“The Deep End” resonated with me, not because I’ve applied the pattern before, but rather because I’ve been thrown into the deep end. When I took Data Structures at a different college over the summer, I found out the course was being taught using C, which I hadn’t yet learned. My dad accurately described the task ahead of me as, “Here’s a new [human] language. Write a novel.”
Worse, the professor was often unhelpful. The pattern, which encourages taking challenges and high-profile roles, warns that you could end up in over your head and drown in trying to apply it. I actually compared my emotional state those first couple of weeks to drowning in the middle of the ocean, because I was so out of my depth, no one could help me, and the consequences of failure were drastic. And I was failing for a while. Assignments were graded using an automated system that tended to give out 100s or 0s with no in-between, and 10 points got taken off for every day late. I fell behind and was submitting assignments late, which in turn gave me less time to work on the next one.
The Deep End identifies Find Mentors and Kindred Spirits as patterns that can be used to mitigate its risks. What eventually made me feel less like I was drowning was identifying the one tutor available for the class who seemed to know what he was doing and reaching out to him for help. He was accommodating and even offered to look at my code outside of his tutoring hours. It was, in fact, finding a mentor/kindred spirit that enabled me to salvage the situation.
Good things came of surviving the deep end. I was able to take Robotics the next semester because my knowledge of C made me feel more prepared than I would have otherwise. My Unix Systems Programming course this semester is also turning out to be much easier than it could’ve been.
The idea for action given at the end is also interesting. The writers suggest rating every project you’ve ever worked on using your own ways of measuring complexity or difficulty, and then plotting new projects that come along in a chart with the others. This seems like a good idea for making sure your career trajectory is going up and consistently challenging you instead of stagnating.
As a final note, the idea of applying this pattern by taking high-profile roles also reminded me of a principle one of my role models has: that if you’re given something you feel you don’t deserve, the answer isn’t to refuse, it’s to take it and work hard to deserve it.