Happiness isn’t a position. It’s a trajectory.

- Lionel Shriver

In 2014, I participated in my first capture-the-flag competition, picoCTF. It was a thrilling experience, not in the least because many of the things learned were just so cool. While it was going on (and in future CTFs), I made an effort to recruit my friends and spread the excitement to as many people as I could.

About a year and a half later, from November 2015 to May 2016, the Hypothetical Andover Cool Kids1 brought PACTF, a CTF with a unique twist, into being from the ground up. Our explicit goal was to deliver the same experience to our competitors that picoCTF had given to us. I don’t know (and will likely never know) if we succeeded. However, over the three-week period of the competition itself, I began to feel the same excitement all over again when watching a competitor have the aha! moment that I may have had in their shoes.

At this time of writing, I’ve completed my second semester as a teaching assistant for the class 15-150 Functional Programming at CMU. Being a TA has been a very rewarding experience, one that I wouldn’t give up for the world. Through TAing, I’ve been exposed to many incredible people on all sides – students, coworkers, professors – that I would never have crossed paths with before, and have had the chance to spread the awesome things I’ve learned from each to the others. The oh! moment when a student makes a particularly difficult breakthrough makes nearly any amount of work worth it.

The fact of the matter is that I’m excited about many things, but it’s no fun without having someone to share my excitement with. A sense of discovery and wonder is often described as “childlike”, as if becoming jaded is something to be proud of as an adult. In that sense, I’m definitely still a child. There’s an endless world of things out there to learn, and each and many of them are just so damn cool!

…What’s an uncommon trajectory?

Throughout my entire life, I’ve always had trouble sitting still. While that hasn’t changed, I’ve found that it’s often as much a mental description as a physical one. I’m always trying to push forward, figure out the next thing, never resting on my laurels. That’s not to say I don’t reflect, but that typically happens in the midst of whatever next cool thing I’m planning out.

One side effect of this is that, when it comes to hobbies, I’m (fortunately or unfortunately) actually somewhat fickle. While “programming” and “math” have always been two things that have caught my attention, I’m frequently flitting between specialties and interests inside. For example, over the course of the last 15 months, my focus in CS has switched from security, to systems software, to functional abstractions!

The uncommon trajectory, then, is my trail as I meander through the weeds of computer science, programming and mathematics.`

  1. A team consisting of myself, Yatharth Agarwal, Tony Tan, Sarp Orgul and Alex Reichenbach