How I ended up in engineering school

The story of how I came to abandon literature, after 3.5 years of study, in favour of a fresh start in engineering, is one that I’m asked to tell quite often, so I’m going to write it here.

In essence: I was never completely convinced that French literature was the correct choice. I’d picked literature because I liked reading and always got good grades on literary essays, then tacked on the “French” part in a vain attempt to make the literature degree slightly less unemployable. (Because bilingualism, and Canada.)

Some of my high school friends chose engineering. At first, I joined the rest of my faculty in mocking their long hours in the lab and grueling problem sets. But I could never deny that the results of those long hours were often pretty cool.

It grew worse over the years. The engineers’ projects morphed from dinky little automata and console ASCII art scripts to self-navigating robots, quantum physical simulations, novel devices that solved real problems in the world. Meanwhile, I just… wrote longer essays. But each time the thought of switching majors occurred to me, I rejected it because that would mean starting over1. Also, well, nobody ever transfers from literature to engineering.

As graduation approached, I became quite depressed and started spending excessive amounts of time playing video games. Then I downloaded mods for them. Then I started tweaking the mods – just a line here or there, to make the placement of this window perfect, or the display of that information more visible. After I had turned all my mods into bug-laden frankenmods, I decided it was maybe time to make my own, and make it properly.

It took weeks, since, as that point, I had never heard of a loop. But the satisfaction I felt when I finished it was greater than anything I had felt in the 3.5 years prior.

And that’s how I ended up dropping out of literature a few months before graduation.

  1. A rather painful, but effective, introduction to the sunk cost fallacy. ↩︎

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