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Show HN: UChicago admissions asked me to find Waldo. I did. (github.com)
149 points by superuser2 1844 days ago | hide | past | web | 57 comments | favorite

This is neat! Best of luck to you!

Here is a thought: one of your goals with this essay is to write it as a "counselor-friendly essay". Do you feel like it is as friendly as it could be?

I think there is tremendous value in being able to explain technical concepts to non-technical people, and a skill that is worth practicing. Iterate on this essay! Or write more of them! How would you "tell a story" while conveying this information? Is that even possible? Or even worthwhile? Tinker with it.

The one thing I really liked about your essay was the end: "To reliably solve this sort of problem, I’m told, I’d want to [use fancy computer science terminology]. So, UChicago, shall we revisit this question in CMSC 35400 (Machine Learning) or CMSC 35500 (Computer Vision)?" It ties this back to your own personal goals and how they mesh with the university.

Great stuff.

I'd say this is counsellor friendly. One of the most impressive things was that he was willing to acknowledge sources - basically he gave credit where it was due. This doesn't take away from his essay, instead it shows that he can use existing ideas in an original way.

I hope he gets accepted! I tip my hat to the author.

I'm a UoC comp sci alumnus working at silicon valley startups since graduation in '08. Though a fantastic place in many ways, it's not one to encourage actually building stuff. If you're a hacker who loves to see code run and solve real world problems you may be frustrated at the UoC. I was :) on the other hand, if you go through with their BS degree in CS then you will have learnt a lot of fascinating theory.

Best of luck my friend! And ping me at marcuswestin@gmail.com to say hi or if you have any questions. Cheers :)

Indeed, the department has changed a bit recently, and the student hacker community is thriving. Theory is still strong, but I would like to add to bwaldrep's point by noting that a few classes are (now) dominated by actually building stuff: in Networks, students build an IRC server, a stripped-down TCP stack, and a rudimentary IP router from scratch; in Operating Systems, students fill in some of the interesting parts of threading, virtual memory, user programs (i.e. implementing system calls), and file system access in the Pintos educational kernel; in Databases, students build a stripped down SQLite-alike database library.

That doesn't necessarily discount your point about frustration, but my impression is that the situation has 'improved' (I'm not one to make normative claims though). In any case, as a math-disinclined hacker, I've been very happy with the courses I've taken.

Aside: I encourage you to drop by a hack night and see what's going on if you find yourself in Chicago on a Friday evening. We love having alums visit and talk about what they are doing!

> If you're a hacker who loves to see code run and solve real world problems you may be frustrated at the UoC

I graduated from the U of C in '97. Did the startup thing for a while, then went on to Yahoo & Google. In my early career, I used to lament the fact that the U of C hadn't taught me various "practical" things. I was shocked the first time I heard a coworker mentioned they had a class on just a programming language.

Eventually, I grew to appreciate that those "practical" things both change & are relatively easy to learn on your own. Whereas an academic environment is a much easier place to learn things like theory.

Not to say they need to be mutually exclusive, just to say there is value in the emphasis on theory.

All that said, and as much as I love the U of C, I'd tell a high school kid interest in Comp Sci to go to Stanford, U of I, or CMU.

UofC fourth-year CS major here. While the department is still heavily focused on theory, over the last three years it has greatly improved its offerings as far as practical hacking goes. In the last two years alone several new systems faculty have been hired and the student hacker rso has grown dramatically. http://hack.uchicago.edu

I "prospied" last weekend and the professor I met at Hack Night said that the systems side of the department has a stronger focus in that area, though he may be in the minority there. The theory side is interesting as well, though I don't want to get too far away from reality.

Thanks so much! This is why I love HN. I will definitely be in touch.

Now I regret missing hack night last week! I hope you got to meet some of our outstanding crew. Sounds like you talked to Borja. I had the good fortune to meet him when I visited and probably wouldn't have even bothered with a 4 year college if I hadn't. Here's hoping your essay does the trick! Shoot me an email if you want to discuss UChicago: mvz@mvz.so

I got my degree in a non-CS engineering field. As a working programmer I never regretted not having classes where I built stuff. Always did regret hitting a problem where I knew there was an applicable theoretical framework that I hadn't been exposed to in school.

Awesome. And I feel for this guy, knowing what the next four years is going to be like for him. Sitting in classes listening to an instructor spend a whole week explaining how a "for" loop works to students who for the most part won't be able to successfully write their own "for" loop by the time they graduate (with a 3.5 GPA in CS).

I wish there was a degree path in "software" rather than "computer science", since that's what a kid like this needs. Turning algorithms into code is clearly solved for him. But I bet a few years of turning "nothing" into "shipping software" would be a lot more useful (or at least a lot less of a waste of time).

> Sitting in classes listening to an instructor spend a whole week explaining how a "for" loop works to students who for the most part won't be able to successfully write their own "for" loop by the time they graduate (with a 3.5 GPA in CS).

That may be true at some places, but certainly not in the intro curriculum at the UofC. The intro course for majors with no background uses the Scheme-based How to Design Programs curriculum, which doesn't even _have_ a for loop :-)

The honors intro, which I assume this student would enroll in, is a quite challenging curriculum, expecting students to learn scheme, haskell, perl, bash, and some basic parsing tools over the course of a quarter. And do reasonable things with them.

So, while I'm certainly biased as a grad student here at the UofC, I could promise the student they won't be getting slowly spoon-fed language features. Even if they took the intro CS curriculum for non-majors in the sciences.

It is difficult to say this without sounding arrogant but my god did I suffer during my college years because of this.

Every class, every project, every assignment I felt damn I already know all this.

It also makes team work a torture. I didn't want to ruin other people's experience by being the know it all guy. So I just avoided teamwork as much as I could because pretending that I'm challenged by the question/project got even more depressing.

Having to pay thousands of dollars for it makes it even harder (I simply had to do it as I'm not a citizen). I'd think man there's so much more that I could do with this money I'm paying for something I already know.

That's not to say I think I know a lot, in fact I think I know very little but just that the college wasn't providing anything new for me (and yes it was one of the top ones).

I'm learning more by reading books and posts on the internet, hacker news, etc... and by doing actual work in the industry.

Uni is not just about the lessons. And you can always skip those lessons, or do other work in it.

Although there should be a way to skip the intro courses. But stuff does get interesting later, I got to write a compiler, write the same program in 4 different languages, learn how a CPU works and is designed, program in COBOL, functional languages and write software to interact with hardware. I would never have done that without Uni.

I'm in the UK and did a degree in software engineering which was pretty light on comp sci theory, but still had the similar pain of sitting through basic programming structure lectures for almost 2 years before hitting any kind of complicated software problems.

I can relate. I'm also from the UK and in the final year of my comp-sci based degree took a module titled 'Web Application Development'. Cool - we're going to be building a web app, I thought. Wrong - it was an introduction to HTML, CSS, and javascript. We didn't even have to make anything, just write snippets. In the final year for fuck's sake. What a waste of £20k.

Ah, mine wasn't so bad, my second year 'browser based applications' module involved creating open data mashups with jQuery, and a third year module in 'architectures and frameworks' used Groovy on Grails, so we did get into some pretty good modern stuff eventually.

Just as a mechanical engineering degree requires a lot of physics classes, a software engineering degree would require a lot of computer science classes. There would still need to be intro courses; he has demonstrated he could probably skip them.

I'm not sure what your "turning algorithms into code" comment means. If you're trying to say that he should skip the beginner courses, then sure. But I don't see how that relates to software engineering versus computer science.

Even if there were separate software engineering and computer science tracks, you can't say which one the author should be in. That depends on what he wants to do after college: be a professional software developer, or do computer science research?

I'm sitting in a intro web development class at my university. We're learning C# and basic HTML/CSS. I didn't know when our exam was, and I showed up one day and got a 100%. Intro programming classes are a waste of time for someone who knows how to code.

Then why are you in it? Is it a prereq for higher courses? Can you test out of it?

This is very impressive. However, I think the essay was poorly written. The point of the essay is not just to highlight your talents, but also to present yourself in a coherent manner. I feel like you focused a lot on the coding aspect and half-cooked the writing, which happens all too often in this industry. Nevertheless, good job on the project; you got an early start on a bright future.

I disagree. I'd estimate his writing skills are in the 95%+ percentile for 17/18 year olds.

In the last 5-7 years, the English curriculum in US schools has changed significantly in an effort to improve NCLB reading scores. One part of the curriculum that had to get trimmed down was writing composition.

These days, unless you were home schooled or attended grades 9-12 at a quality private school, you probably won't be taught how to write a proper essay until college.

Keep in mind that the University of Chicago is considered roughly a top 10 university (tied for 4th, if US News is to be trusted, which of course it should not). The 25th percentile of admitted students is at the 95th percentile of SAT scores. Rest assured, 80%+ of people who are admitted into the University of Chicago know how to write a decent essay (the other 20% allowing for athletes and development cases).

That being said, I don't find anything wrong with his writing, especially since he is writing a short technical explanation rather than a reflective memoir.

>the other 20% allowing for athletes and development cases

Chicago is not known for letting people in because they are athletes...

>80%+ of people who are admitted into the University of Chicago know how to write a decent essay

Actually, as an '06 U of C grad, I was a little bit shocked at how poorly the majority of the first years wrote. I say this without praising my own writing abilities as necessarily better. If the students represent some of the best in the country (they probably do), it doesn't say anything positive about writing eduction in the country.

True that UoC does not give very much of a boost to recruited athletes. Nonetheless, that 20% estimate would account for borderline legacies, development cases (parents donated), and possibly affirmative action admits (the data is mixed on this).

As for the second point, obviously your experience is purely anecdotal, which is hard to refute (other than dismissing it as anecdotal). I suspect that this opinion might be biased by our tendency to view things relatively rather than objectively - someone in the 75th percentile would see that most first years write poorly compared to him/herself, and thus might conclude that most first years are poor writers in general, when objectively that is not the case.

True, it wasn't a great piece of writing. I was going for clarity and the ability to communicate technical ideas to nontechnical people rather than style. The other two essays in the application are much more personable and higher-quality prose.

Best o luck. I tried something similar with Stanford, submitting some APL code and a detailed explanation... didn't work that well.

I love the U of C, great school but not necessarily an easy place to go to school. The CS people are one of the few bastions of SML among CS depts.

Bump for the _balls_ to do this AND for opening it up for everyone to review (usually good preconditions for a good foss developer).

Good job! Piece of advice from someone already at uni, you should write your reports in LaTeX.

I've been doing it for a couple of years now and I'm amazed how often professors complement the layout, structure and readability. Of course, the actual content matters to... But in fact, for a report written using LaTeX vs. Microsoft Word, in my experience the LaTeX version would certainly receive a higher grade.

Question, can essays contain pictures and diagrams? This seems like one of those pitfalls like using profanity to stress your awesomeness in a job application cover letter while everything else tells you not to.

It was explicitly allowed by a question last year, though this year's supplement is silent on that issue. So maybe not, and I wouldn't pull that at an institution with a different culture, but all 6 questions are curveballs and clearly designed to encourage creativity. I don't think they'll mind.

If you don't get a full ride at school I'd recommend that you go straight into industry. It seems that you've already got enough skill to get hired, and once you do that you'll get paid to learn on the job.

I'd recommend taking this advice with a grain of salt. OP is clearly talented, and a U of C degree will pay huge dividends down the line. There are lots of great jobs closed to people without a top-notch degree on their resume. Though balancing debt for college is always something that should be kept in mind.

Waitaminute, Supplement to the Common Application? Oh, Chicago, how you have strayed!

There was a trend of renewed lamentations over the "de-weirding" of UChicago following the Common App switch, but they seem to have fallen off after 4 years...

i'm sure many enterprising young applicants used the same essay for both the common and (un)common apps.

Parent was lamenting Chicago's decline into "common" status.

As a parent of a kid who is currently undergoing this "torture" of the admissions process [1], I beg to differ. The Common Application is definitely one of the ways the pain is alleviated. I wouldn't want to imagine the times when every college/university had their own application format.

Every institution that uses the Common App also has their own supplement and I have seen them very varied in complexity: from simple one-page form with no additional essays to much more involved ones with three essays. The supplement is now the place where the institution can show how "special" they are and how rigorous their admissions process is.

I wish all colleges went the Common App route.

[1] I didn't go to college in the United States, so I didn't really have any idea how complex this process is until now.

Very cool, and something that probably will impress admissions officers, though I think it's generally not a good idea to publicly publish admissions essays until after the deadline.

I applied early action before publishing, and the deadline will pass in a few minutes.

FYI: your essay is giving me an access denied error:

      <Message>Access Denied</Message>

Fixed, thanks.

Not fixed for me. And presumably for anyone else, either.

Would you mind trying again? I did "Grantee: Everyone" but forget to check the Open/Download box in the S3 console. Looks like it's working now, but famous last words, etc.

It works for me, so it's publicly accessible now.

Went to U of C ... Interviewed prospective students ... all that.

And, frankly: this essay knocks it out of the park. My essay (which, I'm convinced, got me into the school) was similarly off the wall.

Remember that the point of a response like this ... in addition to being well-reasoned, thought-out, and written ... is to leave a unique impression in the reader's mind ... one where, after they've read a gazillion apps that day, makes them say "admit the waldo programming kid!"

FYI, you made typo on "Boltzmann" in the essay.

Edit: looks like you already submitted the essay. Oh well. Good luck :)

Yep, thanks. Nothing I can do about it now :(. Actually caught that one while editing, but "fixed" it incorrectly. The public version is correct now, though.

Please keep us posted with whether you're successful, superuser2! The essay is fairly transparent but points to an interesting tradeoff between counselor and professor when it comes to the question of whether it is accepted.

The admissions counselors should be very impressed with what you've done. I know I'm impressed.

Of course, someone with your amount of skill and drive will be successful no matter where you go to school.

Good job! Wish I'd thought of this when I was applying for college


Related video: Werner Herzog reads "Where's Waldo", it's a really chilling story! http://youtu.be/EvWh6PMi9Ek

So you wrote the Waldo essay, eh? I wrote the present essay. Good luck to you, and good luck to us all.

Well now my essay feels inadequate...

But seriously though, good job, and best of luck!

I wish I was this competent at that age.

Correction: I have.


It really isn't novel, and it's certainly not elegant. This is an admissions essay, not a masters thesis. I'm not asking for a degree; I'm asking to be recognized as having potential.

OP is likely in high school, give him/her a break. Better than anything I produced at that age.

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