Teaching the Joys of Failing

June 20th, 2016

Hello, old friend. It’s been a while. Sorry I haven’t updated you in so long. Quite a bit has happened in this past year that I’ve been away. I just never found the time or energy to write. But I’m back now, at least for the time being, and I have something I want to fill you in on.

This past week I had the privilege of being a camp counselor for Code Longhorn; a week-long conference for rising high school juniors and seniors who are interested in computer science. There were a total of twelve counselors, each working in pairs, and sixty students. As camp counselor I was expected to keep watch over a group of ten students to make sure they didn’t escape leave their holding cell dorm room past curfew hours and to accompany them throughout the day so that students weren’t wandering alone. I was also expected to help during labs each day, to answer questions that came up as students worked on their coding tutorial and robots.

To be honest, I didn’t expect much when I applied for the role. I only heard about it a couple weeks before the start date because of a last-minute need for more helpers. I didn’t have any plans so I figured I might as well offer to help – something to do in my spare time. Little did I know that this week would turn out to be one of the best I’ve had in a long time.

I really don’t know how to describe this past week. I think my favorite part of the whole experience was when the campers were in the lab. As great as it felt to be in a position where I could answer questions and help teach, I actually enjoyed the moments where I wasn’t helping so much more. Towards the end of camp, all the campers signed cards for the counselors and I think this one note in particular sums it up best, “Thanks for making me laugh at my own failures because you’d laugh. You’re always going to be laughing, so I’ll get over failure”. For those that aren’t familiar, programming can be infuriating at times … almost all the time, actually. Sometimes your code just does not work and you don’t know why.

For me, two of the most important traits for a programmer are perseverance and lightheartedness. So when I wasn’t specifically being asked for help, I made it a point to just poke fun at everyone and their work instead. Haha it was actually pretty funny because the instructor called me out and said, “You know they didn’t sign up to be heckled by you, right?” But the great thing about it was that it seemed like that’s exactly what everyone had signed up for. The first couple times the teams wandered over to test their bots they looked so defeated when it did something they weren’t expecting. The more I joked, however, the more everyone seemed to ease up and made testing more of a game.

Every time teams came over they were excited and ready to put me in my place, just so ready to prove me wrong where they believed I was expecting them to fail. I obviously wasn’t, and I’m sure they knew, but it was so much more fun to all act as if that was the case. One of the teams I was assigned especially loved to prove me wrong. Which meant I enjoyed it that much more when they did. I even set up what everyone knew was a near impossible task for their bots and even then they persisted. It was great because I knew this wouldn’t have worked without the right mindset.

These campers could have easily given up at any point and just called it quits. They could have gotten annoyed, stopped trying to improve, and just played games on the computer. What made this whole thing so great for me was that they chose to continue. They chose to accept the challenge and to find joy in this, all too often, frustrating task called coding.

I enjoyed myself so much this past week. Not just the times I spent bothering the campers, but also just hanging out with them, and the other counselors. There were several moments where I found my face hurting from laughing so much. I don’t know that there’s really any lesson that I took away from this camp, maybe just reassurance to keep living life the way I have been. It seems like these past four years of learning and growing paid out in full in this one week.

2 thoughts on “Teaching the Joys of Failing

    1. What? Nonsense! I just happened to discover a tray of cookies in the hallway and took it upon myself to stand guard and send campers back to their rooms whenever they popped up.

      Haha note to self: Campers can’t be trusted.

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