OSSU blog #2 - the math prerequisites

This is post #2 in a series I'm writing as I go through the OSSU curriculum. Read post #1 if you want to know more about why I'm going through OSSU and blogging about it.

I forgot a lot of math

The first thing I did for OSSU (other than the "learning how to learn" stuff - see blog post #1) was tackle the math prerequisites. I considered "passing" to be when I could do the course challenges in Khan Academy and score at least 80%. It took me ~13 weeks to get this done.

My updated OSSU course tracker

As you can see in the screenshot above, I greatly underestimated how long it would take for me to complete the math prerequisites. The estimated finish date was based on how quickly I was progressing through Arithmetic, Geometry, and Pre-algebra in Khan Academy, which in hindsight was a silly thing to do. My progress got much slower as I got about halfway through High School Math 2, and High School Math 3 alone took me 6 weeks to complete.

The most frustrating part of High School Math 2 and 3 was that I had forgotten just enough from high school that I needed to review most sections in their entirety, but everything was pretty easy after I relearned it. When I graduated high school (over ten years ago) I had done enough math to pass the AP exam for Calc 2, so sitting through videos and working practice problems about the side-angle-side theorem and converting radians to degrees was pretty boring - but I had legitimately forgotten how to do that stuff, so it was necessary.

I probably could have skipped more sections than I did, but this would have contradicted my goal of learning computer science well. If math is important in computer science (and it is), I want to make sure my foundation is rock solid. I even went as far as making Anki cards for some of the formulas and concepts as I was relearning them, just to make sure they really stuck.

I have already benefitted professionally from OSSU

I recently had to do a deep dive into some technical indicators involved in our financial trading systems at SEM (where I work). This involved figuring out the inner workings of a fairly custom exponential moving average function and then reinplementing it myself.

I happened to be working through summations and series in Khan Academy at the exact same time, which was perfect timing. I can say, without a doubt, that revisiting those math concepts helped me complete the task faster and with far more confidence.

Study habits and routine

I had a section in post #1 called How am I going to tackle the curriculum? Long story short, I planned to:

  1. Study a minimum of 15 hours every week
  2. Work through one course at a time, and definitely no more than two at a time.
  3. Actively participate in the Discord community.  

It's been about 6 weeks since the last OSSU blog post. Here's how things have worked out since then:

15 hours/week

I was really good about this at first. My wife and I are usually pretty intentional about planning our lives each week - we sit down with our calendar, our list of activities, things we want to accomplish, etc and schedule all of it - including blocking out chunks of time for me to study without any interruptions. I was also exercising regularly, getting up in the morning and taking cold showers, and trying to get 8 hours of sleep every night.

At some point in September, my wife and I both got sick at the same time. It lasted for a few days and needless to say - especially with young kids in the house - it was a rough week. As you might expect, it also totally upended our routines. After we got better, it was hard to jump back into how things were before. I should have anticipated this and prepared for it, but even after getting better I didn't resume my exercise routines, I stopped making sure I was going to bed on time, and I was lax about completing my daily tasks. To nobody's surprise, this affected my ability to wake up early, my energy levels, and my motivation. I didn't completely stop working on OSSU (or the other things in my life), but my general level of productivity was far lower than before we got sick. I think there were 4 straight weeks where I did not hit 15 hours of studying, which certainly played a part in why High School Math 3 took me six weeks to complete.    

I'm pretty much back on track now, and I'm also done slogging through the math prerequisites - so I'm expecting the next month to be much more productive.

One course at a time

I had no issues sticking with this, with one minor exception: in late August I was feeling a little burnt out on the math prerequisites. This is something I anticipated, and as I talked about in OSSU post #1 the solution was to do two courses in parallel so that I could bounce between them when I was feeling unmotivated. With this in mind, I started the How to Code: Simple Data course on EdX.

Shortly afterward, I regained my motivation for math and switched back to concentrating on the math prerequisite courses exclusively. However, the audit track for the EdX course (i.e., the option that allows you to take the course for free) expires after a certain amount of time. With some courses you can just re-enroll after the expiration date, but with other courses you can't regain access unless you pay for the verified track. This course was the latter.

My solution was to create a second EdX account using plus addressing and enroll in the course under that account. If you don't know what plus addressing is, a quick explanation is: if you have an email account [email protected], you can add a + and an arbitrary string after your username but email will still be delivered to the same inbox. In other words, I could sign up to EdX a second time with the address [email protected] because EdX considers it a different email address than [email protected], but any email sent to the plus address variation will go to the exact same inbox. I essentually created two different EdX accounts that are both tied to the same email account.

Actively participate in the Discord community

I was pretty consistent with this, though the "UTC Night" cohort was smaller than I expected. I had an audio call with one member the first week I joined, but the cohort has done text check-ins since then. I also try to check in daily on the channels for whichever course I'm currently working on, but I haven't found a lot of opportunity to say something useful or ask a good question yet. I'm guessing this will change as I move into the "proper" OSSU curriculum now that I'm done with the math prerequisites.

That's all I've got for this update. I still plan to blog about once per month, so look for update #3 some time in November. Thanks for reading!

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