Yearly Reflection of 2021 – Graduation, new job and self-discovery

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I checked my Instagram for my 2021 Goal post – apparently I wanted to post weekly on my blog 😀 As you probably know, I did not quite reach this, but not all is lost. I published 18 blog articles which is 17 more than in 2020. And as we will see below, so many OTHER things happened in my life that I never would have imagined or considered a year ago.

Enjoying our Garden

My partner and I have been in this apartment since April 2019, but in the first 2 summers, I didn’t really get into planting much. In 2019 we mostly spent some time cleaning out assorted things left by the previous owners and removing “ugly” trees that were in the way. In 2020 I planted my first shrubs: some Hostas, ferns and tiny lavender bushes. Each of these were tiny, because tiny plants are cheaper 😉

In 2021, I expanded on this. In April, my Hostas finally came back (they go dormant in winter and they took so long to reappear that I was 90% sure they were dead) and I had planted some tulips the previous winter that appeared in spring, which you can see on the picture above. I loved the emerging of the first stems early in the year and since they are planted right next to my desk, I could see them through the window while working. Actually I’m very interested to see if they will re-emerge in 2022 as well. I also bought plants like my first oleander. My mum has 2 huge ones and I’m very inspired by these, I think they look beautiful. We will see how much mine can grow – assuming I don’t kill it over this winter.

In summer, the enjoyment of gardening sharply decreased because I could NOT keep up with the weeds. They were everywhere and since I had some weeks where I had no time for gardening at all due to my increasing workload and simply because I’m an indoorsy person and only feel like gardening a bit twice a month.

My mindset with regards to gardening has changed a lot. The first two years I have felt very stressed out. My parents keep their garden very tidy: neat grass, weeding is done promptly on time and every plant is confined to its corner. I felt very judged every time they visited and was scared of asking questions about care of plants because I was scared of their criticism. This year, I said f**k that. I made a point of sitting on my terrace and working or reading while having breakfast and just enjoy the feeling of being surrounded by nature. To not go out into the garden only for weeding. And also to forgive myself if there are some weeds in my garden. After all, it takes a while to form routines and figure out how I personally want to have my garden. And it seems “a while” is not a few months, but maybe more so a few years. I have a lot of other things happening in my life at the same time as well.

Here’s to another year of gardening and setting up my hammock on the terrace and watching my magnolia tree in spring – honestly one of the most beautiful things ever. Might even splurge and buy a palm tree. But that’s for future-me and not this post.

Masters Thesis

This topic appears twice in this review, because it was there all year long and it felt significantly different at the different stages. In April I finally officially registered my thesis. This means you have to have a fixed title for it and from that day on, you have exactly 6 months to hand it in.

Before that I have worked on the topic for 6 months as well, because my university lets us work on a project without grading for 500 hours. Most of the time that is in the area of the thesis and all other parts are completely up to the professor and student. I used that time to get familiar with the topic of Deep Learning, which was entirely new to me. I took an introductory lecture on my own to build some basics and learned to code with PyTorch.

This time and the start of the my official thesis duration was quite exciting. There was this entirely new (to me) field and SO much to learn. I worked my way through my first mathematical paper (Characterizing Implicit Bias in Terms of Optimization Geometry) and wrote my first words about it. I wrote the training code for my first neural network.

During the summer semester, I was also a tutor in the lecture “Deep Learning” aimed at master’s students, which focused a lot on understanding the mechanics of backpropagation within different popular neural network architectures – like ResNets, Convolutions, Generative Networks, etc. There was a lot of time spent debugging PyTorch code of students to understand where the mistakes came from.

However, even before deciding on my official topic (Spoiler: It would be “Towards Better Understanding Stochastic Gradient Descent for Deep Learning”) a few issues popped up. It was difficult finding one area to work on. That wasn’t because I didn’t find any interesting areas. There were plenty. But finding an area interesting to me and one where I personally could make any significant progress within 6 months with my limited knowledge was tough.

I remained stubborn and wanted to definitely work on something that was fascinating to me, so we stayed on the topic of generalization within Deep Learning. During my Bachelor’s thesis, I worked on a topic that wasn’t very interesting to me personally and given that it was very likely I would not be working on more academic topics after my Master’s degree, I wanted to use this last opportunity. Ultimately, this stubbornness cost me a lot of nerves and self-confidence. And I would probably do it again. Is this the stubbornness talking or did I really learn something useful in that time? Maybe both. Read more about this further on in my Graduation topic.

Growing on Instagram

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My most liked (7646) post on Instagram this year (and ever) and also the one with the most reach (over 255k impressions).
Link: https://www.instagram.com/p/CWYmU1lgHXS/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

I checked to see what my post with the most reach was and this was it. It got 255k impressions and 7646 likes. Since this was 2 days before my thesis deadline, I didn’t even realize at the time, but these are CRAZY numbers. I DO still remember my first post that crossed 100k impressions, which was also this year. These are numbers so high they kind of lose their meaning to me.

My main reason for creating this account was loneliness and the need to connect to other people like me in tech (💕 to all of you), but another factor was the need to prove it to myself. That I could. I am a very shy person and I was never cool, so for the longest time I didn’t think that I was a social media person. That no one was that interested in what I had to say and that my setup wasn’t pretty enough or that my studies of theoretical computer science wasn’t flashy enough.
But there was this little spark in me that said “What if?” What if I could be that person? Go out of my shell? And be all that I wanted?

And so after my first few pictures and maybe the first 100 followers, I set my sights on reaching 10k followers. At the time this meant getting the link feature in stories and I wanted that to promote my blog, but also in my mind 10k meant you had “made it” on Instagram. I remember very early on asking my boyfriend if he thought I would ever reach that milestone. I think he answered something along the lines of “if you stick with it long enough”. Honestly, how would he know? He isn’t even active on Instagram, it’s not like he has the Instagram-Crystal Ball that can see the future. (He now has notifications for my account enabled though to see what I am up to 😍)

I might be shy, but another trait I have is that I am VERY stubborn. So even if I am really scared of something, I will still try if I really want it. I might be crying, I might be stressed out, but giving up? Nah. For a while I thought getting to 10k would take me years. I was only getting 1k new followers every 5-6 months. After 1 whole year (I made this post on my Instagram-anniversary: ) I only had about 2k followers. However, in 2021 things accelerated and I made it to 10k! Woo!

Many might think Instagram is stupid or just for vain people. I’m still nervous telling people about this, because I am scared of being judged. But this account showed me that I COULD. I could succeed, I could go out of my shell & that I never know until I try. Which brings us to the next section…

My New Youtube Channel

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My first youtube thumbnail, video here

On August 1st I recorded and edited and published my first Youtube video. I swear, this was something I had wanted to do for like 10 years, but I never thought I would be good enough. Ookay, I’m still struggling with that thought today, but that’s another topic – the important thing is that I DID IT. It was a rush. I was hyping myself up so much before filming so I wouldn’t lose my nerves and after I published it, I felt like I had the biggest secret ever. Sometimes I still can’t believe I did that.

I wasn’t able to stick to the weekly uploads, but I did try a few different things. I filmed one or two advice videos (see “5 free resources for Deep Learning Beginners” or “How to read and summarize research papers”). I also discovered that I’m not the biggest fan of tutorial videos, though I will definitely try again. I think there is a lot of value in explaining things and in real life I like it a lot, but making it a permanent video or blog post is scary because of potential mistakes. I don’t want to spread any false information or confuse anyone. I also did vlogs and I definitely want to do more of them (tomorrow is my first day at work and I will definitely vlog that experience – even though I won’t be able to film AT work). Check out my “Day in the life of a Computer Science Student” and “Vlog: Writing my Computer Science master’s Thesis”.

Creating content and letting go of perfectionism but still trying to improve bit by bit is still very hard for me, but in 2022 I want to continue working on that. I saw first hand that it will become easier over the last 1.5 years of posting on Instagram, so it will happen for my videos and blog posts as well 🙂

Graduation

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Me the night of printing my thesis after working on it relentlessly for the last 2 weeks. Yes, that is bone-deep tiredness in my eyes.

Clearly the most emotional moment of the year was finishing my master thesis in computer science. I have never worked so hard on something in my entire life and it’s not like the rest of my degrees were easy. I worked every waking minute of the last 2 weeks before the deadline and I think I crossed some threshold in my mind that was not meant to be crossed, because I was SO DONE afterwards. It’s only now, over a month later and after I received my grade, that I’m feeling the first bits of happiness and relief 😅 I cried. A lot. If I ever feel ready to open the vlogs of my last week, you might see that 😶

For the first half of the year I couldn’t decide where I wanted my life to go next: starting a Phd? Moving? Staying in this apartment? Doing research? Industry? Data Science? Graduation felt like such a final step, instead of just the beginning.

I got a lot of help with this decision, but ultimately I think starting my Youtube channel helped me a lot. It allowed me to create something that was solely mine and not tied to a job or student status or anything else. I could build it for me and it would remain a constant between changing jobs and life-phases. Focusing more on content also meant that I would continue to be challenged and would continue studying and learning – and I was very scared that would get lost in the routines of day-time job. Yes, I’m that kid from school who just LOVES learning.

For now I have decided to not continue with a Phd. It would have likely meant moving and I really like this apartment (see above section on our garden) and my partner has a nice job here and I don’t like moving anyways. It also would have simply delayed my life panic for about 4 years and after a Phd (if I would finish it at all, without losing my mind – becoming a doctor is incredibly hard and I didn’t feel ready for even harder things) I would still feel lost and not know where to work. Who knows, maybe at some point I will want to get that doctor title and go back into academia and research, but for now I’m onto something else.

Data Science Job

Also this year I accepted my first full-time job. Like… a “real” job as my father is so fond of saying. I don’t really agree on this way of putting it, but that’s besides the point. Previously I had worked about 15 different times as a tutor in my university. Students with good grades and who show interest and skill in teaching, get to be teaching assistants for younger students, so starting in my 4th semester I was grading homework and explaining said homework to small classes of first to second semesters. We could teach any class that we had previously taken and I did multiple different classes across Math and Computer Science and also several coding courses in the time between semesters.

In 2018 – so 4 years after starting my degrees – I applied for an internship at a consulting company to acquire some “real” work experience and to figure out what kind of job I wanted to do after graduating. I knew of the company through an acquaintance of my mom’s and after an assessment day, I got the internship for a duration of 2 months. This was extended as was the plan into a working student arrangement. This is very common here in Germany and means that the student works for the company 8-20 hours per week next to studying and during lecture free times, this could be raised to 40 hours as well, though I personally did not do that often. Most of the time I worked there 8 hours per week – and of course I got paid for that.

In that job I was working in Application Development and was learning how to code a Hybrid app. This meant doing web development, but through a library called Ionic, we would also be able to compile it into an Android app (and iOS, though I don’t think this was ever actively deployed). Of course now you are reading a section with the title “Data Science Job” so somewhere something changed. As my degree progressed, I realized I wasn’t entirely happy with the App development gig and my interests were shifting more and more into Machine Learning territory. So I spoke to my manager and he recommended I talk to the company’s Analytics department.

So at the end of 2020 I switched to the Analytics area and there participated in a small Hackathon in spring 2021 with their Data Science team. Other than that I wasn’t actively working too much for the company, because as you read above I was getting quite busy with my thesis. However, as my thesis neared it’s end, we got into conversation about me continuing to work for the company after my graduation.

I will let you know: negotiating your salary as a fresh grad is a fucking scary thing to do. Ultimately, as you know, I accepted my job as a Data Scientist in a consulting business – and I cried some more 🙈😂 I think mostly to process my stress.

As I’m writing this, it’s January 2nd and tomorrow is my first official day as a full-time employee! Thankfully I already know the team – I even met some of them two months ago in the office and we played Badminton after office hours – and of course I know the building due to my earlier employment there, but I never had an ordinary work day in this team, since doing a Hackathon project is quite different. I have also never met my managers in person – only over Teams. But at least I will drive to the office tomorrow – because starting completely alone from the comfort of my home office desk would feel very weird.

Car

In more material news: I bought my first ever car. I feel writing about this, because it feels a bit like bragging, but it was something I have waited for for a long time. I’m now 26, though I bought it when I was 25 (a few weeks before my birthday) and I feel like that is quite late for a first car. Previously I took the bus and train to university from my parent’s place or later our own apartment. That took 1.5 hours each way every day, so the pandemic actually came in quite handy and I really did not miss public transport too much during studying from home. I did however miss being mobile and somewhat independent. With a virus going around I did not really want to spend time on public transport if avoidable, so for the most part I stayed home or had to ask someone else to drive me or give me their car for the day (that one applies exclusively to my partner).

Having my own car now feels very freeing. Finally I can go places without asking anyone before going. Today I took it to the running path in town and tomorrow I will actually drive it to work for the first time.

The decision on which car to buy was quite complicated. There was an offer from the company I now work for to get a leasing car through the company, which involves paying part of the money from your salary before tax and having to pay taxes on another part of the leasing price, but also getting gas for free then. I did a lot of calculations with my family, but ultimately I decided that this was not the best for me, so I chose my own car. Getting a car through the company also would have meant first getting another car, because ordering new cars currently takes a long time.

And since I do not have a huge amount of driving experience I did not feel comfortable with having to drive different cars that were all rental/leasing cars. I am very thankful that I got to buy my own and hopefully my driving skill and self-confidence will improve now that I frequently drive places – well as much as anyone is frequently driving places these days. Most of my work will probably be done from home after all.

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Picking up my car from the dealership.

Conclusion

I think 2021 might have been the most eventful year of my life. Most of the big things are barely in the past and I haven’t even started my new job yet, but somehow we are already in 2022.

2021 was definitely not easy, but I’m super proud of everything I achieved and I am incredibly excited to see where I can take things in this next year. Hopefully I will remember to post some updates amidst all my new plans and experiences 😉

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