So the original topic for this was “Earliest geek experience”. I really couldn’t identify with that one, so I’m going to do something completely different. I’m sorry if this one’s a bit heavy, but it needs to be written.

I’d like to tell you about one of the worst times in my life. The year was 2006 — it was early January (early enough that I was still coming to terms with the fact that it was 2006…). The last term of school in 2005 was fantastic — I’d had one of my most successful periods academically, was successful in programming competitions, and I had a number of excellent friends who I shared many interests and experiences with. In the new year, that changed. I had a massive falling out with a very good friend, which caused me to question every aspect of the identity that I had built up over the past few years. I became unsure of personality traits, which I though were an important part of who I was, and which I thought were endearing to those around me. I questioned my interests in life. I questioned the validity of every relationship I had come to value over those late years of my schooling.

It is one of two times in my life that I had seriously felt suicidal. I guess this is one of the inevitable results of constantly questioning one’s identity. With each aspect of my personality that I felt needed to be changed to be worthwhile to people, I questioned the effort that would be needed to make that change. Thought after thought permeated my brain, and the weight of it all brought me to the conclusion that faced with the mounting “evidence” (in that state of mind, burden of proof is extremely low) that it probably wasn’t worthwhile to make such changes. At the end of it all, and after all of the changes that I would have to make, the person that I would have had to have been would have been unrecognisable to the person that I was then.

I still have no idea why I survived that week.

I made it through to the Sunday of that week, and was welcomed with open arms onto a flight to Sydney to attend that year’s National Computer Science School. It was during that week I properly discovered Python for the first time — it’s since become my favourite programming language. More so than that, it was a week of hanging around with geeks from all around Australia (and one from New Zealand), each of whom had different areas of interest and inclinations, and each had different skill sets. The tutors were smart uni students apparently studying interesting thing. The week gave me an insight in what it meant to be involved with IT and Computer Science. By the end of the week, I’d made heaps of friends (some of whom I still keep in contact with) who I shared interests and abilities with, and it was a fantastic revelation that there could be so many people around the country who I could just talk geek with. By the end of the week, things had resolved themselves back home — I’d forgiven and forgotten whatever it was that caused my friend and I to fall out, and I had a renewed drive to be awesome with my life.

I have no doubt, however, that I was saved by that week at NCSS. I’ve never had severe depression since, and I’ve been proud of my identity as a computer science-loving geek ever since.

Two years later I returned, this time as a tutor of the group that I had taken part in two years earlier — partly because I wanted to pay back a debt, and partly because I really really wanted to. Returning in 2008 led to me forming even more lasting friendships with people, not only tutors but students as well. I communicate with many of them every day, in one way or another. It’s where I first saw a Google office and decided that I really really wanted to become an intern there. Just afterwards I attended my first LCA in Melbourne, and have found, both there and in other geeky circles around the country, that my ties with NCSS are shared with geeks around the country — the line “I saw the girl on the hill with the telescope” is a wonderful calling card (if you ever hear James Curran lecture you’ll know what I mean by that).

So thanks to James, Tara and Michael (and everyone else from that week in 2006, you are too numerous to mention) — you have made something to be truly proud of… You may even have saved a life 😉