Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The life and times of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Today a graduate student who comes into my office every so often started telling me his life story. He is a bit of a talker who is hard to get away from. Especially if your job involves staying at your desk.

But this time I was glad to let him talk. He told me about how he got his bachelors in humanities in 1976, then tried going to grad school for philosophy but dropped out ("for one reason or another"). Soon, on a fluke, he found himself getting involved in computer science, and as he did odd jobs and such, he ended up pursuing a masters in CS in the early '80s.

He then worked as a computer programmer and consultant for close to twenty years when, all of a sudden in 2001, according to him, "the bottom fell out." He was finishing up a typical consulting job, which are by nature short-lived employments, and then he went out to find another gig, which he had been able to do within a couple of weeks between jobs before. But everyone he called in Chicago (where he had lived and worked) either said that they weren't hiring or that the person he knew at the firm had retired or gotten replaced. All of his contacts were suddenly absent, and his savings dwindled until he decided to move back in with his parents in Florida.

Now, at who knows what age (hint: obvious combover), he plods along in graduate studies in history. He partly chose history to get away from the quickly paced "technical business" where everyone wanted someone with six months of experience in the newest version of software. He viewed history as more stable, more reliable -- as he said, "The South isn't going to win the civil war because of some new discovery in history".

Then, he asked about me and we chatted some shit about cognitive science (where artificial intelligence meets cognitive psychology) and I told him I didn't really know what I wanted to do. And I don't. But I know one thing -- that I don't want something like this to happen to me. And God willing, it won't.

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