Saturday, November 6, 2010

Stick a fork in me...

Yesterday, at 2:00 PM, in College Station, Texas, after four and a half years of work, I successfully defended my thesis, Perspective-Driven Radiosity on Graphics Hardware.

Four and a half years is a long time to work on anything, especially when it's something that should have been completed in two.  So, why the delay?  The superficial reason is that I've been working while I finished my MS, so I haven't been able to devote my undivided attention to the thesis.  But, the underlying cause is that I just made some bad decisions.

Graduate school got off to a rough start in Fall 2004.  My dad was diagnosed with cancer the week before I started and died six weeks later.  It took me a while to recover from that experience, and my education suffered because of it.  I wound up with a 3.5 for my overall GPA, but that was with the help and guidance of some great people: Dr. Glen Williams, my committee chair and former employer; Dr. John Keyser, a professor for many of my best classes, and a member of my committee; Dr. Jianer Chen, who was my professor and graduate advisor; my mom and the memories of my dad; and, most especially, my wife, Marie.

During my two years of graduate classes, from 2004 to 2006, I was a research graduate assistant on the Texas A&M University Autonomous Ground Vehicle (AGV) project.  I worked on the collision avoidance system which used a SICK lidar and directed a drive-by-wire truck.  It was fun, and I learned a lot doing it.  But, it was not something I wanted to work on for the rest of my life.  My interests were, and remain, computer graphics.  I could have completed a thesis related to the AGV during my two years of classes.  Instead, I chose a thesis topic that truly interested me, and to which I would enjoy devoting so much of my time.  Since I couldn't remain in school forever, and funding for the AGV was gone, I decided to finish my thesis while I worked as a professional.

After working for many nights and weekends on my research, from 2006 to 2010, I could finally say, "It's done."  I took two weeks off from work this past summer, went to College Station, and lived in the library for 16 days straight.  Which brings me to today.

I have regrets regarding my graduate school experiences, but one thing I didn't want to regret was never finishing my degree.  I can't do anything to change the past, but I can drive my future the direction I want it to go.  I should count myself lucky that I have chosen a career path that not only interests me, but, in my opinion, is exactly what I'm supposed to do while I'm here.

So, what's next?

There are many things on which I want to work.  Computer graphics, gaming, visual effects: these are not jobs, these are hobbies for me.  Coincidently, I can also get paid to do them!  I have lots of projects outside of work, it's just a matter of completing them, one at a time.  As I go along, I want to share what I learn, and document what I've accomplished.  I did many projects in graduate school, all of which are lost to the sands of time (and a fried hard disk).  I don't want the same thing to happen again.

I'm also preparing to look for my next employer.  I enjoy my job, but the challenges are no longer the kind that interest me.  Lately it seems that I have to work on projects at home to keep my brain occupied.  Ideally, I'd like an entry-level position in the graphics-related entertainment industry: gaming or animation.  I'm ready to devote my time to a product that excites me and fuels my passions, as well as those of the customer.  How fulfilling it must be to complete a project and enjoy it just as much as your target audience!

Whatever I find next, yesterday was a good day, and I'm glad it finally arrived...delayed or not.


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