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Safia Abdalla
Safia Abdalla

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36 lessons learned over 3.66 years

So, this week was my last week at college.

Pause for gleeful dance.

I’ve been spending the week taking final exams, submitting final projects, and thinking about what’s next.


I’m so relieved and elated and….and…and a little introspective to be honest.

I’m the kind of person who always thinks they haven’t done enough, and I’m comfortable with that at this point. But when I think about what I’ve done over the past 3.66 years (I’m graduating early), I can’t help but feel a little proud of myself. Over the past few years, I’ve keynoted conferences, published a book, produced content with a major tech publishing house, contributed to open source, wrote a lot of content that motivated and inspired people. Go me!

Behind that pride, there’s a small hint of concern. Have I reached my peak? Is this as good as it’s gonna get for Safia? I’ve done things that most people don’t do until they’re in their 30s and I’m only 21. Am I destined for greatness or did I just hit the “top” early? I know these questions sound self-indulgent, but those are the things running through my head right now. I guess I’m just nervous about what’s next.

That being said, I figure I should stop fretting and the future and get a little introspective about the past. I decided to run through memory lane and compile a list of things that I’ve learned. Some deal with tech, some deal with personal life, some deal with my career. It’s a random hodge-podge of the lessons that life served me over the past few years.

Ready for a listicle? Here ya go. As per usual, a disclaimer that these are lessons from my life experiences and told from my perspective and your mileage may vary and yadda yadda yadda.

  1. When you go to a selective private university, people will get competitive with each other. There is a competitive game over grades, internships, jobs, social circles. The best way to win these games is not to play them at all.
  2. Anyone can be smart or a good writer or a great speaker or a great coder or a great comedian. Success is about finding the combination of skills you have that make you unique and leveraging them.
  3. The harder something is, the better you will feel after doing it. Chase the endorphins!
  4. Consistency is key. No seriously, it is.
  5. Finding ways to be inspired by yourself and your dreams will get you through dark times more effectively than being inspired by other people and their dreams will.
  6. Being a good programmer is more about being able to effectively read and understand large codebases than it is about being able to write them.
  7. Despite what my mother says, being stubborn is a great attribute.
  8. Don’t say dumb shit on Twitter. That shit will haunt you forever.
  9. Falling away from friends is OK. You’re just making room for new and better ones. That being said, you actually have to go out and find and keep the people who will be good, life-long friends.
  10. Success depends on luck. You can change your luck a little bit through your own efforts, but you can never overcome the bounds of fate.
  11. Write code that you’ll feel comfortable deleting at some point.
  12. The best things in life actually aren’t free. Whoever said that was goofin’.
  13. The line between jealousy and inspiration is thin.
  14. Advice from people older than you isn’t necessarily good advice. They don’t have it all figured out.
  15. Advice from people more successful than you isn’t necessarily good advice. They don’t have it all figured out.
  16. Taking the time to upgrade your development environment with new keyboard shortcuts or plugins is a good thing to do. Don’t overdo it and spend more time learning how to use your development environment instead of actually using it.
  17. Selling products is hard. The whole “selling good products is easy” bit is totally not true. Selling products to people in a meaningful and empathetic way will always be hard.
  18. Anyone can do anything. Few people can do a particular thing well.
  19. When you’re the kind of person who does a lot of different things in different contexts, it can feel like you are leading multiple lives. This is uncomfortable but creating those partitions is good for your sanity.
  20. Many people say. Few people start. Fewer yet continue. Barely any finish.
  21. The whole “communication is the most important part of a healthy relationship” is easy advice to give but very hard advice to follow.
  22. Per #18, you’re not going to be great at everything you do. You just have to be good enough to get it done.
  23. Be wary of people who are more dedicated to sounding or looking intelligent than actually being intelligent.
  24. The answers worth finding are not easy to find. Insight and epiphany come to those who are patient, determined, and diligent.
  25. Mostly everything that is worth saying has already been said. Good writing is about finding ingenious and unique ways to say the same thing.
  26. There is a core set of concepts in science and engineering that are consistently applied in different ways across different disciplines. Figuring out what those are and applying universal concepts to fields they have not yet been introduced to is ingenious.
  27. Terrible things will happen to you. Ignoring them will not make them go away.
  28. Always keep encrypted scans of important identification papers on your phone, your laptop, and on a secure cloud.
  29. You won’t know where people’s loyalties lie until they are tested. Don’t assume that everyone has your back.
  30. Verbosity is the truest indicator of stupidity.
  31. Books over boys, chocolate over everything.
  32. Invest in self-care, but don’t let it become overindulgence.
  33. People who care about you are willing to support you through your suffering. Share it with them.
  34. Chase your grand vision, not just the opportunities that are immediately available.
  35. Give love liberally and freely.
  36. The ear is the most underutilized organ.

And that’s all I’ve got. Well, probably not. I’m sure I missed a thing or two or forgot to include something that I just innately believe.

In any case, here’s to what the next 3.66 years will bring!

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