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How MIT OpenCourseWare transformed a learner's life (mailchi.mp)
349 points by happy-go-lucky on June 8, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 69 comments

Hi everyone, Wyatt Arent here. When this article was proposed, it was unexpected and I'm still humbled. It's a privilege to have an opportunity to inspire and help as much as I can. Thanks for your time, keep kicking ass, here's to continued growth and evolution of us all

Since you successfully passed the Google interview, can you comment on how much the OCW content prepared you for it? Or did you have to supplement with other algorithm books? I believe many people would find your self-taught-no-CS-degree experience very interesting.

I replied to another user "40acres" in this thread about my process, check that out for additional details. Yes, watch videos and read books. "Tushar Roy - Coding Made Simple" on YouTube was a massive help. Some books I've read: Cracking the Coding Interview, Programming Interviews Exposed, Programming Pearls, Hacker's Delight, Mythical Man Month, Boolean Reasoning: The Logic of Boolean Equations, Understanding Linux Network Internals, Introduction to Algorithms CLRS, Return on Software: Maximizing the Return on Your Software Investment, Software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art.

I read (past and presently) a lot of business and finance books as well. Also tons of books teaching soft skills, which is hugely important.

Did you self study CLRS? Or did you have supplementary material?

is there Hacker News Gold? you just earned it

Yes, Even I want to know this too. I am an aspiring self taught developer. Can you please elaborate on the courses you specifically took, any extra books you referred to and any side projects ? I would really like to know more about your experience in detail as I feel it might help with my journey.

Totally awesome! I just have one question.

When you got blocked or felt like you hit a wall, what did you do?

Do you mean in regards to a technical issue, or a personal life issue, or something else?

Now that I think about it, both. But when I posted, more specifically to technical issues. e.g. When a concept was really foreign what did you do.

I hit a wall everyday in texts I read/do. If googling/stack exchange doesn't help I try again later or the next day. Almost everytime I am able to figure it out immediately upon the second try after sleep or X hours have past, strange how that works.

Curious about this too!

Great story.

I am also working through MIT OCW classes, currently on 6.0001 (Introduction to CS using Python).

Just a few questions: - What specific courses did you take? - Did you complete the psets and quizzes / exams to test what you learned? - Did you buy, rent, or download the suggested books? - Did you listen to all the lectures or skip around? How about recitations (where available)?

Any course that had lecture videos in the "electrical engineering and computer science" department. Patrick H. Winston is phenomenal. Also any Erik Demaine lecture, including his grad work in paper folding. Watch some lectures under the Mathematics and Physics department as well. Particularly Herbert Gross is memorable. Convert as many solutions into code as you can.

I always watch lectures speed up to 1.2x speed and watch them in order. If topics were particularly beautiful or interesting, I'll watch multiple times. If I don't get something, rewind, hear it over and over until I get it. Still don't get it? Google it. Find other explanations. Don't move on until you get it. Can't get it? Then accept the content is too advanced at this moment, and you simply need to work your way up to it. Very important to remember: don't get upset with yourself.

I did psets maybe half the time. Always took notes. Flashcards. Flashcards. Flashcards. Flashcards. Also flashcard apps too. Definitely did recitations when available. Did research on all the textbooks and read maybe half, just the ones that have been deemed "classics" and great literature. I usually purchase physical copy books or kindle.

Is there any reason that you chose MIT OCW exclusively, as opposed to other universities or MOOCs?

Also, how did you decide which psets or labs to do, and which to skip?

Well done! This is very impressive.

IMHO, curiosity and desire to learn form the basis of any good technologist career. And arguably they are very important for a happy and fulfilled life. I applaud your tenacity.

Thank you for the kind words :)


You're story is inspiring of course and I have 2 questions if I may. I've had similar issues although I have a lot of support; mostly chronic un(der)employment; substance abuse and briefly was quasi-homeless. I finally have a few waiter & landscaping gigs and a roof so def lucky AF, but now that I've ticked off the bottom few runs on Maslow's heirarchy I wou

[comment broke] ..Ld like to ask a few questions:

- What percentage of your success was hard work, what percentage aptitude and "nature" / intelligence and what percentage was luck?

- In the way people describe love as "you just know"; how sure of programming and your path were you?

- AFTER coming up from rock bottom; did you have a long term goal or simply stability and how did you manage yourself mentally to continue?

I taught myself programming, I enjoy the ability to understand technology and solve everyday issues as well as build things. I am stable; but trying to decide whether tech is a field I should pursue directly; or a component of the skillset I will need for my career. It's tough to determine if I am at a ceiling because I can't stay motivated, it isn't for me, or I am focusing on the wrong vertical (eg app Dev vs Dev ops vs project management)


Very inspiring.

I think a remarkable part of this that no one has mentioned is that the article mentioned you struggled with homelessness at least at one point. Can you talk more about your experience being homeless? Did you have difficulties finding the ability to get your basic needs met while studying? How did you support yourself? What did you take away from the experience?

Have you written about your journey from GED to Google? If you have I would be interested in reading it.

Maybe someday when I'm much older and have more to include in my story

Hey Wyatt, Congrats!

Wanted to know how long it usually takes you to get through a typical CS/Math course and how much time you spend on it a week?

Also how long does it take for you to get through the readings? Some of those books you mentioned are lengthy, especially Mathematics for Computer Science!


Could you go into some more detail about the Google interview?

For instance, was there whiteboard coding?

What position were you hired for at Google?

I cannot go into detail. However, I can tell you that reading about other people's experiences online, places like Quora, Glassdoor, etc, did help take away much of the mystery

This is awesome.

I just don't understand why we need to donate to OCW. Why can't MIT with its mega endowment fund OCW? Why do ordinary people need to donate to these mega institutions to fund things that mega endowed entities (the government, these mega universities) should be paying for. It's not like OWC is Wikipedia. OCW is associated with MIT. Seems unfair to crowdfund something and then let MIT get the brand recognition. Especially since MIT is so rich.

> (the government, [...]) should be paying for.

If someone can use OCW to advance their knowledge and opportunity in society, and then later in their career voluntarily contribute back something, that is a good model for some people.

Contrast this with the government's role in creating a vocational structure that saddles students with enormous debt right at the start of their working life. Also, the arguably opportunistic behavior of the lending market and universities and the devaluing of education via diploma mills.

> Contrast this with the government's role in creating a vocational structure that saddles students with enormous debt right at the start of their working life

And contrast that with how it was a few decades ago when the government funded universities and a summer job was enough to pay your yearly tuition.

The current loan system is an awful mess of perverse incentives. When people talk about what the government should be doing, they're not talking about the current system.

I believe a lot of endowments have only specific uses. You can't just spend as much as you want on whatever you want. It also gets buy-in from the community. Even if you can afford to run something for free, accepting donations is a great way to measure your impact.

This is true, too. But OCW really cannot cost more than several or several tens of millions of dollars per year, and MIT gets the brand recognition.

Right, but as the parent comment states, it makes sense to run it while also asking for donations.

True. I agree with you for the most part, but we can't forget that this OCW thing is something MIT never had to do. It's probably also quite a money pit, that is besides the donations, which might make adminstrators wonder why they do OCW if it's not atleast self sufficient.

You'd think MIT would be all about educating the world as its mission. But its mission is to remain elite and unattainable for the masses so that it ranks high in US News and World Report. OCW can't really be that much of a money pit considering the resources at this university's disposal.

> You'd think MIT would be all about educating the world as its mission.

Though that sounds like a great mission statement I feel MIT's core mission is probably more along the lines of giving their students a world class education and of course producing world class research from their staff. Although your mission statement fits perfectly with OCW's purpose.

> OCW can't really be that much of a money pit considering the resources at this university's disposal.

It's true it might not be that big of a money pit relative to their total resources, but I figure a money pit is still a money pit and if they are looking to cut something it is likely to be a money pit. Honestly I just hope they never cut the program. I've thoroughly enjoyed MIT OCW courses and they have prepared me for some of my university classes.

Yeah! That's why it provides an absolute ton of its courses and lecture material online for free!


Wikipedia also has a huge amount of money. I get what you're saying, but the comparison doesn't really work =P

Isn't 100% of Wikipedia's money from donations? Maybe they don't need to raise money every year, but eventually they do need people to donate. MIT doesn't, they have other sources of funding. That was the point of the comparison.

The problem with Wikipedia is that even though they're getting 10x more money than ever, their operating costs are always growing, and they're constantly increasing the amount of money they spend like a runaway train....or so I've read.

Wikipedia is part of a non-profit whose purpose is to spread free information in the world, while MIT is also (supposedly) a non-profit which takes thousands of hundreds of dollars from its students. Not sure if Wikipedia has any other sources of income, but whatever they may be, they're not even close to the potency of MIT.

Just today MIT receives anonymous unrestricted $140 million gift.


$13.2 billion dollar endowment.

Operating budget of $3.3 billion dollars.

$1.6 billion dollars in sponsored research.

I think my wallet can safely stay in my pocket.

That's what I'm saying!

Over the past six years OCW has aided in my evolution as a self educated programmer as well. I just made a donation.

If you want to donate directly here is the link:


Likewise, OCW is one of the key learning I ever had in my career. Resource crunch and lack of good professor were not a problem with the internet and online course. I took OCW algorithms and data structure course and I still remember all the data structures and algorithms being taught in the course. Not just OCW , I find Stanford edu , Berkeley, coursera and udacity really helpful. Thank you to everyone involved in making online coursework accessible. I feel indebted and thankful to this community.

6.042J (Math for CS) is pretty challenging. Anyone who worked through it have any tips when you're stuck? Maybe slightly easier problems to supplement with for practice?

Read an introduction to proofs oriented book such as Book of Proof or my personal favorite:


$150+? Holy fuck.

Hammack's Book of Proof is freely available online and has the solutions to all odd numbered exercises: http://www.people.vcu.edu/~rhammack/BookOfProof/

Yeah steep price, it was a required textbook for my intro to proofs class and I don't regret the purchase...it's one I'll be coming back to often throughout my undergrad.

Quick question: as an "new-grad" applicant with two internships AND an internal referral, my application to Google was categorically rejected on the basis that they are "no longer hiring fresh undergraduates for the Software Engineer position". No initial phone screen, just an automatic email.

Given that this self-taught dev was given an interview, would I be better off applying without listing my CS degree and just highlight professional experience, GitHib, etc and say I am "self-taught"?

What position was this for?

Maybe they have a quota of new undergrad from a specific school per year (If they assume that every school they go to has at least X% of candidates) or an overall quota.

"no longer hiring fresh undergraduates for the Software Engineer position" might only be for your school for this year.

Also most companies would consider "fresh undergraduates" people graduating soon or who graduated less than 12 months ago so you still have time.

In general you don't want to spam a company for the same position, it's good to wait for 8-12 months before re-applying, so if your desired position usually accept fresh new-grad, you might want to retry before [your graduation date + 12 months] but after at least ~8 months.

> Given that this self-taught dev was given an interview

He isn't a fresh undegraduate, check out his linkedin, he seem to have around 2 years of Dev experience, and 3 of freelance. So he probably didn't fall in the "new grad" track.

> he seem to have Dev experience [...] probably didn't fall in the "new grad" track

Good eye. Makes a lot more sense.

> What position was this for? Maybe they have a quota ...

The generalist full-time Software Engineer position. That seems likely, though the wording in the rejection email made it seem like they were permanently winding down recruitment of undergrads for that position.

Everything worked out, as I landed a solid SWE gig at a great company. It just threw me for a loop to think that having a recent graduation date would hurt my application when compared to a non-CS "self-taught" candidate. Thanks for the reply, the info you cited clarifies the situation completely.

I know at least 3 people who are starting at Google this year in new grad positions.

Maybe you just didn't make the cut?

Quite possibly. Had a mock interview with one of their senior engineers on campus who was impressed and referred me, so I was surprised at being rejected before even the initial phone screen. The rejection email mentioned a new policy of "no new grads (bachelors) for fulltime SWE".

Also possible that I was referred to a particular position which doesn't consider new grads. Do you happen to know if your acquaintances get hired on as fulltime SWE or something different(SRE, residency, etc)?

Ahhh, makes perfect sense. Someone who has the wherewithal to grind through self study is probably a pretty ideal engineer to hire, even if their education was a bit substandard. It's pretty easy to pick up in an interview if they actually learned the academic bits.

University CS courses tend to be heavy on varyingly useful theory, light on practical knowledge. Which, fine, that's like most university degrees even in the most vocational of fields.

So while this dude's "degree" might be substandard (MIT-OCW vs. MIT-MIT), I'd argue their education – at least in terms of applicability and self-direction – is equal, if not superior.

s/substandard/atypical/ Just because it isn't the norm, doesn't mean it's substandard.

It's significantly strong signal for conscientiousness, which from my understanding is highly correlated w/ certain cognitive attributes; this in combination w/ certain low agreeableness (not being influenced by the "traditional family") and apparent intellectual openness -- is good enough bet for me :)

MIT OCW has been incredible for me as well, but I always get stuck on a concept or wish I was in a structured setting. Any tools or tips that helped you along the way?

I was thinking of starting some live study circles for the next topic.

What does a "very traditional family" mean?

I think it means a conservative family, which not only does not nurture the apparent aptitude of the kid for programming, but maybe also actively prevents it from any further development; due various reasons, but probably mostly, because of their incoherent belief systems.

I've personally had been through something similar, albeit not in such radical way. My parents bought me the eastern block's Apple II clone when I was at age of 8, but despite that, later in my teenage years I had to constantly overcome various forms of pressure – i.e. this computer won't make your living when you grow up, so stop f*cking around and get more interested in your high school material, because as it goes it seems you won't be even able to finish it. We're kind of joking now w/ my parents around that, but boy - it was no fun back then.

Why does this still happen in a modern society? I understand the Eastern Bloc wasn't voluntary, but... in Virginia?

Yeah, I'm not born under such regime and haven't lived through it, but from my gatherings talking to older people – actually, the eastern block had strong emphasis on various engineering disciplines and solid tradition in computer science. This is not something political in my opinion.

Are you American? It's not that uncommon in America outside of the upper/upper-middle class, especially below the Mason–Dixon line.

Do they not offer Videos of Lectures anymore?

Most free video lectures throughout the web have been removed due to lawsuits against the institutions for not providing subtitles for the disabled.

I think you're thinking of what happened to UC Berkeley, but I'm not sure this is true of "most" lectures.

After all, many lectures already have subtitles, some lectures were produced outside the U.S. or not produced with Federal funding, some lectures were produced by institutions that may disagree with the interpretation of the law advanced in the Berkeley case, some lectures were produced by institutions that may not have been targeted with such claims, and some lectures are hosted by entities other than the institutions that produced them.

Would you know if they might still be available directly from MIT, perhaps after accepting some type of legal indemnity?

They definitely still do have videos. I use OCW quite a bit. Producing the videos, formatting, distributing, and hosting them is more expensive then going without them so sometimes they go without them.

> Do they not offer Videos of Lectures anymore?

Some courses have video lectures, some do not. OCW varies in what resources are available from course to course.

Hope he makes it at Google with only a pdf where most hold a Phd or at least a double Msc.

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