Overkill

I keep coming to the UAS campus at least one day a week, even though there is no good reason. Nobody is here (except a researcher slash technical assistant who seems to welcome the chance to talk to somebody whenever he sees us/me), and working conditions are much better at work or even at home. But I just like the place. Particularly now that all the stressful parts are over and only the good things remain. After three years this is the one place where I feel utterly at home. I know everything and everyone and everyone knows me. Hardly a place on earth where I feel more secure and self-confident.

Compare that to work where I always feel a little out of place, insecure, judged and possibly found wanting. I’m a white elephant in many respects: A 48-year old guy with a useless PhD who is a reasonably good, pragmatic programmer, but as a novice on the job should rather be 24, at best. And I’ve drawn pay for almost a year now and never produced anything remotely productive or useful. Granted, none of that is my fault. My first project was the recruiting event which didn’t take place for lack of registrations. My second is the bachelor thesis which was started on the initiative of one of our customers who then, however, bailed out before it really got off the ground. So it’s now been entirely academic. For nearly six months.

Mercifully it’s nearly over. I’ve been putting the finishing touches on the thesis for over a week now–ever since the final missing feature finally works more or less reliably. I have integrated my wife’s corrections. She’s a technical editor and her proofreading has been improving my convoluted sentences and finding all my typos since before we’ve been married. I have toned down my emotionalisms (“frustrating”, “sadly”) and removed my colloquialisms on the instigation of my former practicum partner who also read the entire text and kept reminding me that a thesis is “not a diary” (her very words). I spent two days finding a UML editor that works for Linux and has all the necessary features and added class, activity, and deployment diagrams plus assorted others to illustrate some of my fancier ideas. I’ve added a list of acronyms. I learned how to check spelling and the proper closing of parentheses in Emacs. I revised my citation style three times.

In between I re-read the entire text from introductory quote to conclusion to check for continuity and found a scary number of inconsistencies that had somehow escaped both my proofreaders. The same word repeated needlessly three times in two sentences. Paragraphs with no clear connection to the preceding text. Inconsistent capitalization, small caps, italics and so on.

There are still a few minor things to fix now. But all in all I think today is going to be the last day. Unless my supervisor insists on a glossary which I didn’t plan on doing since I am already explaining all relevant terms in the text itself. But apparently it’s a feature professors consider useful. As if we’d be writing text books rather than “academic” texts on sandbox projects. I asked her, to be sure, but she hasn’t replied yet.

Be that as it may, I am really quite happy with the thesis now. It’s got structure, style, lots of citations, and it shows that I know and have done quite a lot. Mind you, it better, as it has cost me over 600 hours of work. 650 counting my learning more Scala before I even started programming for the thesis project.

In fact, it’s almost certainly an overkill. More like a master thesis. But as for the practical part, I’ve always been overdoing it, all these three years. It’s just the way I am. I love programming, I love to do things right, and I love generalization and refactoring. And for its qualities as a text, well, after 20 years as a professional academic anything else would be rather disappointing. True, I could have let well enough alone at least a week ago and would almost certainly have had a good shot at a very good grade all the same. But somehow my perfectionism always gets the better of me. Fact is, I hate handing in something that is not formally as correct as I can possibly make it. I positively loathe typos, for instance. And since I still got the time, why not make it the best I can make it?

We’ll print the stuff on Monday (5 days hence) and hand it in right away. Then I’ll have to let go of it whether I want to or not. You know, the really sad thing is that after the 600 hours this cost each of us (my former programming partner spent almost exactly the same amount of time on her thesis), our supervisors will, with luck, look at it for maybe one hour. It’s of course perfectly possible for someone with ample experience to determine the grade for a 100-page paper in even half an hour, and these guys have plenty on their plate, so I’m really not complaining. And still the thought hurts, after the time, effort, and pain we have invested into this.

There is of course the fact that the theses will be public, in the UAS library, for the benefit of future generations of students. So we’re leaving some small sort of heritage. But since my subject is reasonably exotic, and to boot the thesis is in English, I have no great illusions regarding the future reception of my work. In any case, at best a thesis will be plagiarized by someone a couple of years later. I’ve seen it happen.

Then after Monday there’ll just be preparing lecture slides for the presentation of the thesis on the last day of August. On September 1st, I won’t be a student anymore. And two days later (since it’s a Saturday) I’ll start working as a full consultant. That’s a scary thought alright.

Meanwhile, at least we finally got the results for the Certified Tester exam. Took them only a couple of weeks which is a amazing, considering that the answers (i.e., check marks in boxes) were on a separate single machine-readable sheet of paper which they just feed into a reader, and the machine spits out the results and writes the confirmation e-mail. In any case, I got 38 out of 40 answers right, which is OK even considering I had invested nearly 80 hours of studying time and had over 600 flash cards memorized. All in all, 17 of the 20 students taking the test passed, including apparently everyone in our study group.

So I now I got another useless certificate, particularly since while I can well imagine working as a software architect, I definitely don’t want to work as a tester. Generally, I don’t want to fit nicely in a technical niche. I am interested in a lot of different things and I’ll much rather be considered a generalist who, in time, might be a project leader. I have my doubts about how this consultant business is going to work out in this respect, particularly since in our company we’re usually being loaned individually to customers, and if we aren’t, then it’s the business consultants (guys with a business administration or related degree) rather than the IT consultants (people who do programming for a living, such as me) who manage the projects. It might be a dead end. But that’s thoughts for another day.

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