My college journey through majors and career interests

My story and some reflections from the heart

me with my stole on seattle waterfront where i moved for work post-graduation
some screenshots from the instagram reel i made

computer engineering

the short

  • entered first year as a ce major
  • interested in ce from hs robotics
  • attended related eng clubs
  • struggled using microcontrollers for class projects and hackathons
  • learned programming languages like c, c++, java, python
  • failed first, easiest physics quiz even after 2 yrs of hs physics
  • joined a biomed eng lab but learned i wasn’t interested in ce

the long

since high school, i knew i wanted to do something creative (naturally gravitated toward artsy stuff) but also wanted to do something technical because of (a) parental pressure (my dad is an engineer — a blessing and a curse since he had high expectations to excel in stem courses but also was able to understand and help with the course content i was going through) and (b) peer pressure (i had joined robotics so didn’t want to stray off the path everyone else was taking after high school). engineering had the potential to be creative, technical, and grant financial and job security.

  1. there are many ways to contribute to the world and i wanted to do that through engineering and building things
  2. i thought if i graduated as an engineer i would prove to myself and others i was “smart”
  1. there were other chances to build cool stuff. “creating” didn’t always mean engineering like i thought
  2. i am capable and naturally curious in ways that don’t pertain to and will take me further than engineering and i don’t need to prove anything

computer science

the short

  • thought i might like high-level coding like data stories or web dev
  • took full-stack open and data science project course
  • co-founded computing student + did a pm and swe joint internship
  • tried to code front-end at hackathons but always ended up designing (won a few that way)
  • learned i like interaction design

the long

cs classes were brutal: i would spend 20 hours every week on single assignments, and would work everyday until it was done. sometimes i feel like i only got through because i submitted enough tickets to tutors that slowly each one was able to help me through each piece of logic. maybe it was true, maybe it was imposter syndrome talking but i learned a lot nonetheless.

  • i simply couldn’t make it: i want to say i didn’t do computer science because i know it wasn’t right for me, cognitive science served my 4 years better, and majors teach not just classes but a specific way of thinking. but i knew i was only passing because of the ridiculous amount of time spent on programming assignments and the time spent wasn’t sustainable. at some point i would hit a wall and i didn’t want to be someone who used classmates code to help either. what would i be if my entire degree was built off work that’s not mine?
  • i hit a wall: during one of my programming assignments, everything kind of built up and to put it lightly, went blah. overwhelming feelings of ~insert all words relating to inadequacy and exhaustion~ hit me. i didn’t know there was a name for the extreme end of these feelings at the time but i knew it was dangerous. i had to ask myself what was worth it to me and turned to confront deeper problems.
  • my feelings of failure in high-school robotics engineering followed me: not being good at “non-technical” aspects of robotics then my major used to make me cry — there wasn’t a single robotics competition or hackathon that i didn’t feel like a failure for not understanding how to code functions, connecting to work a microcontroller, or wiring gearboxes. i should’ve spoken up on how to get better instruction to do this work. it seemed like the boys of robotics just kind of picked things up and maybe they did, but i deserved a chance too.
  • college hackathons replicated those feelings of high-school failure: i quickly found out in entering hackathons that learning how to code things in 24 hours was not my thing. it was morally defeating every time to feel as useless as i would during robotics competitions. i would go in the bathroom to cry about said uselessness, get angry at myself for wasting time moping around when i could be learning, then go back to where i started

ux / product design

the short

  • learned prototyping, ui design, and door the design thinking process
  • front-loaded A LOT of projects and courses for internship apps
  • transferred to the cognitive science major which hosts specializations in design and interaction
  • ta’ed product design courses
  • applied to design internships but ended up doing design-dev as a swe
  • got burnt out of making ui’s
  • looked for alternatives, read the phd grind, and found interest in research

the long

at the same time as taking my programming classes, i started my first product design course. in my experience, things that i like usually seem to just *click* — i have a difficult time forcing anything. within minutes of the first lecture, i knew this career was the one. i had a lot to learn but it just felt right.

human-computer interaction (hci) research

the short

  • joined two hci research labs
  • learned how to conduct interviews and connect themes
  • used design experience to design tools, workshops, and a guide through artifacts and methods
  • took graduate-level courses
  • read a lot of research papers to understand terms and learn about different contributions
  • submitted papers and pictorials to academic conferences

the long

with newfound interest, i looked to try out research. i knew design lab was the first place to look since it involved faculty so applied for a summer team. it ended up being more graphic design but i found another spot by filling out an application to work with a professor i had taken classes of. i got paired with a postdoc who advised me. i started out building uis and learning the process in how a question gets turned into a project that can be tested and results analyzed and written out.

the future

my senior year ended really well.

--

--

👩🏻‍💻 kendallnakai.com | writing the random things i would write in google docs but **aesthetic**

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Kendall Nakai 🌸

👩🏻‍💻 kendallnakai.com | writing the random things i would write in google docs but **aesthetic**