By Christian Bader, Junior, Management Science & Engineering
Christian Bader is an avid cook and the current captain of Stanford Men’s Rugby. He enjoys surfing (enthusiastically but poorly), adores fishing for shellfish, and is a diehard fan of Chelsea FC.
Why did you choose to be an engineer?
Just wrote a blog post about it ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I never expected to end up studying engineering. Having grown up in Cascais, a small coastal town just outside of Lisbon in Portugal, I had always wanted to seek answers to the big, important questions about the world, but never been quite sure of the right path to find them. That meant that coming into college, I was lost, both in terms of navigating the US educational system where I had to decide from a seemingly endless list of potential majors, as well as simply working out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. A midlife crisis that hits when you’re only 18 is a feeling that many college students know all too well. On one of my first nights of school, I remember whining to my freshman year roommate about this indirection, after which he promptly yanked my computer from my hands and enrolled me in CS106A, Stanford’s marquee introductory programming class. “You’re doing this with me,” he said, “you’re at Stanford for crying out loud, you may as well learn how to code. We’ll work it out from there.”
Now, this isn’t a story of another student sucked into the vortex of the Stanford CS department (not to say there’s anything wrong with that). However, despite being totally out of my depth, that class got me hooked. It was my first real taste of what engineering really is – a framework for thinking that enables you to ask “why?” and always have a tangible approach to finding an answer. As I progressed through freshman and sophomore year, I came to this realization slowly but surely, acknowledging that even though I wasn’t crazy about days full of problem sets, I loved learning how to solve problems. I also found comfort in the fact that in engineering, all roads lead to Rome: the right answer can be reached in a multitude of ways ranging from a host of different disciplines – and not just to questions that might be traditionally based in engineering.
Just last night, I sat in my room with my friend Alp, having a chat. He’s an avid philosopher, and often imparts this enthusiasm onto me. The topic of honesty came up, and we started to discuss. How does our expectation of the other’s perception play into how we decide to share information; and by tailoring the message, are we somehow compromising our honesty? An interesting philosophical point of conversation, surely, but not one I would’ve previously thought I’d be able to apply class material to. Despite this, within minutes we were casting variables for clarity of information conveyed, degrees of perceived truths, and trying to quantify manipulation, among other things. 1, 111, 135, 51, 103 had fast turned from arbitrary course numbers to platforms in our analysis of truth. After about 6 pages of frantic scribbling, we reached our eureka moment (or at least what we thought was one at the time). We had come to a sound philosophical answer, underlined by a framework rooted in engineering principles I had learned during my time at Stanford. We celebrated with a quick Syrtaki while my roommate watched us in bewilderment before heading off to bed. In the morning, when I woke up, I reviewed the frantic scribbling and, while most of it seemed like nonsense at first, upon further inspection I realized the math was sound. Incomplete and by no means formal, but sound nonetheless. The satisfaction coursing through my body was short-lived, as I was immediately met with another question about the matter, and the only thing I wanted to so was seek an answer to this next why. Thankfully, my engineering background paired with this experience gave me great confidence that I was well placed to find it.
I suppose the conclusion to this long-winded account of my introduction to engineering is that it has taught me how to think. Crucially, it has provided me with a toolkit that enables me to tackle problems that I would have never previously thought to be formally approachable. For that I am grateful, and I look forward to continue learning and seeking new ways to approach the next “why?” that I come across.