Under Pressure – My Brain Hurts

In college, at the University of Chicago, I played Queen’s “Under Pressure” song over and over again every single year. It was my theme song. I am more or less a smart person, but I’m not a genius by any measure. The University of Chicago only accepts really, really smart people. And the thing about schools full of only really smart people is that some really smart person always has to be at the bottom of the pile.

To be truthful, in all my school years, I never had to work so hard for a ‘C’ as I did at the UofC. My Physics class was graded on a perfect bell curve, so yep! I got a C. I started out in my Developmental Biology course with a big fat 0 on my first exam but I studied and studied all term and aced the final. So yep! I got a ‘C’ once again.

I remember struggling to understand Molecular Biology and having to take the course twice in order to graduate. The first time, I either had the choice to withdraw or fail. I withdrew. The second time, I passed with a strong B. It was no easy B. I spent at least 2 nights a week with a tutor at the library. But I knew I had reached a special moment when another student asked the tutor to explain the lac operon model once again. The tutor struggled and then I jumped in and delivered a sound, easy-to-understand explanation. I was amazed by what my mind could do with some effort.

Though, I do remember coming home many an evening to my dorm room and crying to my closest friends, “My brain hurts.” Not my head, but literally, my brain. I didn’t know it was possible for this to be possible, but dear Monty Python empathized.

And now, 10 years after my graduation from the great University of Chicago, I once again feel the pressure to work hard and succeed. Again, my brain hurts. You see, I work as a software engineer. And whether or not you understand what a software engineer does, you can understand that most days I go into work not knowing how to do what I need to. Because if I did know how to do what I need to do, it would already be done. And then there are periods where not only do I not know how to do what I need to do, but there is no good documentation from somebody else who knows how to do what I need to. So I am left to struggle and figure it out on my own.

This has made me cranky. It has caused me to throw the Ukrainian out of the room where I am studying working on numerous occasions. I have blocked his IM chats. We have canceled this evening’s planned date. We are basically on hiatus until December 17 when the Ukrainian is done with his MBA studies and presumably, I will have a handle on all the new cutting-edge technology I am working on at work. Either way, we will be on a plane to the East Coast (though not entirely on holiday).  In the meantime, I will be trying to remind myself on an hourly basis how much I love my husband so I don’t let my stress get the best of me us.

As I may have mentioned in earlier posts, I have a really, really good job and I don’t want to lose it. Today, the headlines screamed about the largest rise in unemployment since 1974. We all know it’s going to get worse. So like so many others, much of the pressure I am feeling is self-induced. If the economy was flying and everyone was feeling good, I’m certain I would be too.

But, with all that said, there has been one small shining star in the workplace today. I officially learned that one of things I have been trying to do can’t be done (which is what I thought). So I’m not an idiot, just once again another really smart person at the bottom of the heap of other more-really-smarter people: software engineers.

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2 Responses to “Under Pressure – My Brain Hurts”

  1. Dr. Geek Says:

    Speaking as a fellow software engineer, you aren’t at the bottom of the pile. It is fairly common thing in my life to be handed something and be told either “tell me what this does” or (more often) simply “make this work”. I wake up a lot of mornings not knowing exactly what will happen on a given day, but I generally do know what I would like to try. This, to my mind is the “fun” part of the job. Yes, it is hard… but it’s worth it too, don’t you think?

  2. puigirl Says:

    It depends on the project. When I wrote a media player for my old job, I really had a blast doing it, even though I had no idea what I was doing. (I relied on WMP and Flash for the codecs, but had to do everything else). I loved that project.

    This project in particular is good because I like my colleagues and I like the technology as a whole (Hibernate, SEAM, JBoss, JSF). However, the very reason why I like the the technology — do a lot of great stuff with very minimal code and configuration — is also what has made it tough at points as so much operates in a black box. Also, I have not worked any of the above 4 technologies ever until I got this job. Usually, I am in a situation where I know at least half, if not most of the technologies being used. But anyway, after all the studying last week and banging my head against the wall, all is working well now so I’m feeling chipper and dandy. 🙂


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