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Why Are You Here?

a man stands in the middle of a wet street looking torwards the horizon, there are cars and bulding on both sides of the street

Before I first joined University for my undergrad course, I had a clear picture in mind: I wanted to be a doctor. But not the doctor that you go to when something doesn't fill right in your body or mind. I wanted to be a Ph.D. in Computer Science. I hadn't yet realized the herculean effort and sacrifices needed to achieve such a goal. As of today, eleven years later, I'm not sure I'll ever do it. However, I did get into a Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) program.

Contrary to what most people do (based on my understanding - nothing scientific here), I didn't go straight from the undergrad course to the Master's program. Instead, I took the industry pathway and became a software engineer. Seven years later, already holding the title of "Senior Software Engineer," I decided to take one more step in my education journey and return to University.

Why are you here?

In September 2022, I got accepted and started attending the MSCS program at Northeastern University in Vancouver. In the first month of classes, while talking to a fellow student, he asked me: "Why are you here? Aren't you a senior engineer already?". This question got me off-guard. I never thought about it. Would my current industry position eliminate the need to be there whatsoever? Was I wasting my money? I had to do some thinking.

While thinking about my not-so-distant decision to return to school, I got asked the same question. Again. Three times. By three different people. So my thinking intensified, and after quite some time, I realized what I really wanted with my back-to-uni move: I wanted a reason to study complex concepts.

You might be thinking now: "Wouldn't it be cheaper to do it yourself without paying for tuition? YouTube is full of free content." Well, yeah. While you can do that, I will ask you, the reader, a question: WILL you do it? Will you actually put in the countless hours required to deep dive into theoretical and practical topics about anything without having to report to anyone about your progress on it?

If that's you and you have successfully done this, you might stop reading this article. Thanks for your time.

I'm not like that. I need the motivation, the group, the structure, and (why not) the pressure that the University will provide me with. But there's more to this equation. It's not so simple.


Have you ever heard this word? Volition. I learned it recently, and it was the word that allowed me to answer the "Why are you here?" question.

Volition, also known as will or conation, is the cognitive process by which an individual decides on and commits to a particular course of action. It is defined as purposive striving and is one of the primary human psychological functions.1

I'm back on formal education because I'm committed to learning. I want to know more. Or even better, I wish not to know less.

I was recently listening to a podcast called Naruhodo (in Brazilian-Portuguese, no English version) where the hosts Altay and Ken discussed volition. During the episode, Altay, a well-renowned Brazilian scientist and Ph.D. professor, mentioned something like: when you have a plan that has clear and simple instructions, and you commit to fulfilling this plan, with some luck, you increase your chances of doing it.

Also, during the podcast episode, they mentioned the American psychologist, philosopher, and historian Willian James. In one of Jame's books, Habit, he wrote:

The acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall reenforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelop your resolution with every aid you know. This will give your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at all.

That's it. "I am here" because I want to put myself in the conditions that encourage me to study more. With luck, it will also become a habit.

It's not that simple

As with any other human being, I get tired. Studying and working full-time is no joke. It's indeed simple to say: "I'll commit to this goal". The hard part is committing to it after you've worked 40+ hours a week and still gotta find time to read a book about the theory of relational databases or learn new topics about algorithms so that you can internalize it for an exam (but also genuinely understand it for life).

The technique that has worked for me was something I learned while swimming: swim a couple of laps, then rest. While swimming, I'm trying to maximize my effort so I can finish it fast and then enjoy some rest. I'm constantly trying to delay the gratification of resting and breathing freely, mentalizing during the lap that I'll have time to breathe soon. Then I allow myself to enjoy the resting phase too. There's no need to burn out.

I've been doing it consistently for quite some time now. I am studying, working, swimming, living, resting. I hope that the habit will take place and that not doing it will be the thing I'm afraid of.

This is my public pledge.


  1. I got this snippet from Wikipedia. I know, I know, not a 100% credible source, but that seems alright, no?