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My Quest to KCDC

Last summer, I had to read a book. It was our AP English summer assignment, and it was titled How to Read Literature Like a Professor. I had to read it.

All things considered, this was not a book I wanted to read. Don’t get me wrong, I do like to read, but I’d much rather learn that a semicolon ends a statement than that it means the sentence is only halfway over. As I said before, however, I had to read it.

There were some interesting things the book cemented for me, like how the intensity of the rain pretty accurately predicts how bad things are going to get for the character out in it. But what I’m most glad I remember from the book, for the sake of this blog post, is the chapter on the five key elements of a monomyth, a hero’s quest. These include a quester, a place to go, obstacles and challenges to getting there, a reason to go, and a real reason to go.

Predictably, I’m the quester, and the Kansas City Developer Conference was the place to go. As I think more about my time in downtown Kansas City, I realize that the experience aligns perfectly with the first chapter of the book I read almost exactly a year ago.

I realized my quest in typical quester fashion, by finding out two days prior that I was going to KCDC, having not seen the email or three. I made plans with my dad, who works downtown, to get dropped off by the convention center in the morning. No challenges to speak of hitherto.

When I got to KCDC, however, I was immediately greeted by a room of a thousand nerds, gathering around company recruiting tables covered in stickers. This moment marked a very real first obstacle in getting to my destination and completing my mission of soaking up all the JavaScript, AI, and Extreme Programming knowledge I could absorb. In spite of the unmoving herd, I made it to my 8:45 session on machine learning in Microsoft Azure unharmed and on time.

One unforeseen psychological challenge I faced in the sessions, particularly learning about complex topics like machine learning and OAuth 2, was short lived imposter syndrome. Like, why should I get to sit in this room with data scientists and pretend to understand back propagation and symmetric encryption? It was a significant question, especially since several people were probably wondering if I was two days early for the kids conference. However, I had to realize that no two people ever have the same experiences or knowledge, so I shouldn't compare myself with others, but instead myself and how I've improved as a software developer through my own experiences and quests like this one.

That school year in my AP English class, one thing I was constantly reminded of was that the real reason to go on a quest is always self knowledge, and it's always unsought. Ironically, the self knowledge I found at KCDC was that I want to pursue the complete opposite of English in the future; instead, I've found that I really enjoy using math to create algorithms in software. In our Vegan Beacon app, I've worked on the algorithms to decide how the number of likes and age of the beacons impact their ranking and relevance, and by effect, how likely you as the user are to see them. The enjoyment I experience working on projects like these seems to mirror that of airplane pilots. They get to know how and when to turn the dials and press the buttons in order to control something way bigger and more important than themselves, which is really exciting to me. But no, I'll never be a pilot; I don't enjoy flying.

Finally realizing self knowledge, and having been bored by my last session, the only thing I had left to do was to return home. I chose the spectacular means of transportation that is the Kansas City Streetcar, and besides getting on one going the wrong direction, travel was unhindered.

At last my quest was complete. Not purely by attending KCDC and its many sessions, although I did learn a lot, but by recognizing the real reason for going: to discover what I enjoy doing most and what I hope to pursue in the future.


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