September 18, 2022
my gap year - fully embracing freedom and the chaos that comes with it
last year, i took a gap year from my comp sci study at unnc. this writing will be a long transparent journey with the things i’ve learned, both the low and the high.
as for the reason why i took a gap year, the simple explanation is because i don’t feel really engaged in studying online. although if you knew me since high school, i have never really felt like i’m learning in a classroom. it was mainly because i am dissatisfied with the lifeless routine, and communicating it was really hard. i live in a culture that has a “this is just the way it works” mentality, and i can’t really communicate with my friends or parents because well, “this is just the way it works”. i’ve always felt like i don’t belong anywhere, and i just want to get the fuck out.
anyway, the story begins on june. a friend referred me to pinnacle, it’s a hackathon where they invite hackathon winners from all across usa and notable hackathons from canada. i was so excited about it, mainly because i’m a huge tech enthusiast, not only the “dis gadget is cool” type, but primarily on how unhinged tech could be (in a good way). tech innovation is always revolving either it being so inherently useless, or it could truly revolutionize our life.
pinnacle at dallas
i started my gap year going to texas, doing pinnacle. you can watch a vlog made by an attendee here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kt4JJul145o. in the place i come from, all the biggest tech companies are a carbon copy of existing companies. there isn’t much of a tech breakthrough going around here, startups are mostly foreign-educated MBAs building food delivery apps, or just a marketplace of X. so when i came across and found out college students on the other side of the continent building a device that scans your brainwaves and generates binaural beats to enhance your mood, it was the most unhinged product i have ever touched. i met new people, and i learned a lot.
new york city & san francisco
there is a liberating feeling when you’re alone in a big city and being able to do whatever you want. when i said i wanted to get the fuck out, this is probably it. just enjoying a big city, meeting new people, do all the things i’ve always wanted to do, and just having fun.
so after all the fun and stuff, here comes another question: what to do for the rest of the year? i applied for so many internships, i didn’t document everything, but yeah i had the confidence to apply to big companies, Google, Meta, Notion, Uber, Lyft, you name it. I applied to so many Indonesian companies too, Gojek, Shopee, OVO, Dana and basically everything i can apply for. from almost 50 applications, i talked with like 5 companies. in the end, i started my internship at a series c grocery startup, equivalent to amazon fresh in the states.
the big boss
after 3 months at my internship and my period was almost over, i woke up to an email from a recruiter at Meta for a front-end engineer position. this was the moment i learned to sit down and do leetcode again, and the stake for winning was a relocation to London and a nice intern salary. i asked my ex-Meta head of engineering at my workplace to help me, and he gave me tons of resources to learn and all, to end up failing.
the moment of truth was when i did a technical interview with the engineer, i did well on the first question, to end up taking too much time on the second question. “for this type of problem, using hashmap would be more efficient for the time and space complexity” was my go-to phrase. i honestly felt so shit, mainly because i thought of this opportunity as “this is it, if i make it, my life will magically be better.” the silver-lining was that when i failed, i put even higher efforts into building my own side-project, which could be another “this is it” moment (foreshadowing).
doing another internship
i do the thing when teenagers got their heartbroken and move on to another thing in split seconds. the new place i’m working at, the interns were given a project to build, which we did everything succesfully, but we didn’t really get invited to meetings and fun stuff, it was purely work work, which i’m completely fine with. i learned a lot about engineering culture, and new technologies.
building my own product
remember when i said, the project could be another “this is it” moment of my life? turned out, it did. my first biggest milestone at 20 is building a company and being a part of a startup accelerator based in SF. the first big client i worked with once said, “you’re still young, don’t worry about the money. just do what you love to do and the money will chase you”.
the thing is, i don’t know what i want to do. i did some freelance before where i do ui ux design and web/app development and turns out it’s not something that i love doing, and so i decide to do something else. my last straw on freelancing was when i’m contractually obliged to keep building on something that turns out i don’t like.
my relationship with “passion” has been a both blessing and a curse for me. while passion is what drives me to build something i love, it’s also what drives me to not do shit. when your creativity is becoming a commercialized product for other people, it’s hard to convince yourself that you are not your product. what i notice from everyone in the creative industry is, that we have fun doing it until it becomes a business. there are two sides of the story: the business owners who have business needs to be fulfilled, and the creative workers who just wants to do their thing and put the food on the table. the thing is, the digital creative service providers, mainly in graphic design and marketing are way too overcrowded.
i’ve always wanted to use tech to revolutionize the way we do things, and for that reason, i had an idea to build something that automate your social media content marketing with AI, where we generate both graphic designs and copywriting in click of buttons in the hope to minimalize humans in doing the labor for big corpos in 21st century.
there is a moral implication that if the product makes it, it’ll put a lot of creative workers out of their job, in the same relationship between web dev freelancers and website builders like squarespace, etc, but it’s a topic for another discussion.
growing up, we probably have a similar definition of a normal life. go to school, graduate, fall in love, get married, have a job, build a family, retiring happily at old age. the thing is, turns out that in our society, you either build your wealth by playing the zero-sum game where you only win and everyone else gets poor, or you play the positive-sum game, where you win, and everyone else can also benefit from you winning. the way i see it right now is, small businesses have to burn cashes for marketing/design talents (usually they hire 1 person to do both) and talents get overworked and underpaid. it's a zero-sum game. let's make it better.