Language

I didn’t want to be a translator, I wanted to be an artist a poet.

At a young age I picked up on an intuition for circuits.

I would take apart remote control cars and test out smaller sub-systems. How did the motors turn? Oh there’s this thing called a battery? And if I switch the wires on the battery the motors turn the other way? Hmm the lights in the house shutdown when I stick two paperclips into a socket, am I in trouble (Wut, I didn’t do that did I)? MOOOOOOM!!!!

It was like a second language I had created myself for circuits. Classical physics words like conductor, ground, EMF meant very little to me, because see this language wasn’t in words. It was an abstract representation of the concept of electronics itself. I would look at any moderate electronic circuit and know how to “Tap in”. If I put a relay or a transistor between two components I could cause the circuit to behave in a certain way.

It was almost as though I was having an elementary conversation with the circuit itself. I would just know what to do to make a circuit behave the way I wanted it to.

And the actual hardest part?

Surprisingly, communicating what I was actually doing to other people in a way that made sense to them. It sounds weird but talking to people about electronics through a medium of EE and mathematics and especially English was just much harder than talking to the electronics directly. I didn’t want to be a translator, I wanted to be an artist a poet and it was hard for me to do that when I had to convert all my thoughts into English first.

Consequently, it would seem to other people as though I would just make things work, and whenever they asked me to explain it to them I’d sound like a bumbling baboon. To them it was almost as though I’d just keep getting lucky and they couldn’t explain it. (Now I’m much better at this though)

This in-fact made finding a job quite difficult. I’d do poorly on the interviews compared to my ability, but after starting the job I’d over-produce compared to the interview because I simply was speaking a different language then they were. It was much easier to communicate in the medium of my work than the abstract concept of my potential work. As Yoda famously points out, “Do. Or do not. There is no try”

I knew my last year of uni what that language was. I was an undergrad mechanical engineering student who hadn’t taken a single course in embedded systems. I was confident though that I could build and code a quadcopter from scratch. And that exactly what I did using embedded C++, bit-shifts and interrupts my last year at university.

It came naturally to me, and being in mechanical engineering my professors and TA’s had no meaningful questions for me during the weekly check-ins. It was simply over their heads. I wasn’t under any intellectual pressure, I was just expressing myself as an artist. And when I needed to chat with experts (which I deeply regret never actually doing during the course of this project) I was free to walk up to the EE and CS professors/TAs with no strings attached.

I intuitively derived PID control without really understanding the math and coded it. It took a while to get the latency down from 250ms to 4ms per update, but it actually worked.

And here’s the crazy part, if you actually taught me the formula for PID in a class setting and told me to code it I wouldn’t have been able to. I probably would have felt overwhelmed, and honestly given up. It was because I derived it myself that I was able to get it flying.

Formal education gives people a common vocabulary to converse in so that they can build on top of their ideas and theories. There’s an associated overhead, however, that the vocabulary chosen by that field might not be the language that you best communicate in, and you have to be aware of that.

English and many other languages are an inefficient medium to express most ideas in. Just because someone doesn’t sound smart doesn’t mean they aren’t capable, and the converse is true. You’ve got to hone your signals and yourself to really just know what you’re good at.

Our paradigms of language have to change. Many of us are polyglots and are simply unaware of it, for languages in medicine, physics, music, dancing, computer science, electronics and many more fields.

So maybe, try to practice those other languages and don’t worry about others perceptions right now.

Who knows? You may just surprise yourself.

--

--

Learning is Misunderstood — Opinions are my own.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store