They’re called weed-out classes. The classes in every major designed to weed-out the pretenders, the students who can’t hack it, the ones who just don’t have what it takes.
They usually come around the third year…just when you think you’re pretty good at this stuff, and after you’ve committed two-plus years of your life to this major.
There were a couple of doozies in my major, Computer Information Systems. But, none compared to CIS 324—Database Programming. On the first day of class, Dr. Stumpf said he wouldn’t be surprised if we’d be in the computer lab 40-60 hours per week, just to complete the four main programming projects. We’d also have a mid-term and a final that covered all the database theory we were supposed to be learning while completing the projects.
To make things tougher, each project picked up where the last one left off. So, if you stumbled on the first project, you were setting yourself up for a potentially unrecoverable torture test in the second, third, and fourth projects.
It didn’t matter that you had other classes, or that you had a life that included working 30-40 hours per week. This was CIS 324. The weed-out class.
There were 26 of us in class that first day. I remember the number because two people wanted to add the class, and Dr. Stumpf was concerned because we only had 24 chairs in the classroom. That wouldn’t be a problem for long.
Five weeks and two projects later, there were 18 of us in class. The others had dropped.
Seven weeks and three projects later, we were down to 11. This was long before Survivor, but students voted themselves off the island nearly every week.
Dr. Stumpf took it all in stride. This type of attrition was normal. The students who didn’t make it would try again next quarter, or they’d re-evaluate their choice of major and never be back.
In the tenth week as we handed-in our last project and prepared to take the final exam, there were only 9 of us. By now, we knew each other well. We had spent many hours together in one of the computer labs (this was a bit before the days when you could use your PC to connect remotely). We were in every class, pulling for each other.
We were part of this small band of students about to make it through Dr. Stumpf’s CIS 324 class.
Looking back at those ten weeks, I don’t remember much detail about the projects. I remember the long nights in the computer lab, the endless diagrams, and lines of code. There was an amazing vending machine just outside the lab that dispensed ice cream bars for 30 cents apiece. I lived on ice cream bars and Mountain Dew that quarter.
I remember coming to each class, especially on the days our projects were due, wondering who’d be there and who’d be gone. I remember Dr. Stumpf congratulating each of us when we handed in our final exams on the last day of class.
Since CIS 324, I’ve faced lots of “weed-out” tests, whether I knew it or not. I’ve taken on projects that were way over my head. I’ve asked myself to deliver “the impossible” more than a few times.
Were these real-life weed-out situations harder than my CIS 324 experience? Definitely. And, many lasted a lot longer than ten weeks.
But, the experience of overcoming my first weed-out test made it easier to pass the next one. And, passing the second weed-out made it easier to pass the third.
Overcoming all these weed-out tests had five things in common:
- If I focused on the ultimate and final deliverable on the first day, I would have given up. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. It’s the same with overwhelming challenges. Break them down to their next indicated step and take that step with confidence and an open mind. That will lead to the next step…
- It’s easy to feel alone in these weed-out tests. But, I was never alone, even when it felt that way. I found allies, sounding boards, mentors, people willing to join my cause, people I could trust. These people made all the difference.
- Related to the above: Never forget the people who helped when you needed it most. Make sure they know how grateful you are for their help. Be there for them. They’re facing weed-out tests of their own and can use your help.
- No matter how unique you think your weed-out situation is, it isn’t. Someone else has probably faced a similar challenge and lived to tell about it. Take the time to review what others have learned and apply it to the test you’re facing.
- Don’t let your success on this test go to your head. Sure, it’s a great achievement. Have a nice dinner to celebrate. Enjoy the accomplishment. But, stay humble. Humility is the foundation for overcoming your next big, scary weed-out test.
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”
When we take the time to temper that strength with humility, we’re preparing ourselves to take on the next weed-out challenge that’s surely coming our way.