Experiences are what matters

I started my studies in Computer Science at the Federal University of Santa Maria in 2003. I was very young and the only reason I had to study Computer Science was that I liked computers. I had no clue about what Computer Science would be, or what things I could do after graduation. I honestly had no expectations beyond improving my knowledge about computers.

That is for sure a naïve mindset to start a career, but today I see that you can’t get any more prepared than that when you are young and join the university. Since I was little everyone around me told me that the university was the ultimate goal, the final frontier someone could breach into. I did my best in school and eventually I complied with this idea when I entered the university education.

I remember the feeling of being amazed by the whole thing. My first thought was:

You have to enroll in courses to learn about different things! If you don’t do it, nobody will do it for you. How cool is that?

I thought it was so different from regular school, where you learn lots of pre-defined things in sequence, one day after another. University was not different than that at all, but it sure felt different. I had the feeling of freedom, of picking the things I wanted to learn. Even though I disliked several of the topics that I was learning (I am more of a practical guy instead of theoretical), everything that was being presented somehow contributed to my knowledge.

My young soul was full of dreams. The more I discovered, the more I wanted to learn. Officially I only learned the C programming language during programming courses, but curiosity, good colleagues and studying groups provided me with Java, Actionscript, C++ and PHP. Back in those days, I thought that I needed to learn all programming languages to be successful. It is incredible how I saw the world in an entirely different way during that time.

The years have passed (precisely 14 of them) and I see the same world so differently that I could as well say I am no longer the same person. The classes I attended, all the content I’ve learned faded and converged into a single thing I remember today: the person behind the teaching process. Sure it was important to learn about math, system architectures, software engineering, but the only value that remained was the experience I had. I remember the stories some professors told me, I remember their passion, their clever way of overcoming problems. That was the most important thing I have learned.

Back in 2003 there was no computer vision able to detect and identify objects (not at my university at least), nobody was talking about deep learning and Javascript was the black sheep of the Internet. In the helm of technology, things change at a neck-breaking speed, so the landscape is very different today than it was 14 years ago. The experiences I had, however, still remain and they are the elements that define me. They made me the professional I am today.

That was one of the main reasons why I decided to do my PhD abroad. I wanted to learn from different lenses, from different people. I am so thankful for having the opportunity to study in Sweden. Just like the experiences I had in 2003 changed my life, the years I am living now will define me even more. If I could give a piece of advice to my past self, I would say:

Understand the challenges in front of you as a school to teach you how to learn. Some things you are learning now are important, some are not. Learn how to learn, and learn from the experiences presented to you.

That is definitely how I live and learn now. You don’t have to go to the university or get a PhD to learn about many things. Everyone has a life of experiences you can learn from, no matter their social class or level of instruction.

Learning from your own experiences and the experiences of others is what matters, the rest you read from a piece of paper.