Majoring in Engineering

There was always one dilemma that puzzled me while in college - a question so commonly asked in college conversations and even more perplexing as you delve deeper into it. Why did you choose X major? I've asked many of my college peers what made them select a certain major, and it was always because they excelled in that subject or eliminated all other alternatives. When I was faced with my own existential crisis, I began to challenge the notion that you should major in something that you're good at.

The classic story of an engineer is as follows - played with Legos as a kid, was bullied in school, developed a penchant for math and sciences. It's interesting to me how the media and society are so obsessed with destiny, as if your future is dictated by your past. Using prior events isn't very intuitive to me when it comes to these scenarios. In fact, I find it incredibly limiting to use your past as a marker for your future. I believe that by prospecting into the future, you make better decisions in your present. So  I think that you shouldn't choose a major that you're good at, but you should choose something that you can become good at it even though you suck at it presently. 

Something that most people don't know about me is that I was really artsy growing up. I wrote poetry, painted, played instruments, etc. In high school, I was more theatre kid than Science Olympiad buff. I applied to college as a Journalism major because people thought I was a good writer. When I got to college, it really dissatisfied me that I couldn't figure out why I did so poorly in math and sciences in high school. To me, I saw college as an experimental four years where I could do something a bit contrarian and choose to major in my weakest subject. If there was a time to challenge myself and be completely vulnerable to failure, it's here and now. If I was truly going to get the most out of my four years of college, I had to do something I otherwise couldn't imagine doing. I was determined to make it through engineering, no matter what it took. 

Now that I'm almost graduating from Materials Engineering at UCLA, I still look back and see majoring in engineering as one of the best decisions I've ever made. I learned a lot about myself and what I'm capable of. I still don't feel like I quite fit in with my hardcore engineering friends, but that's a future blog post. My takeaways are: Do what you're uncomfortable with, live up to the challenge, and high expectations for yourself begets high achievements. 

Starting a Startup in College

School is a runway for the amazing life you're about to have, so you've got to make it count. Founding my own business in high school and college was the most rewarding way to spend my school years. I've always had a desire to make the most impact that I can, and I'm driven by my curiosity and fascination of the world around me. When I was a freshman in high school, I felt that the scope of activities in school were too limiting and low-impact - I wanted to contribute to something that was beyond campus borders. Thus, I founded a nonprofit for human rights  and worked with activists around the world. We got a few awards and a Do Something grant to promote art therapy for former victims of human trafficking. I went to a public high school with a lot of first generation students, and noticed that their ambitions were mostly confined to less riskier career paths. Although I didn't know enough about entrepreneurship at that time to see it as a viable career option, I reasoned that starting a company while in school was at worst a learning experience and at best a great story to tell. Working on my own company really reminds me of how little I know, which drives me towards self-improvement. I was about 15 years old at that time, and this side project allowed me to think creatively and learn about the importance of creating and maintaining relationships. These lessons carried on to college, when I founded an e-commerce business right after I graduated from high school and later on, a social enterprise that took lab inventions to developing communities abroad. Below are some of my key insights that I thought were most valuable. Founding a company in college is a great way to build your network and stay motivated if you're an ambitious person. Forget frat parties, soulless internships, and other distractions. Start early, think big, and keep your ego in check by failing often. Seek out impactful, purposeful areas where you can disrupt the industry. Here are my most rewarding takeaways from starting a startup as a student.

1. It's the best career preparation ever.

Forget interview workshops and boring resume sessions. As an entrepreneur, you are constantly pitching, presenting, and getting immediate criticism. In my first interview with a national publication, I was so nervous I felt like fainting and could barely speak properly. I had to meticulously prepare for every interview after that experience. However, you really will improve over time with the more practice and support that you get. Your confidence, weaknesses, strengths, charm, and intellect are challenged when you're showing someone your passion. You're open and vulnerable, and it will teach you an incredible amount about yourself. Communicating your ideas require clarity and the ability to connect topics. There isn't a more self-revealing experience.

2. It reminds you of infinity.

CALVIN: If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently.

HOBBES: How so?

CALVIN: Well, when you look into infinity, you realize that there are more important things than what people do all day.

College can feel like a suffocating bubble with little resemblance to the real world. Projects give you purpose, and nothing gives you more enthusiasm for the future ahead than the potential of your company and how you will lead it to achieve something bigger than yourself. As a college student with an overload of classes, I felt like it was very easy to burn out, especially when I was studying 80 hours a week. However, working on a passion project that may turn into a company was my favorite pastime in college, and gave me the drive to work harder. 

3. It gives you a global perspective.

No startup can grow in seclusion. An entrepreneur thrives in the company of others, and as a founder, you will have access to a global network of ambitious young people. Brilliance begets brilliance. This is my favorite quote from Seth Godin: "Who you hang out with determines what you dream about and what you collide with. And the collisions and the dreams lead to your changes. And the changes are what you become. Change the outcome by changing your circle." Surround yourself with well-traveled, cultured, experienced, ambitious, tenacious young people. With the rising culture of conference-hopping among young people and many entrepreneurial networks, there are countless opportunities to network and get involved. I've met some of my closest friends at conferences and built long-lasting relationships from these seemingly trivial connections. 

Making the Most of Student Conferences

CGIU, SABF, HPAIR...such is the esoteric language exchanged between conference-hoppers of my generation. They’re ambitious, overachieving, and great at networking with their wide-eyed enthusiasm after a restless night. I was fortunate to be invited to dozens of startup conferences with inspirational young people from around the world. At CGI U, I was mindblown and humbled. Within a few minutes, I met students who created a soccer ball that converts kinetic energy into electrical energy to charge cell phones and radios in off-grid communities. Other students invented a portable system to convert air to water, virtually creating a readily accessible supply of clean water. Here are some few pointers on how to make the most of attending a conference.

1. Network before.

This is the most valuable thing you can do prior to a conference. Look up the attendees on the guest list and feel free to send them a message. I've found fellow attendees to be extremely welcoming. Likely, you won't be able to meet everyone on your list during the conference, so starting a conversation beforehand will allow you to establish a foundation and possibly set a time to meet. For one conference, I set up a dozen back-to-back meetings with investors and pitched throughout the day instead of attending sessions. These one on one meetings proved to be valuable as  I still keep in contact with many of them.

2. Strategize.

At large conferences, there will likely be multiple sessions ongoing simultaneously. Look at the background of each speaker and choose the lectures most relevant and interesting to you. These breakout sessions are often effective ways to connect with high-impact leaders on a very specific topic, so it's a great source to find potential mentors and advisors. 

3. Keep an open mind.

Conferences are dialogues. There is never quite a connection like the one you can have in speaking to someone in person. There are some of the brightest and most experienced veterans of the industry, so get ready to challenge your ideas and tackle exciting problems.

4. Have fun.

People are what makes conferences enjoyable. You are surrounded by inspiring, intellectual, and motivated peers. Your objective should be to seek out great conversations and long-lasting relationships with awesome people. Some of my most memorable moments are those spent on the dance floor with fellow attendees.