What I've learnt after four years of University

10 June 2022

On 10/6/22, I submitted my final piece of assessment for my University degree. It feels surreal to think I am finally free from the chains of tertiary education after all this time - four years! I even remember myself sitting in the lecture hall during my first week, thinking "I've got four years of this." It leaves many questions to ask; was the degree worth it? what now? what would I have done differently?

Before the pandemic, I was going into campus 3-4 days a week, connecting with other class members, completing group assignments in person and making friends. Come March 2020, everything went online and University was never the same. Sitting next to a friend in a lecture hall was replaced by a silhouette and a name on Collaborate, the online lecture sharing platform. Many people say University was the best time of their lives, but when I reflect back on 2 and a half years of online University, I can't help but wonder what the experience would have been like with no pandemic.

Originally I enrolled to peruse Network Engineering with the hopes of becoming a system administrator, or a network engineer. I spent an entire year going through Cisco's Networking Academy courses and this was probably the highlight of my degree. But I soon realised that its all fun and games taking courses until you realise its what you will do for a career, and I wasn't pleased with that idea. At the time, I'd taken a keen interest in programming outside of learning the fundamentals of Java in my first year programming topic. I started to learn C# in my own time, using it as groundwork before jumping into web development with the .NET framework. Eventually, this gravitated towards various web frameworks and languages like JavaScript, React, Gatsby and some backend with NodeJS, Express and experimenting with GraphQL. To say I am proficient in these types of tools would be disingenuous, but I have definitely enjoyed learning and creating with these tools.

I had no real end goal, I simply enjoyed it outside of University as it gave me something to focus on instead of playing video games. Without being introduced to programming as part of my degree, I am sure I would not be here writing this, nor would this website exist, as it was built from scratch.

Was the degree worth it? Sure, I've taken a variety of topics ranging from designing and implementing enterprise level networks, writing ancient intelligent systems in Prolog, to taking criminology classes and looking at widespread cyberattacks. The true (and personal) value of a degree is meeting people with similar interests to you, and hopefully networking with industry professionals. Something that I have definitely done, but wishfully thinking I did more of over the last four years.

What became abundantly clear was placing too much emphasis on grades and meeting criteria and not enough time actually understanding the material. I spent four years chasing high distinctions and memorising material simply to pass tests and I now look back and ask myself the following: what do I actually remember? Truthfully, not a lot. And it pains me to say that.

I also neglected putting time and energy towards topics of interest, and working on side projects. I started doing this in the last 6-8 months, when I realised I actually had the time and the energy, even though for my years I'd been telling myself I didn't. Building up a portfolio of projects definitely sits you ahead of the pack in terms of employability, and using the summer holidays wisely can propel you above your peers. So spending time on your own interests is equally important as completing course work.

For now, I have a developer job lined up. And that's a story for another day.