Last Lab

I just had my last lab today, probably for a long time. I’ve been on and off again about finishing my degree in CS for 14 years, and I’m finally buckling down to finish the work. Part of this work was the second lab in the physics series, the heat and optics lab. I enjoyed it more than I anticipated I would, and now that it’s over, I’m a little put out.

The problem with being in a chair at a computer 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for work is that I don’t really get to build anything with my hands. I don’t get to test out new equipment like our network engineers do, and I don’t get to work with hardware like our service desk engineers do. Everything I do is virtual. I only touch my keyboard and mouse, and most of my meetings are virtual as well.

The Covid pandemic changed little in my line of work. Working from home was always an acceptable arrangement (ahead of the times) at the code shop I’d worked at then. When I left, I worked remotely for a New York head hunting firm. In 2022, I started at Washington Trust Bank as a DevOps engineer. There were remote, hybrid, and in-office working arrangements depending on the department, and I was lucky enough to settle on hybrid work. This meant that I got a little of my old and familiar working from home, and a some much needed in-person interaction.

The in-person interaction side mostly takes the form of team meetings and team outings. People all around me in cubicles are taking meetings on Teams, and without my manager’s requirement for 1 in person meeting a month for the whole team, most meetings are virtual for me. Covid has changed that aspect, more meetings were held in person.

I’m not complaining, working mostly virtually has its upsides. I have more energy at the end of the day as compared to working in a warehouse. I choose and have the energy to do workouts. Something’s still missing. I’m not sure what it is, and it’s probably not something I can fix. This ends my work rambling 😉

The highlight of the heat and optics lab was recreating the double-slit experiment, and getting to use the hydrogen laser was a close second. Hands on learning. I found myself engaged even when the labs were 3 hours long. Meticulously setting up the apparatus, taking painstakingly accurate measurements, working out the equations with our data – this was fantastic. Working with my hands, doing experiments I’d read about but never attempted. Putting knowledge to work in the real world, and producing tangible (and accurate, to my lab partner’s joy) results.

Programmers, life-long and novice, live for the feeling of making a system work. It’s a battle against yourself on a solo project, and a team effort working with others. Digging into failures, working through error after error, until eventually, you have a working system. Sometimes there are no errors, and you look proudly at hours of work functioning correctly on the first try. Either way, the elation you get when something “works” is a high that could put the drug world out of business, or so I’d like to believe.

I’m finding that, as the years advance, I’m getting less and less of that high, even though I’m a better programmer now than when I started. Maybe it’s because I’m not trying enough new technology (though I think Pulumi counts as cutting edge). Maybe it’s because the pattern is all the same: choose a new technology, run through a few tutorials, then start applying it to the purpose you wanted to learn it for. I don’t know where my listlessness is rooted, but it’s there and I’m starting to feel it more.

I think, as soon as I’m settled in to my new apartment, that I will start tinkering with electronic kits. Something adjacent to my field, a project that I can flex my programming skillset on as well as learn something new about digital circuits.

All that to say, I tried something new with the heat and optics lab, and was immensely rewarded in a personal way. I’ll be doing more of that in 2024.