Ode to University

The best things and the things I wish were different

I’ve been thinking a lot about study lately. Learning practical programming skills at Powershop has made me much more aware of the shortcomings of university teaching, and I’ve been feeling more and more disconnected from uni since I started there full time last December. The fact that my student ID card, student subscription to Microsoft Office, and student Adobe CC subscription have now expired also brought home the expensive reality of finishing tertiary study … Oh, and then I officially graduated a few days ago with much pomp and ceremony.

Me in one of the lucky moments when the wind wasn't blowing my tassel into my eyes

I’ve spent my working life so far complaining half-seriously to a lot of people about the quality of the Computer Science part of my degree, so a blog post seems an appropriate way to set down some more thought-through opinions.

University Overall

But first, a word about the other stuff I did at university. Because however much I complain about specific outcomes of my university education, my degree was totally worth it. My overseas exchange in Japan was amazing, and the sort of opportunity I wouldn’t get anywhere else (spending a year in Japan with a fairly light workload leaving plenty of time to explore and go on holidays, funded by scholarships and an interest free student loan? What a crazy idea). For more about what I did there, check out the first year or so of posts on this blog …

Speaking of which, the Japanese courses were an excellent example of how to get meaningful learning within the university course structure. Tutorials taught by native speakers were extremely valuable and the lecturers, by and large, had enough cultural background to make their teaching engaging and enjoyable. It certainly helped that I had a year of full immersion studying abroad, but I definitely feel like if I hadn’t gone on exchange I would still have come out prepared to rush off to Japan and make a fool of myself (the main purpose of going to a foreign country, right?) Particularly memorable is my course on Japanese mythology, where we were expected to attempt to read difficult bits of complex writing and then talk about how tricky they were and muddle through understanding them together. It was a great way to practice asking for help with language I’d never heard before, and trying to understand the explanations I was given!

I can’t go further without talking about the friends I made and relationships I built. From my very first year in Weir House (one of Victoria’s first year Halls of Residence), to my year in Japan, to my subsequent two years flatting, I’ve met so many awesome people and actually had spare time to hang out with them! Or just play online games with them … that counts, right? I’m still seriously looking into moving back to Japan next year, and it’s both sad and special that there are people I would really miss in both countries.

Finally, to segue into my discussion of work (and how relevant or otherwise my degree is to it), I need to mention Summer of Tech. For those who don’t know, Summer of Tech is an internship programme which facilitates internships for Computer Science, Design and Engineering students at technology companies around their city. You sign up, you go to free tech bootcamps taught by industry professionals (and eat free pizza), you network with companies at events and online, then if you’re lucky you get offered paid internships at some of those companies. I did internships at both Catalyst and Powershop, and thoroughly enjoyed both of them. And that lead to me getting a full time job in my chosen industry straight out of uni, which is pretty amazing!

Some workmates at the ICT careers expo. We, uh, like the colour pink.

Concerning Computer Science

Computer Science tuition at university is the main thing that I and my workmates end up complaining about. For those who don’t know, here’s a brief summary of how Computer Science courses work at Vic:

There are plenty of good ideas behind that structure, and a lot of the problems with it are simply a result of having courses taught by academics in a context which has traditionally been about training more academics rather than preparing people for the workforce. And it worked out fine for me. However, I think much of my success was because of the projects and experiments I did outside uni (not to mention my internships), and most of the people I’ve talked to at Powershop tend to agree with me on a few common complaints:

Contrast that to Enspiral Dev Academy, which I haven’t experienced but have heard a lot about. There you spend 18 weeks learning web development from scratch, often building projects in small groups which mimic how real teams in real companies work. It’s quite a different setup, but almost everyone I’ve discussed it with has praised their course structure and tuition.

With that in mind, I’m really curious what people would think of Computer Science education if it was structured somewhat differently:

I’m imagining that you would come out of this degree with an appreciation of what goes into making a piece of software, an understanding of how software teams work in the real world, a willingness to learn different technologies and techniques, and a portfolio of projects to show potential employers. I think you could also get an appreciation of the ideas behind computers and programming, without being taught more than you want to know. And of course I’m entirely ignoring the real-world constraints of university management, the overhead of setting up and teaching courses, and so on.

In Summary

I’ll stop imagining now and just thank the people who’ve got me this far. To the lecturers, tutors and classmates who encouraged me to go further and listened to my rambling, thank you. To the family and friends who’ve encouraged (or put up with) my study direction and my hobbies, thank you. To the people at my church(es) who’ve kept me focused on following God in my career and life, thank you.

Phew. After six months of writer’s block it feels good to finish this. また今度! (Until the next time!)

Posted on 1 July 2017
Share on