— Reconnecting after a hiatus; sharing the trilling adventures and milestones that have shaped my life over the past few years.

— Embracing the belief that “Fate is not written” and taking a “leap of faith” embarking on a journey to pursue my plans and the dreams I had set years ago.

— A moment filled with gratitude, reflection, and an unwavering passion for what the future holds.

— The life lessons I learned along the way that I wish I could impart to my younger self.

“Fate is not written …” These words have echoed in my mind for over a decade, ever since Prof. Soheil Mohammadi, my mentor whom I miss dearly, wrote them in the closing paragraph of an inspiring piece during my time at University of Tehran. Over the years, although I never had a copy of the entire write-up, this sentence resonated with each twist and turn of my one-of-a-kind journey. Today, I want to share with you the extraordinary journey that has led me to this moment—a moment filled with gratitude, reflection, and a burning passion for what lies ahead.

My story begins with a young boy, driven by an insatiable curiosity for computer science, participating in programming/robotics contests and Informatics Olympiads during high school. However, my path took an unexpected turn when I entered the Civil Engineering program at University of Tehran. It was a decision influenced by family business and a sense of familiarity, and it came after my first choice of study was denied despite having a high rank in the national entrance exam. Nevertheless, deep within, my heart still yearned for the world of coding and innovation.

Throughout my four-year bachelor's degree, I seized every opportunity to merge my love for Computer Science with Civil Engineering. I embarked on projects developing software to assist engineers, practitioners, and researchers in various fields. In my first year of college, I even developed a smart solar robot, fueled by the excitement of exploring the possibilities that technology could offer.

While I longed to pursue a dual major in Civil and Computer Science, the regulations set by University of Tehran denied me that opportunity (long story!). Yet, my determination did not waver. I set my sights on a Master's degree in Computer Science or similar fields, dedicating an entire summer to prepare for the entrance exam while my peers focused on their civil engineering exams. But once again, I encountered roadblocks, facing numerous prerequisites that hindered my plans (another long story!). Undeterred, I pursued a Master's in Structural Engineering at University of Tehran while delving deep into computational mechanics—the area that I liked the most and ignited my passion to apply my programming skills in real-world applications.

During my first Master's journey, thanks to having a great advisor, I developed a radical thesis on “Multiscale Simulation of Biomechanical Systems”, pioneering a path that strayed from the traditional boundaries of Civil Engineering. Through countless lines of code and a dedication to learning and applying new concepts, I emerged with a computational package that I later open-sourced.

Armed with my first Master's degree, I stood at a crossroads. The easy path would have been to continue my Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, specializing in Structural Engineering and Computational Solid Mechanics, with fully-funded admissions in the US. However, a burning desire led me to make a courageous choice—to pursue what I truly loved: Computer Science. Against the advice of many, I took a leap of faith and ventured to Imperial College London, accepting an MSc position with partial studentship. It marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life, teeming with uncertainty, but brimming with possibility.

A new field meant facing a slew of prerequisites and working on a thesis alongside my coursework. Drawing upon my previous experiences, I embraced the challenge with fervor. In just one year, I graduated with distinction (First Class Honour), an illustrious thesis, and an offer for a Ph.D. position with a generous scholarship at Imperial College London, alongside receiving multiple job offers. The path seemed clear, but life had other plans for me—travel bans, personal relationships, and unforeseen circumstances led me to abandon everything in the UK and embark on yet another chapter, this time in the United States.

Amidst the turbulence, I chose the Computational Science and Engineering (CSE) program at Georgia Tech, where I could merge my skills in Structural/Computational Mechanics with Computer Science. Balancing two vastly different disciplines, striving for perfection in every course to get straight ‘A’s, overcoming funding obstacles, two very different Ph.D. comprehensive/qualifying exams, and navigating the uncertainties brought on by the pandemic were just a few of the challenges I faced. Along the way, I even had to switch research teams during my Ph.D., yet I managed to accomplish groundbreaking research from scratch in less than two years, undoubtedly thanks to the unwavering support of my exceptional Ph.D. advisor, Prof. Elizabeth Cherry, and her mentorship, which extended beyond my research and academic life.

My journey has been fraught with obstacles, countless struggles, and unforeseen events that cannot be encapsulated in a single post. However, what truly matters to me now is the realization that I have finally achieved what I set out to do—despite the doubts, the naysayers, and the setbacks. Earlier today, as I was driving back from the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA towards the Googleplex campus, memories of my teenage self surged forth flooding my mind with a torrent of emotions—the excitement of writing my first lines of code in QBasic in elementary school, the thrill of compiling my first Assembly code, and the pulse-quickening thrill of uploading the HEX code to an Atmel microcontroller for my high school robot. And at this moment, as my heart brims with emotion, I realize that, although the journey was longer and “a bit” more arduous than I ever envisioned, I can finally declare, with utmost conviction, “I have nowhere else to be!”

Needless to say, Civil/Structural Engineering still holds a special place in my heart, and I know I could have excelled in that field. In fact, years ago, I founded a successful design and construction company that continues to thrive and generate profits. Additionally, I am a devoted fan of Finite Element Methods, having developed and open-sourced numerous software packages in that domain (most of them available through my personal website and GitHub). Yet, my love for Computer Science and concepts like Data Structures, Algorithms, AI and Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Cloud Computing, etc., keeps pulling me closer to the realm of computers and computation.

Looking back at some of the milestones that have shaped my life over the past few years, it has truly been an incredible journey filled with unforgettable experiences:

  • Accomplished multiple MSc and PhD degrees in two diverse disciplines, expanding my knowledge and expertise in different fields.

  • Following my academic endeavors, embarked on a fulfilling journey as a Postdoctoral Researcher delving deeper into my areas of interest.

  • Found immense joy in sharing my knowledge and long-standing passion for education as a lecturer. The heartfelt feedback I received from my students was overwhelming, reigniting my deep-rooted passion for education. Teaching has become a fulfilling avenue for my future career, and I’m excited to continue exploring it in the years to come.

  • On the professional front, I received multiple job offers from academia and the tech industry. After careful consideration, I joined Google a while ago as a software engineer and AI research scientist embracing new challenges and opportunities in the field that I love the most.

  • Amidst all other accomplishments, my personal life flourished just a while ago by tying the knot with the love of my life. We’ve been together for over a decade, and our bond grows stronger every day. We can’t wait to celebrate our love with all our friends and family in the near future.

  • Our adventures have taken us to breathtaking destinations, where we created cherished memories and captured moments that we hope to share with others soon. Traveling the world alongside my partner in life and crime has made each journey even more special.

  • Having the privilege of meeting incredible individuals from diverse cultures, forming lasting friendships, and engaging in several exciting projects. The world is full of amazing people with wonderful experiences. These connections have broadened my perspective and added meaningful experiences to my life.

At the age of 20, I whimsically compiled a list of 100 things to do before I depart from this world (Initially a jest, but soon transformed into a sacred catalog). It brings me joy to see how many of those items I've already checked off over the years. As I reflect on the time I have left on this earth, whether it be a day or several years, I hold onto the hope that I can continue pursuing and realizing the dreams that I set out years ago.

I share this personal journey not to boast (as there is nothing to do so!) or hold a grudge against those who tried to discourage me or passed judgment. Instead, I write this to acknowledge that new challenges will inevitably arise, and I want to remind myself—and anyone reading this—that regardless of how difficult or disorienting things may become, we must keep moving forward. This post stands as a testament to the resilience and determination that have carried me through countless endeavors.

But I also share this story with a greater purpose—to inspire those who, like me ten or fifteen years ago, feel the need to explore different paths and sense that something doesn't quite add up. If you find yourself yearning to try something else, if you feel compelled to venture into uncharted territories, let this post serve as a sign—an affirmation of your desires. Follow what brings you happiness, ten years from now, you may regret not having pursued your true passion.

Before I conclude, I must express my heartfelt gratitude to the countless individuals who have supported me along this journey in their own ways—my cherished family, devoted teachers, inspiring mentors, steadfast comrades, and dear friends. (In truth, their names alone would require a separate post to properly acknowledge the depth of my privilege). But I owe a very special thanks to those who told me that my dreams and plans were impossible and that my fate was predetermined to talk me out of pursuing this path. It was your doubt and skepticism that fueled my determination during my darkest moments. You urged me to fight back and prove that destiny is not etched upon our foreheads. And to those who have asked me about the reason for the tattoo on my left arm, here is your answer! Now I contemplate what I should tattoo next to it: "Fate is not written."

In closing, I raise my glass to the road traveled and the adventures that lie ahead. May we continue to defy the odds, embrace our passions, and celebrate the triumphs that await us.

Cheers! 🥂
Shahrokh Shahi

Postscript 1

If you're currently considering a transition from engineering to computer science, or vice versa, exploring interdisciplinary areas like computational science and engineering (CSE), pursuing higher education in the UK or the US, or embarking on a career in the tech industry, I am here to lend a helping hand. It is my turn to give back. I have had the privilege of assisting numerous individuals in similar situations recently, and I am eager to hopefully share information to address common questions in the near future. Please don't hesitate to reach out—I would be more than happy to assist.

Postscript 2

I certainly don't consider myself qualified to give “advice” but I would like to take a moment to reflect on the lessons I have learned along the way. Throughout my journey, life has imparted invaluable insights that I wish I could share with my younger self, perhaps from about 15 years ago:

  1. "Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great." Sometimes, we need to let go of comfort and familiarity to pursue our dreams and unlock our true potential.

  2. Ignore the naysayers and follow your own trail. Don't let others' opinions get between you and your dreams. Only a select few may truly understand your dreams and aspirations, and that's perfectly alright.

  3. It's okay if things aren't easy. Challenges and setbacks are inherent parts of life's journey. Embrace them, learn from them, and forge ahead. (I wish someone had told me this simple fact explicitly—it would have spared me from the clutches of perfectionism.)

  4. Know when to walk away. “Not every battle is worth fighting”, and sometimes the wisest choice is to protect your own well-being by disengaging from negative situations and toxic individuals.

  5. "Adversity can be a springboard to new opportunities." When life hurls unexpected obstacles your way, you are allowed to feel sadness, anger, or disappointment. But never linger there. Adapt, summon your strength, and build a new path.

  6. Sometimes success and growth come from simply enduring our darkest moments.

  7. Remember, the success of your plans hinges on a combination of effort and serendipity. If something doesn't work on the first attempt, don't despair. Rest assured, in due time, it will fall into place. I promise!

  8. If you find solace in solitude and crave “alone” time, don't hesitate to embrace your “isolophillia”. Taking the necessary space for yourself can be a blissful way to rediscover your inner self and find clarity on your path.

  9. Never underestimate the profound impact of having good mentors in your life. Their wisdom and guidance, shaped by their own experiences, can save us from wandering down unnecessary paths and lead us directly to the right ones. Seek out mentors who can provide invaluable insights and help navigate the journey more efficiently.

  10. Lastly, I want to emphasize the importance of staying strong during the stormy chapters of life. It's easy to reminisce about past difficulties once they've passed, but when you're in the midst of the tempest, it takes courage to remain positive and focused on what truly matters.

Moments Stitched Together: A collection of cherished memories and celebrated milestones. From capturing fleeting moments to celebrating milestones, these photos reflect the journey I have embarked on and the emotions that accompany it.