In this episode of hammock chats, Matt1 and Matt0 talk about their time with extracurriculars in college, how we define a sense of fulfillment, and key takeaways from their time in positions of leadership in clubs and college in general.
For context, Matt Wang, the guest for this week, will be referred to as Matt0 and Matt Nieva, yours truly, will be referred to as Matt1. This is definitely in part due to Matt0 being older and the fact that CS people are nerds who 0-index their arrays.
- Weekly Check-In
- Extracurriculars During College (2:22)
- A Sense Of Fulfillment (8:07)
- Being Content With Ourselves And Confrontation (13:00)
- What Do You Want To Get Out of College (27:50)
Weekly Check In
Matt1: We’re actually recording this one on Tuesday instead of Friday like normal, since there’s an 80% chance of rain on Friday. At least we have the foresight to record on Tuesday knowing that it might rain!
Matt0: This week was stressful, I took a 10 day take home midterm this week. Last quarter, I got a 1/10 on the final but hey that was still an A. I’m working through that and have a lot of teaching obligations. It can definitely get draining though.
Matt1: For me this weekend, it was actually nice and relaxing for once. The past two weekends, it was mostly grinding… mostly in part of CS131. But this weekend gave me the chance to finally go outside of my apartment for something other than doing groceries and my apartment had a fun little get-together.
My social battery definitely gets charged by being with other people, and I think that this weekend was a fun time.
Extracurriculars During College
Matt0: I’m a grad student rn, and I also did 4 years of undergrad at UCLA. Most of the stuff I did extracurricular had me involved teaching-wise. I was in BEAM, Building Engineers and Mentors. Every week, you teach grade 4 kids about science. I also joined a really new and small club at the time, ACM TeachLA, which is a part of the overall ACM chapter at UCLA. It’s a big club on campus for the CS Majors.
At the time, TeachLA was one year in. I was on the software development team, and that was the first year having other people on the team. At the same time, there’s a lot of infrastructure that didn’t exist.
If you know me, I really got into this ACM stuff. Eventually ran the dev team, ran TeachLA, then as a senior, I ran all of ACM.
That last year was a huge chunk of my time. I underestimated how much I could do as ACM president, and that made me want to do more thing.
I also worked for the makerspace on the hill! I loved the job, very fun.
Matt1: I’m definitely grateful that you were there involved in a lot of these teaching clubs!
For me, a big reason why I'm down this path now is from meeting you, doing all this ACM TeachLA work going into college.
For a sense of what I’ve done, I am also a part of ACM like Matt0. I joined TeachLA coming into college from high school, and working on these projects kinda changed my trajectory from wanting to be an EE and working with hardware to learning about all the different types of things you could do with a CS degree.
Honestly, I'm super grateful here for the CS community at UCLA. Everyone helps each other succeed in anyway possible.
I’m also a mentorship chair for UPE, the CS honor society, and it’s fun building up a community between upper and underclassmen.
What drew me towards these clubs was a sense of community and fulfillment of wanting to help others succeed.
The atmosphere in other schools isn’t that great and competitive, but my experience in college so far has been completely the opposite.
For you, Matt, what really drew you into wanting to do these teaching opportunities?
It's 2023 right now, this is my 10th consecutive year teaching.
It’s something I also did a lot before college. When I came here, I wanted to keep teaching but I could not claim to know the student experience here at UCLA.
Could I learn these other people’s lived experience?
That was the biggest motivator. As a general motivator in life, I feel lucky being at UCLA, the Number 1 public university. There’s a lot of stuff I take for granted, I feel like I have the obligation to pay it forward.
From learning how to code starting at 10 years old, I feel like that has gotten me a lot of opportunities in life and now I’m thinking, is there a way I can fix this inequity that exists today? Many kids don’t have access to these coding classes even if they wanted to.
A Sense of Fulfillment
Matt1: Everything, even if it comes from good intentions, we do it because either it makes us feel happy or we get something out of it. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For you, you talked about how you want to help reduce the inequity gap. For you, how do you define a sense of fulfillment?
The thing that's disappointing for me, is that I don't feel a sense of fulfillment from my work.
Something that always gnaws at the back of my head, is “man I could’ve done better.” That, unfortunately, makes it hard for me to feel fulfilled.
More broadly, people want to have a purpose. In general, people don’t like feeling useless, or being ignored. People want to do things that help people, and that comes in different ways for different people. It can come through consulting, CS stuff, teaching, being a cook, etc. People innately want to feel like they’re a part of society.
Matt1: As someone who likes getting happiness from seeing other people happy, the way that I define fulfillment is wanting to make a positive impact on people’s lives. I’m grateful for the chance that UCLA offers with a bunch of different social circles to try to make an impact.
For my friends in smaller schools, with less people, there’s less opportunities. UCLA really offers a bunch of opportunities to people.
Matt0: It’s a double edged sword. It’s really easy, here at UCLA, where if you don’t take the right initiative, no one’s going to force you to do it. You might just not have friends, make a network, and that sucks.
BUT, if you are willing to give it a shot, there is so much on campus.
We’re one of the only schools that has this many cultural nights, this many social events, and this is only possible due to UCLA’s size. I want to emphasize UCLA’s diversity in cultures and perspectives, and this is one of the things that I’m truly work for.
Matt1: A big part of why I chose UCLA was in fact the diversity as well. I felt like I was in a bit of a bubble in the Bay Area. It would be completely different if I went to a different sector of America.
Being Content With Ourselves And Confrontation
It's a huge life skill to be able to know that you're happy with yourself and is a struggle that many people go through.
Matt0: Yeah, I definitely struggle with this too. People are frustrated with how unsatisfied I am from projects. Taking feedback is good, but there’s a limit to that. For all of undergrad, I was past that limit. I was never content with my work.
I can’t say that I’ve solved it, but I’ve gotten better at being more content. You have limited time, limited information, and you’re just doing the best you can.
Matt1: Not from the academic perspective but from the social perspective, sometimes I put too much on myself with respect to my relationships with people.
Whenever there’s conflict, I put it on myself. However, that’s not a healthy mindset and all relationships should be mutual with reciprocation. Something that I’ve been trying to work on is reeavaluating my relationships with other people.
Relationships should be something that help you be the best person you can be. Relationships that drain you or reinforce your negative tendencies aren’t exactly healthy relationships.
Matt0: I’m a remarkably pessimistic person about a lot of things in life. However, I always take people at their best.
I have a slight tension with you there. You shouldn’t put everything on yourself.
The most important thing to do is to talk to the person.
You probably have some theory in your mind which is probably wrong, and you’re never going to know unless you talk to that person.
Matt1: I’m entirely too non-confrontational. If I have issues with the other person, I would like to let my issues be known without actually saying it. However, the basis of any relationship is proper communication. I’m trying to learn how to communicate my needs to other people without hurting their people.
Matt0: Don’t be so hard on yourself! My unsolicited advice is: Don’t view this a confrontation. By calling this confrontational, you’re implicitly saying that this is something you have to argue, or something AGAINST the other person.
If you're able to reframe the problem from Me Vs. Someone Else into "How can we solve this problem?" you can avoid having someone feel like they're attacked.
Matt1: Thanks, I really appreciate this advice! Talking about your issues with people is not necessarily confronting!
Work Life Balance (18:40)
Matt1: What is some advice you can give wrt Work Life Balance?
Matt0: Something people implicitly talk about is that there is ONE work life balance. I know some people who do feel really fulfilled by their work. For those people, they should work more.
That being said, I struggled with poor work life balance throughout undergrad. So much of my driving motivation is to make a fairer place. Unfortunately, that’s an impossible goal to do an cocky to say that I can make the world a fairer place.
Eventually, I realized, there’s no way to fully solve this problem. Doing too much can take away your ability to do well, be a good person, be in a good headspace.
Now, I’ve been trying to do that, but it’s hard especially for teaching, since I always put limits on myself that I should never come unprepared.
It’s a problem I’m still navigating, and I don’t have this silver bullet solution.
Matt1: The way that someone told me about work-life balance is that they don’t plan hanging out around work. They plan work around hanging out. You have to make time for yourself somehow. However, your obligation isn’t always JUST for yourself. With respect to discussion, other people rely on you.
Your work does not only impact you, it can impact other people.
Something that ACM is struggling with now is that if people are burnt out, that work has to fall onto someone else. How can we prevent burnout while still having everyone working as a cog in the machine.
Matt0: I definitely agree that reliance causes a lot of work life imbalance. For better or for worse, I take positions that have a lot of people rely on me.
When I ran ACM, I felt like I had an obligation to the entire CS community. It wasn’t entirely true, but not entirely false.
At the end of the day, there’s something fundamentally wrong if there’s one person that is tasked with doing all of these things.
When I ran ACM, I didn’t do a good job of standardizing all of these systems. Spreading responsibility is something I shoul’ve done more.
Matt1: When you shifted over responsibility from TeachLA, we were able to split up Matt’s job from 1 job to 7 different jobs. It definitely made us better! We shifted responsibility from a single person to a giant cohort. If you were unable to do something, you had other people to fall back on.
This sense of redundancy is not only important in engineering, but also in life.
In my time at the Dev Team, the past couple quarters, I’ve felt like I’ve been becoming a linchpin. That is draining and unhealthy. With the team now, we’re splitting work into a bunch of different people to figure out how to distribute tasks better. Having this system of reliability is super important in life, relationships, work, everything.
Matt0: One issue that I had with TeachLA is that I had one year to teach a bunch of people. I’m glad that you felt like it did work. I did enjoy this work, and I don’t think it gave me as much stress as people think.
With regards to redundancy, I think there’s redundancy with regards to people an with regards to their own time.
The problem with saying: hey, everyone will do 10 hours of work a week, is that if someone takes a break, there’s no extra capacity or slack. Redundancy is important with regards to people, but also with regards to your own time.
If it does overstretch people, there’s a cycle of people getting burnt out.
What Do You Want To Get Out Of College
Matt0 : I could’ve gone to U Waterloo or U of T for free. First and foremost, in college, I wanted to meet new people and hear about new perspectives. I’m extraordinarily grateful for living in Toronto where healthcare is free, I didn’t need to learn how to drive, but I didn’t meet a lot of people who grew up in the United States.
Second, I wanted to double major. I’m also a US Citizen.
Looking back on it now, I put a lot of effort into meeting a lot of people, especially people not in CS. CS at UCLA is also a bubble. People involved in CS clubs at UCLA is even a smaller bubble.
LA is economically segregated, Westwood is its own bubble, but working with people all over the city has helped change my opinion and perspective on life.
I will stay in the US for a little bit. Partially because of work, but also because there’s a lot of inequity and a lot of work that can be done in that department here.
Before college, I never thought about the importance of institutions. From running clubs where it’s a 4 year revolving door, I have realized the importance of institutions. It’s a problem not only with clubs but across all of UCLA. I didn’t appreciate how important of a problem it was until running these clubs.
Matt1: With my time as Dev Team Director right now, I’m trying to make it less work for other people. Try to make things run easier. At its core, we need these evergreen thoughts of how we can keep things going and things running super smoothly.
For what I want to get out of college, I really wanted to experience a different part of California. I also really enjoyed the engineering experience from the community.
In my 3 years of being her so far, the community has been my favorite part.
A big sense of what I think I got out of college was a sense of emotional maturity. Back in high school, I never had meaningful conversations with people and the sense of diversity and perspectives has broadened my perspective on life. There’s no other time where we’ll be surrounded by people of the same age, different and same career aspirations.
Matt0: I’ve talked to 100s of CS grads, and I’ve never met a single person who’s said that coursework is the best thing they got out of college. The thing I was wrong about the most is that coursework is not always the most important thing.