tl;dr

Hi there! Welcome to my blog and thanks for reading. I’m a robotics engineer by day and I write for free at night, so every reader means a lot to me. I like writing about African music, politics, and culture, about being a woman in STEM, about the mixed experience, and occasionally random things in my daily life which inspire me.

Here’s a list of what I consider the best of the best so far, if you want to skip all the fluff:

Posts That Did Well

Posts that run up the numbers.

A post about robots that was recommended by Medium curators.

A written (and illustrated) glossary of terms and a discussion about the mixed experience. …


On being grounded in technical work at turbulent times

(In case you’re wondering if this publication is really about how many hardware puns can I make before running out of titles, the answer is yes.)

It has been quite a week, or month, or year. It feels like everyday we must stare difficult things in the face, things that we probably knew before but didn’t have to confront head-on quite so often. Combined with the lack of distraction from socializing or other pre-pandemic pursuits, life can feel heavy, dark, relentless.

2019, in contrast, was a year that I felt a bit listless, laid off from a job and wandering, literally and figuratively, while I thought about what to do next. I traveled to Toronto, New York, Denver, New Orleans, making the rounds among friends and family and having new adventures, too. When I ultimately accepted a position, even that felt a bit transitory. I had the sense that (though I enjoyed the work and loved my team) it wasn’t quite the right fit for the long-term. I started to wonder about the field that I chose; I explored other things, like toying with writing more formally and getting involved in the music industry (stories for a different blog post). I interviewed for positions that were not strictly engineering, such as consulting and even finance. I had a lot of conversations with friends who felt a bit “done” with engineering. I remember a conversation I had with a close friend while visiting them in California just before the pandemic. …


tired, tired venting.

On the day that Joe Biden won the U.S. election, I took my car for an oil change. I felt exhausted — the election coincided with an intense time at work and troubling news left and right from my various communities.

I heard the news around 11am. I sat outside a cafe to wait as cars periodically drove by and honked their horns, in response to cheering from pedestrians and people on the street. It was warm and sunny, in November, surprising. The feeling of joy was, admittedly, infectious. …


Why do hard tech?

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Toward the end of my freshman year of college, I was faced with the difficult choice all students face — I had to choose my major.

My guiding light was that I knew that I wanted to work in robotics, but, robotics, by nature, is interdisciplinary. It was entirely conceivable that I could choose any among electrical engineering & computer science (EECS), mechanical engineering, material science, or even industrial design, and still be well prepared for a career in robotics as long as I chose the right path. In fact, before college, I took part in the MOSTEC summer program (a summer program at MIT for minority students) and I had an interest in Course 6 (EECS). I even took an intro EECS class my freshman spring rather than an intro mechanical engineering class. …


What does it mean to get paid to work on robots?

When I was in grade school, I distinctly remember not really knowing what different engineering professions looked like. By high school it became somewhat clearer, but honestly, not all that much. By sophomore year of college, I had to declare my major. I knew I liked robotics and what that meant academically, but even at that time, I didn’t really know what it meant to have a job in robotics.

I find that this is even more so the case for people whose parents had professions that are far removed from STEM. My mother has a small business doing tax and accounting, and she served a bunch of other small businesses in the Chinese community. Some people did similar work to my mom — insurance, real estate, professional services that people who didn’t always speak the best English could rely on. …


This past weekend, I went on a camping trip in Cape Cod. I’ve never actually been in the summer, oddly enough, but from what I’ve seen the Cape is still beautiful in the cold.

We finished a hike through a wildlife reservation and found a beach across from it, Marconi Beach. After grumbling about the $25 entry fee, I pulled my car into the parking lot. The lot was on a hill, so we couldn't see the ocean yet. We descended some stairs down a sand dune, and the view was breathtaking.

It's hard to put into words and the shaky video I took doesn't do it justice. The waves are big, rich, and foamy; somehow they seemed more solid and substantial than the same ocean I'd seen at Revere or Hingham, closer to Boston. It was high tide, and the sea foam was ever creeping up the shoreline, threatening to snatch away the sand beneath our feet. On the drive to the Cape I thought about how Massachusetts often feels like the worst of both worlds, especially now— neither spacious and full of natural wonders, nor home to a particularly pleasant breed of people, nor dense and vibrant enough to feel full of opportunities that outweigh its expenses. There’s a reason people call Boston a “starter city”. But at least the Cape is okay, and “okay” is as much as I can ask for at this time. …


mourning before

yesterday i went to the reflecting pool, a pool outside of a church in Boston that’s a quiet respite from the busy downtown area around it. even now, it’s still busy, but less so.

the pool had been a place i went frequently when i was a sophomore in college; that summer i was staying in an MIT fraternity nearby for cheap, and the location made it so worth it; i would walk around just taking in the city at night.

i grew up in a suburb, and life there felt as bland as white bread; i went to a high school that was not diverse in every sense of the word; beyond the core issues of race and class it felt like everyone just thought the same way; everyone wore the same clothes; 3600 people eager to conform to everyone else’s standards; you had just 8 different personalities to choose from. …


#WAP!

CONTENT WARNING: Uncensored profanity.

Obviously.

(Sorry mom.)

The video for the very explicit song “WAP” by Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion just came out, although in the video and radio edit the lyrics were changed to ‘wet and gushy’ (still pretty explicit if u ask me) rather than “wet ass pussy”, which is the title acronym.

Yeah. I know.

It reminded me of a post that’s been sitting in my drafts for a long time, and about a conversation I once had with a woman who said she didn’t really understand Cardi B. “I mean, I know she’s not for me of course”, said this person, an older white woman, and she had no problem with personas like Cardi’s simply being in the world, but she just didn’t understand the appeal or the need. I want to be clear that there’s nothing wrong with expressing that you don’t understand something, in fact I wish people would be honest and do that more. …


Lofty thoughts about life and career

There’s a meme I’ve seen pinging around social media lately, which is something along the lines of:

WHICH would you CHOOSE??
1. Re-start life at age 10 with everything you know now.
2. Skip to age 40 with $10 million in the bank

Yes, it’s standard, silly, share-bait internet content, but I found myself pretty automatically picking #2 — skip to age 40 with monetary success. It wasn’t about the money, so much, but more so that sometimes I desperately would like to be done with this part of my life. I just want to know already — did I “make it” or not? Did I succeed in having the lofty impacts on the world that I wanted to have? And if not, so be it — I will resign myself to the pleasures of everyday life, raising my probably adolescent children, going to yoga class, helping people where and when I can help them, doing my small part in whatever way I might to make the world a better place. I sometimes crave the relative certainty of a mid-life, mid-career person, the track that one is set on after making a variety of choices in their 20s and 30s related to their personal lives and careers. …


Will they take over the world? More importantly, will they put me out of a job?

Over the years, as a child who built solar-powered boats and robot arms from science kits, then as a team captain of my high school FIRST Robotics competition, as an undergraduate majoring in a Mechanical Engineering with Robotics flex degree, as an MIT Media Lab research assistant on a big (seriously, big) robotic construction platform, and finally working on DARPA robotics research and robotic applications in industry….

I have received many, many questions about robots.

Hopefully, this litany has outlined why I am qualified to explain this topic, the last qualification being, I can also write and explain things pretty well for an engineer, if I do say so myself. …

About

Selam G.

MIT grad, robotics engineer, mixed. A place I write.

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