If the title doesn’t make any sense — just hear me out.

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In recent years, I’ve been really happy to see the positive, accommodating attitude toward Muslims observing Ramadan from their non-Muslim counterparts. If you’re Muslim, hopefully you have experienced what I am talking about. More university and company policies have explicitly acknowledged Ramadan, and many individuals have even made public statements and posts encouraging compassion and understanding toward their Muslim peers.

For anyone not familiar with Ramadan, here’s a quick rundown: for one month each year (which is currently happening), Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset. In other words, no food or drink (no, not even water) during daylight hours.

But here’s to trying to find a silver lining in all the anger and bitterness.

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Recently, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the last time I was out with a group of my friends in a setting that could be considered “normal” (no masks, no social distancing, no global pandemic hanging over our heads). It was just over one year ago, when news of the virus in the U.S. was merely starting to spread.

We were out for dinner, and one of my friends mentioned his parents were nervous about his being out because of the recent news. I’ll never forget what happened next. Another friend and I — ensconced in our naive, pre-pandemic…

“Don’t apply to PhD programs in ML. It’s just too competitive.”

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As far as Silicon Valley goes, “machine learning” has become the buzzword of the day. From first-year computer science students to industry professionals, people across tech are fascinated by its possibilities.

I’ve seen this obsession firsthand at UC Berkeley, where I’m finishing my Bachelor’s in Applied Math. Students who have little interest in pursuing ML take CS 189, Berkeley’s grueling introductory course to the topic, torturing themselves for no clear reason other than the belief that it is somehow necessary for a chance at a job in tech.

I also fell under this spell, convinced that the end goal of…

What we can learn from an unprecedented four months of teaching.

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At the start of this semester, I wrote an article describing four essential tips to know if you were teaching a course in the fall. For context, it may help to read that article first, as I will continually refer to it. With the semester now coming to a close, I want to take a moment to reflect on the points I raised and revise my original thoughts. My goal in reflecting is to understand the common pitfalls that instructors fell into this past semester, particularly those which resulted in a less-than-stellar learning experience. …

Because sometimes it seems that way.

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One of my favorite quotes is a simple saying:

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Some attribute the saying to the Buddha, although the exact origins are unclear. That is unimportant, though; what does matter is that this quote is more relevant now than ever before.

Today, our world exists in a deeply divided state. The lines which separate us have taken precedence over the common humanity which unites us. It is truly heartbreaking. …

An unedited conversation with myself at the peak of quarantine-inspired introspection.

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Why do we hate and love in but a single moment? What is a feeling? A fleeting, ephemeral burst of dopamine, followed by a fall from a great height.

Eternal falling, it often feels like. Never to come to an end. A body full of emotions it is not equipped to handle. A mind full of ideas it is too naïve to understand. We know nothing, and yet we aim to know everything. If only for a moment everything were to stop — complete silence … complete freedom — how wonderful would that be? A dream for which we all…

And why it shouldn’t be taught in introductory programming classes.

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“Welcome students, to your first ever day of computer science! This is going to be a fascinating year, and I cannot wait to teach you all about one of the most relevant topics in the world today. Teaching computer science is my passion, and although all of you may not go on to be computer scientists, I do hope to instill you with deeper understanding of why computer science is so powerful. I hope that wherever you end up, you find a way to use it for the better.

Of course, today is just the first day, and we will…

Hint: It has nothing to do with the leader.

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After working hard throughout the first three years of high school, I was overjoyed to be appointed a captain of the Mock Trial team my senior year. My excitement at leading a group of peers for the first time overshadowed any underlying nervousness, as I believed the effort and skill required of a participant would automatically translate into my success as a captain. After all, how hard could it be to lead?

Nearly four years later, I still carry one particular experience with me. Our team was really two teams that would compete separately: Black and Gold. The former consisted…

The lack of a real classroom does not have to translate into a lack of real learning.

Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

As the fall semester approaches, many teachers are banging their heads as they struggle with the complicated transition to online learning. I myself have been preparing to teach an introductory computer science course this fall as a student instructor. This has led to various discussions with professors, students, and other teachers on how to best transition online. Based on these conversations, I have developed a list of guidelines for teachers this fall. Of course, this is only a small subset of the amazing ideas and techniques that educators can adopt to improve the online teaching experience, but it is a…

Murtaza Ali

Call me Murtz — an optimistic student with a predilection toward academia and making people smile.

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