Why I gave up engineering and went to design school
- Sunday, November 8th, 2015
During my early years I started out with an incredibly passion for mathematics and physics. In fact, during school I went on to complete four unit mathematics. For those who aren’t as familiar with the Australian school system, this is the highest level and hardest form of mathematics that one can do in school. Each Saturday and Sunday at 8am, I would go to tutoring for two hours in the city, about a three minute driving distance from my home. This continued for three years, from ages 15 to 18. I had a love for mathematics and I gave it all of my attention.
After finishing school, I went on to study Electrical Engineering at the University of Sydney. My tutor, a man who could have easily been mistaken for a mad Russian scientist/nuclear physicist – well actually was one -, told me that if I completed my engineering degree, he would make sure that I got a spot studying at MIT. At uni I applied for the highest level of mathematics possible. The woman who interviewed me for this position said that I was not capable of succeeding at this course. She didn’t think that I was smart enough to handle it. But against her objections, I did it anyway.
One morning as a friend and I sat in the theatre lecture, we watched as 12 sliding whiteboards were filled with high level mathematics within only 10 minutes time. Not only was I barely able to understand the lecturer’s thick accent, but he spoke extremely fast and also happened to have awful handwriting which made comprehension next to impossible. It seemed that with every passing minute a student would raise their hand and ask for clarification about something he had written. I had only managed to take notes from 2 of the boards before he finished the 12th and wiped the first three boards clean so that he could continue with the lecture. I had just missed an entire board of notes and from the looks of it I could tell that it wasn’t going to get any easier. As I panned the room, I noticed that one by one students were abandoning the lecture and resigning themselves to browsing their text books or playing on the phones.
By the time I had started my studies I was completely burnt out because I had spent a considerable amount of my time mastering mathematics over the years. So three weeks into the program I dropped out. Due to being enrolled in two universities at one time, I simply got resettled at the other university so that I could study industrial design. After about six months I gave up on this idea as well and started living in Perth, a city on the other side of Australia.
While there, I kept thinking about my next step and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. When I was younger, I had always wanted to run my own business. Though during this time, my father was pretty adamant about my not following through on this particular decision. I had a tough struggle in primary school. Though I was extremely creative, I had to attend a special after school care so that I could receive tutoring. And as time progressed, I became less focused on creativity and more focused on becoming an exceptional student.
During Christmas, I had downloaded Adobe Photoshop as somewhat of a side project with which to experiment. My father took notice and eventually asked me to design a logo for his latest business venture. The logo design went very well and it was quite impressive to everyone. It was at this point that my father suggested that I attend design school. To be honest, I really didn’t want to go to design school, though it did seem like the most rational and strategic choice at the time. This is exactly what I was striving to be – more creative and conversely more strategic. I also wanted to become more innovative and one sure way to do this, or so I rationalized, was to attend design school.
I hated the first two years. I was a the bottom of all my classes and hardly anyone paid any attention to the projects that I had worked so hard on, which was more than a little disheartening. But despite this fact, I enrolled into an undergraduate business program in hopes of merging my design studies with my passion for entrepreneurship. I persevered and kept at it. I spent a lot of time studying and worked very hard until one evening during one of my Christmas breaks, while working on a Walk to Work Day in Australia assignment, I realized that my inner creative genius had finally been unlocked.
When I returned to uni for my third year of design school things had changed dramatically and for the better. Not only was I no longer at the bottom of my classes, but I was quickly starting to earn a reputation for being the ideas guy. Several of my peers would actually come to me in order to get inspiration for their assignments. My hard work and creativity were finally starting to pay off. This was the year that I beat out the best designer, a pattern of victory which would continue through to my final year. This time was a significant turning point in my life after which I would never struggle with ideas or have a hard time coming up with solutions ever again. This is not to say that things always come easy to me. The answers rarely ever come in an instant, but I know that if I think long and hard enough something genius is sure to come about.
Though in hindsight I would have benefited from completing my engineering degree and have done a lot of continued self directed studies of programming/engineering, I have to admit that there is a positive side to everything event in life, a silver lining if you will. No, I didn’t become an engineer yet I was able to discover my inner creative genius; and for this, I will be forever grateful. It has been an invaluable skill for the past 10 years of my life. It is one that will surely serve me well for the rest of my life.
Read all the follow-on action points and key takeaways on my LinkedIn post below:
Many years ago – fresh out of school – I had started electrical engineering, regrettably I did not finish my degree and ended up going down a more creative route in life in order to become more strategic as well as to increase my abilities to trouble shoot problems and bootstrap my businesses.
Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Film School: https://www.flickr.com/photos/vancouverfilmschool/