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Leaving Pittsburgh – last day on Campus edition August 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, contemplation, education, image, landmark-post, reminisces-2000.

Note : Post was written on Aug 27th, 2007, posted only today.


Today is the first day of classes for several hundred students at Carnegie Mellon. For the last few days, I have seen them – the undergrads – walking down corridors, sometimes asking for directions, in cafes discussing courses, in bookstores buying text books ; I see on the lawn having barbecue parties amid music, games and getting-to know-each-other ice-breakers. And then yeah there are the graduate students too, though they appear to have no time for ice-breaker parties (yet), engaged more in search of funding, house-hunting and research advisors.

The irony then is that to me its the last day on campus. Done with my courses, research and pretty much everything expected of me, I walk around campus reminding myself that its going to be the last time for many months/years perhaps before I come back for a visit. Its going to be weird tomorrow when I walk up to meet the administrative assistant to surrender my college ID card, in the process losing pretty much all building permissions and other privileges that come with being a CMU student. I wonder why they need to do that – taking away something that is arguably the most valuable souvenir from our college days, something one had to be carried everywhere, everyday. Besides, my login account including email-ID and campus wireless network permissions die on Aug 31st, 2007. In all likelihood therefore this will be my last post from an IP address that goes 127.237.xxx.xx, the last from the Carnegie Mellon University network.

I have been here at CMU for barely 27 months. When I came here I was planning to be here for at least 5-6-7 years to get my Ph.D. Somewhere along the way I decided the drop plans of a Ph.D – its queer to say the least because when I started applying to US Graduate Schools, admission into the CMU Computer Science PhD program was something I would have given everything for. And now when there was nearly just that opportunity, I have decided to give it a pass and move on, albeit with the plans of a PhD not completely ruled out. Its amazing how things change that much in this little time.

Especially when the task of making it to the CMU program with full scholarship seemed totally unsurmountable. So much so that after one year of trying when funding finally came through, I wrote to a friend where I mention :

Why is this mail looking like such a hyperbole – replete with exaggeration of a past desperation and present fulfillment. If it indeed seems so, it is unfortunate. To an insider person like me, over 2 years of whose life have been spent in singular and mindless pursuit of this cause, whose several waking moments were occupied by an inadequacy and financial insecurity that this situation created, whom it taught, in a foreign land, some of the lasting lessons in handling ambiguity, pressure and humility, whose emails, letters, chats and conversations were surfeit with thoughts of these, some of whose relationships were built on or broken by this occupation and to whom it culminated in the greatest moment of sheer satisfaction involving 1 man, spanning 2 countries, over 3 years, across 4 cities and involving several direct and indirect contributors – it is no overstatement, it is just a fact of life.

Today though I feel at peace. Lot of good things have been happened in the past couple of months – graduated, got exactly the job I wanted, helped my parents to a very successful, worthwhile trip to the US, 3 conference publications went through and its been generally more peaceful since it was not really that hectic at work.

Of course, if I were doing my masters program all over again, I would do several things differently – read more research papers, spend more time on homeworks and submit them on time :-), pay more attention in some of the courses and develop a stronger social circle of geeks (and savants ?? and polymaths ?? :D) etc.

Overall, I am happy about the way things have turned out with my program, even about my decision to not immediately continue into a PhD program. I did not want to indifferently drift into the another 3-5 years commitment, nor did I want to be on cruise control and hurry myself into it. I now have a conscious discontinuity that will allow me to experience life as something other than a student (first since June 1985 I guess 😀 ), in a different place over 3000 miles away (albeit in the same country), working on similar but not quite similar problems, with a wholly different set of individuals, in a different (corporate) setup, with a substantially higher remuneration. In short, I am bringing about a complete overhaul in my ‘condition of life’.

Yet, there is sadness. I learnt a lot just being on campus at Carnegie Mellon and brushed shoulders with some great guys. 2 years there and I have come out a really different person.

Comparing this to other times of leaving school or college is called for. Mysteriously, leaving KREC meant pretty much nothing. As for Boston University, I mourned leaving Boston more than leaving BU . Leaving IISc was sad but anticipation of the unknown world was a compensation. Leaving Little Rock in 1999 (high school) and CMU will rank among those sad partings, but for entirely different reasons. Leaving Little Rock was about missing all those great times I had with that relatively large friends’ circle and the school, with its walls, grounds and buses, which was my home of 10 years. Leaving CMU is something which I may take a while to even describe to myself, a sadness that is intensely personal, one that has little to do with people out there.

On balance though, I now know its possible to be immensely happy and equally sad at the same time in a way that does not add up to zero (indifference). This is that one moment.




1. Joy - August 31, 2007

I read about Randomizer finishing school and then just as I jump o’er to your blog, I see this! 🙂

Congratulations and good luck for everything ahead 🙂

2. Achala - September 1, 2007

One of your best posts, this.
Good luck with your new job, new city, new way of life. Btw, where ARE you off to?!

3. Sharath - September 1, 2007

thanks joylita, thanks achala.

@achala : I am moving to santa clara, california. Thought I told you that !!

4. Randomizer - September 1, 2007

This was an awesome read :). Congrats and good luck !

5. Achala - September 2, 2007

Nope. Long time since we spoke. Anyway, California should be a good change from Pennsylvania, weather-wise at least. Enjoy! 🙂

6. vishnu - September 2, 2007

good post…
a befitting farewell, even I felt the same about surrendering my ID at NITK, Surathkal. It would have made such a good souvenir otherwise.

7. Sharath Rao - September 4, 2007

@vishnu – did we have to return our IDs at KREC ?? maybe thats a more recent practice …I still have mine …

8. roblo - September 14, 2007

Isn’t the internet a great invention?! It was so easy to find you! 🙂 We are keeping our fingers crossed for your new job! Florian and Marleen

9. Sharath Rao - September 16, 2007

Florian & Marleen : Great to catch you guys here….I agree its rather too easy to catch me online …just a search away 😀 …so Marleen you back in Germany ? How about Florian ?

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