Rajesh Kumar

Optimizing life, one day after the next

Higher Order Intelligence

16 Mar 2008
Updated: 9 Apr 2008

When I was a kid, my mum used to always emphasize the importance of having very sharp antennae that would constantly twitch and twirl, acting as a powerful radar, and continuously process and integrate all the interactions happening around me. Back then, I didn't have the slightest clue what she was talking about.

It is a pretty well-accepted fact among Waterloo engineers that the numbers appearing on our transcripts don't really mean much in the way of anything. I mean, they do mean something, but if I don't know what they mean, I may as well assume they don't mean anything. I guess garbage is garbage regardless of whether it is well understood or not.

This essay then attempts to answer the all-powerful question: "so if marks don't mean much in the way of anything, what else does?" Most people would answer technical competence. My conjecture is that technical competence can only take you so far in any field that involves thought. Okay Rajesh, I can sort of see your point, but if even technical competence can't take you there, what else can? This is the question I would like to answer in this essay.

My response is simple and to-the-point.

Over the past five years, I have been working very hard to develop what has recently been popularized as the so-called higher-order skills. They're skills that you are very unlikely to learn in school. In fact, our schooling system's flawed grading system actually tends to diminish your skills in some of these areas, let alone help you hone them. When I graduate out of university, these are the skills I'd like to put down on my CV. Not so much chemistry, thermodynamics, electro-magnetics or vector calculus. Simply because these are the skills that actually matter in the real world and on the workplace. These are the skills employers seek, and these are the skills that would give you a competitive edge if you were to engage in any kind of startup activity.

So I guess I finally clued in to what my mum had been trying to tell me all along about having sharp antennae. The antennae had only been a metaphor all along. But an undeniably powerful one.

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