[Seniors Speak] Meeting the Challenges of the Real World

Written by Ryan Chiu

Let’s stop for a moment and take a step back in time – why did we choose to come to IMSA? Some might say that it was because of IMSA’s rigorous academics. Others were drawn to research opportunities, clubs, or student diversity. But regardless of our exact reason, nearly all of us ended up choosing IMSA for what we were shown on paper – qualities that were advertised to us, and we believed them all. We arrived with the illusion that IMSA somehow contained all of the resources to prepare its students for the real world. However, I encourage you to think beyond what IMSA directly offers.

I’ve been working as a Software Engineer at the Chicago Sun-Times for nearly two years, and will continue my work over this summer as the Vice President of Mobile Application Development. Other than being able to save up money for college, pursuing this endeavor was undoubtedly the single most meaningful learning experience in my time at IMSA.

IMSA may have taught me how to take a test, but my job equipped me with the ability to tackle real-world issues. It’s easy to solve a problem on a quiz or a worksheet, only to completely forget about it shortly after turning it in. But when confronted by an issue that, upon resolution, could potentially affect the lives of real people, it becomes an unforgettable learning experience. Last year, I was one of the leading developers for Chicago.com, a new search engine for events that would allow people to easily find things to do in their area. This year, my efforts have centered on creating the Sun-Times’ first independent news application for mobile devices, which would offer millions of viewers a more user-friendly way to view and customize news feeds.

IMSA may have shown me how to hastily complete problem sets, but my job taught me the true meaning of “collaboration.” None of the projects I’ve completed would have come to fruition without the support of other individuals in the field. By working in an environment where people divided up the work accordingly, more could be accomplished in a shorter time frame. Instead of a setting where everyone is driven by a personal desire to get a high grade, everyone in the work space seemed to recognize that working collaboratively toward a common objective was a better strategy than leaving every man for himself.

IMSA may have expected me to “learn” through lectures and readings, but my job allowed me to learn through application. As a programmer, I was frequently tasked with writing hundreds or thousands of lines of code per day, inundated with cryptic words in a mysterious programming language. There were times when I did not know how to perform a specific task, and had to consult manuals and books. It’s a lot of material to remember, but because I knew that every single line of code went toward making the program work as a whole, I realized that there was suddenly greater value in what I was learning and that it was directly applicable in solving real-world issues.

My job may not be suitable for everyone, and there are certainly other channels for personal development that may prove equally, or even more beneficial to your personal success. But regardless of the specific opportunity you decide to pursue, I challenge you to find your own personal outlet for growth. Think outside of IMSA’s immediate reach, and don’t be afraid to extend yourself in places you would have never imagined. IMSA can give you a foundation, but it’s up to you to utilize that foundation to meet the challenges of the real world.

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