I’m nearly done with university and academia for good. Only two exams stand between me and the real world, and I couldn’t be more ready to leave. I’ve been here for the past two and a half years of my life and I’ve learnt a fair amount. Maybe not £9000’s worth, but can you put a price on knowledge? This post will hopefully summarise what I thought I would learn while I was there versus what I actually learnt, what university doesn’t teach you, and what I wish I knew before I started.
This might sound like a massive slam post about how bad university is, but read until the end and I’ll hopefully have made a point by then.
First I’ll start with what I thought I would learn. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I would learn but I imagined that when I left I would be job ready. I would learn everything I needed to know to get a job but I didn’t know what that was at the time. I sort of knew that I wanted to be a web developer when I started university, so I chose a course that had the word “web” in it (Pro tip: this is not a good way to choose your degree, but more on that later). I thought I would learn “web stuff”. I thought that it would all be about web stuff, web technologies, web practices, all the web things I would need to know to be a web developer. I also thought that it would be the current technology. Not that I knew what was current and what was not, but I presumed that being the highest level of education we would learn the good stuff. That was pretty much the idea of what I was going to be taught while at my time of university. Now, on to what I actually learnt.
Firstly at my university (Manchester Metropolitan University), every computing student does the same first year. My degree was called “Web and Multimedia Computing” and I would learn the same as someone that was doing “Forensic Computing” in the first year. I can understand why they do this and it was useful to me. They do this because you might pick a specialised computing degree and realise that you don’t like it and want to change, or you might just be doing computer science but realise you really like a certain part and you can change to a more specialist degree. I switched after the first year to “Mobile and Web Application Development” so that was useful to me. But then I thought that maybe in the second year I would have a lot more focus on web and mobile, which it did (sort of). This is when I learnt that the degree title (in computing) barely means anything.
The second year is when I started to really take an interest in web development outside of university. Following other developers on twitter, reading about web development on blogs and in books, and experimenting in my own time. And this was when I learnt that university does not teach you the latest technologies. In my web module in the second year, we built Java servlets. Yeah, you read that right. Java servlets. What is that shit? Now, I understand that it will give you an understanding of backend development, but I’ve never heard of anything being built using Java servlets. Why not just teach PHP? I brought it up with my supervisor and he didn’t have an answer. My guess is that they just haven’t updated the course content. And this is bad because they don’t tell you about any other options. If you don’t know any other options, you could leave university thinking that people use this shit. I have a perfect example of this. When I was building something in a team, we used Ruby on Rails. Mainly because I had experience, we needed a quick an easy API to plug an Android application into, and the other guy had used Django. At the end of it, one of the guys complained and said we should have used Java servlets over Rails because he thought it would be better. This is not good.
It wasn’t until the third year that we learnt PHP. And it was Vanilla PHP. No framework, no nothing. Now that I’m applying for jobs, I’m noticing that most jobs are asking for some knowledge of a framework. And this is when I learnt that University doesn’t make you job ready. Now that I’m applying for jobs, a lot of what they’re asking for I have not learnt at university. I know it’s strange to think university would teach Wordpress, but it’s almost essential to have Wordpress knowledge to get a job as a web developer in an agency, and there’s been no mention to Wordpress throughout my 3 years at university. We had 2 weeks on Angular, and another teacher tried (and failed) to teach Rails.
University doesn’t teach you Git. Git is the best thing in the world. I couldn’t live without it. And it’s now become a must have to get a job, and university doesn’t teach it to you. University could be made so much easier with submissions if they used Git.
University doesn’t teach you work as a team. It tries to with group work, but all that makes you do is hate your group and hate university. And seriously, that shit needs to stop right now. I don’t want to have my degree resting on someone else’s shoulders. And then they say “But you’re only marked on your contribution”. If that’s so, make it a solo project.
Now I understand that university isn’t there to hold your hand throughout your stay there, but I’m really questioning what I learnt there which was valuable to me getting a job. Besides the piece of paper and the letters after my name, what has university given me to help me get a job. And what that is, is time.
University gave me time to teach myself all the good stuff. I didn’t have a lot of work in the second year and I also had a massive summer, so I made sure I was learning the right stuff. I was meant to get a placement year job for my third year, but I didn’t end up getting one. This was a huge eye opener that maybe I wasn’t good enough. It was quite a knock to my confidence but it gave me the drive I needed to get all this stuff learnt.
It also taught me to program. I wasn’t the best programmer when I started at university, but to get 96% in a second year assignment must mean that I’m an okay programmer now. I believe that it doesn’t really matter what language you’re learning when you’re learning for the first time, because if you’re learning to program then you want to get a solid foundation of the basics before you start to specify in a Language.
Now on to the good stuff, what I wish I knew before I started. I wish I knew how little my course was about what I wanted to do. If I knew this in first year, I would have started branching out into new technologies so much sooner. While knowing everything isn’t super important, I believe it’s good to dip your finger in each pie, see if it tastes good, and if it does then devour the whole things. A quick example, I was reluctant to pick up Sass when everyone was hyping it up. And when I gave it ago, my goodness it changed my whole workflow! I then started to branch out a lot more and trying all new things and see if they worked for me. And if they didn’t, I could at least say I tried it. And I encourage you to do the same. Obviously you don’t need to try everything. But read about something, see if it sounds like it’s for you, install it, hack around. You never know until you try.
I wish I knew how good side projects were. Now this bit is super important: Start doing side projects now! Unless you’re super busy there’s no excuse for not building something in your free time. It will help you out so much. It will open you up to new ideas. Work on it with a friend and learn the pains of merge conflicts with Git. Build the biggest portfolio you can. I don’t have any work experience. Not even in a retail. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. But the day I sent out 5 CV’s I got 2 interviews, and 2 “We’re not hiring at the moment, but we’ll keep your CV for a later date.”. I believe that I got those responses based on my portfolio. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it’s what I believe. And my portfolio is weak! But some people don’t do anything outside of university and expect to leave and walk straight into a job. You can learn so much from a side project. If I knew how much they would have helped me, I would have started working on side projects in the first year. Now I know what you’re thinking. Side projects make people rich. Whereas in some cases this can be true, you shouldn’t be focusing on the money right now. It’s all about bettering yourself at the moment. Getting ahead of the competition will give you best chance of landing that killer job when you leave university.
I wish I knew what was taught on my course before I enrolled. This was mostly down to being a dumb kid and thinking “I want to go to Manchester and I want to something on the web”. And the going “Hey that course has web in the title, and it’s Manchester. Great!” Don’t do this. Read about your course, see if they have similar courses, go to open days. Just do some research in to what you’re going to be investing the next three years of your life in. I also wish I knew that some lecturers just don’t give a shit. Not every lecturer is like this, but there’s some. Try and stay clear of them because, my goodness, they’re super shit. Do your best to avoid them. Try and find another lecturer that can help you with your query. I know it’s hard to see if there’s any shit kickers before you’re there, but once you know who they, avoid them.
And I think that’s everything. I’ve probably forgotten some stuff out, but if I remember I’ll be sure to update the post. I hope this post helped you and wasn’t just a massive rant (I think there’s some points in there somewhere). If you’ve got any questions about anything in this post, feel free to catch me on Twitter or shoot me an <a email.