, I had to jump on the chance. My group is making a clone of the old Atari game, Breakout. We plan to create an agent that can play the game and learn the tactics of the game. Eventually, we plan to pit the agent against a human to compete, but I’d also like to stretch the game a bit to see how different generations of our agent compare to each other. I want to see how the strategy of each agent evolves if we put two agents on the same board and with their own ball and see who can break the most bricks.

I’ve always planned to eventually create such a project with soccer, my childhood sport and hobby. I’d love to see how agents learn to play the game and what strategies develop over time. This project is propelling me in the right direction for creating my own simulation of the sport and eventually reaching my goal of working in multi-agent reinforcement learning.

Outside of my senior capstone project, I’m taking the cloud development class. This course is pretty awesome, as it has covered RESTful API’s, the bread and butter of backend software engineering. I’m getting great experience with reading documentation and incorporating pre-built software into my own applications. It’s something highly relevant and eye catching when placed on a resume.

Lastly, I’m still continuing work from my summer internship throughout the quarter! I’ll be assisting with the wildfire classification and detection models, and how to cleverly use mobile robots to assist with these tasks. Not every undergraduate has access to real world data, and gets to train machine learning models on it

I feel extremely blessed for these opportunities and I’m glad my time gets to be devoted to them rather than the facets of computer science that don’t interest me.


P-GQS Symptom 2: Wavering ideology

Pre-Graduation Quarter Syndrome occurs in students either entering or in the last quarter of their degree program.

Another common symptom is a wavering moral ideology. As the student prepares for the natural progression from academia to industry, they become more aware of why others work for companies who’s driving principles do not align with their own. Be it due to a lack of other offers, greater compensation, less stressful work environments, or a multitude of other possibilities, the student may consider working for such company for what they tell themselves to be “at most” a few years.

A lot of decisions seemed a lot easier to make when I was younger. Black and white. Every question had an answer, and everything else was wrong. Simple. Choosing which company to apply to and allow myself to work at doesn’t seem to be quite as simple.

During my first undergraduate degree, I talked to a small company that was looking for interns in electrical or mechanical engineering. I happened to be, at the time, studying both. When I approached their booth at the career fair, not only were the engineers that I talked to very personable and welcoming, but the company itself had never lost an engineer. What a fantastic sign of how much I would enjoy my work. Our conversation at the career fair went so well that they actually extended an offer for me to join them as an intern, without even completing an interview.

The only catch was that the company was a weapons manufacturer. At the time, I had nothing else lined up for what I thought was the last summer of my undergraduate career. If I took this offer, I was sure I could get a return offer and a great stable job for myself. I would just have to get used to the idea that things I create were being used to threaten and harm other people. That’s not something that I took lightly. I ended up not taking the offer, not having a job lined up for the summer or after I graduated, and my career in mechanical engineering stalled. As I put the finishing touches on my computer science degree, I find myself in a similar position.

There are tons of companies out there who profit off of violence, laborer abuse, social irritation, or a number of undeniably unjust things. It would seem, upon a glance, that these companies would be easy to ignore. The only problem is that these companies hire tremendous amounts of engineers.

The thing is, if it’s not me, it’ll be somebody else. Somebody else make that weapon that’s used on fleeing enemies. Somebody else will create that robotic system that tracks and fight humans. Somebody else will write the algorithm that pits us against our neighbors. That’s why each time I come across a new posting at a new immoral company, I find myself asking the question–“how long could I work here and still respect myself?”.


P-GQS Symptom 1: Uncertainty about future plans

Pre-Graduation Quarter Syndrome occurs in students either entering or in the last quarter of their degree program.

The first and foremost symptom is a persistent uncertainty about future plans. Whether it be in discussions with career counselors trying to assist in the furtherment of the student’s career or with the student’s grandfather about what company the student is going to employed by so that the grandfather can buy stock in the company, the student may have difficulty contributing to the conversation. Typical stumping questions include, but are not limited to, the following: Where are you going to be in three months? Are you going to graduate school? What’s going to become of you and your significant other once you graduate?

“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is.”

John Allen Paulos

Unfortunately, this fundamental principle of the universe is something that I’ve become all to familiar with.

When I enrolled in the computer science degree program at Oregon State, my initial plan was to apply to graduate school for machine learning and artificial intelligence. I geared all my electives towards this goal. I took an on-campus course CS499 – Deep Learning, for what I hope, are obvious reasons. I took CS475 – Parallel Programming to learn how distributed computing works, because it can be applied to machine learning to reduce the training overhead. Since I transferred in course credits from my first bachelor’s degree, I only needed to take 3 electives and a project course. But in order to achieve my goal of applying to grad school, I decided to take 3 more units than necessary, transferring an extra $1500 from my pocket to Oregon State. The reason for that was because I wanted to take CS 493 – Cloud Development because of the prevalence of integrating machine learning applications with the cloud. Of course, taking CS 493 meant I needed to take CS 372 – Intro to Networking, because it is a prerequisite.

When it came to my summer internship, I had three options:

  • Option 1: Get paid the most and work on what seems to be an unimpressive project.
  • Option 2: Get paid a decent salary and work on a cool project that will expose me to DSP and machine learning.
  • Option 3: Get paid next to nothing and work on a cool project AND get a letter of recommendation from a professor for my graduate school applications.

Gung-ho, graduate school bound me chose Option 3.

Now, in my final quarter at school, I’m supposed to be applying to graduate school and gearing up for potential internships. This plan was going smoothly until I, out of curiosity, applied to some entry-level jobs at some large tech companies. After doing some of the online assessments and getting further in the interviewing process than expected, I’ve begun to re-evaluate. Is going to graduate school, for a degree that will not immediately increase my net worth, worth it? Am I willing to pay the opportunity cost of not working at a tech company and not garnering years of software development experience?

I’m not sure about the answer to these questions, but I do have a big interview coming up for a company that I think I can’t turn down. Hopefully, a job offer from that company, or lack thereof, will clear up some of the fog surrounding what’s to come.