It was almost a year ago now that I was sitting in a bar in the early hours of the morning at an expensive Golf Course in Reading, discussing impending university options with a no-nonsense, straight talking acquaintance of mine.
It was one of the last nights at NSConference, the fantastic industry conference for software developers building apps for the Mac, iPhone and iPad, which I’ve attended for the past couple of years. The discussion about university was with a fellow freelance software developer I’d met at the conference, and we were talking over my options for the following (now this current academic) year.
I’ve been messing around with computers since I was quite young, and am a largely self-taught programmer (though introduced and helped along by my dad), and as such have mostly treated it recreationally. I’ve done some freelance work for a couple of companies already, and the friend of mine was suggesting that maybe university would be the wrong option for me, given my previous experience.
Despite my interest in studying a Computer Science degree, his argument made some sense and a fair counterargument against a £40-50k debt and the next three to four years of my life. He hadn’t studied a Computer Science degree himself, and argued that in his career in software development had only been rejected as such a small handful of times. He was suggesting that my time might be better spent continuing what I was doing, working freelance or building my own apps.
After a little debate for awhile, I left the conference thinking that although I had quite a bit of experience with software engineering, I was still interested in studying a Computer Science degree because there were still lots of things I didn’t know, and for what I did know, it would probably fill in some of the gaps.
Starting at Imperial
I’ll admit that when I first started at Imperial a little over 3 months ago I was a little skeptical of the first year. I’m a pretty competent programmer and I follow and take part myself in the industry, following current events and reading technical blogs and articles, and have written some of my own. However, some subject areas covered in a Computer Science degree are not my strongest point. Although I wasn’t pig-headed enough to think that I’d know absolutely everything from the variety of subjects we were being taught, I thought I’d probably know a good chunk of it.
It turns out I was wrong. After only my first term, I’ve realised how completely wrong I was. And I’m glad I was wrong. Almost everything I’ve been taught has been something new, and although my existing experience and knowledge has helped, I’ve learnt so much. I knew that I would learn a lot and benefit from my weaker subjects – maths and hardware – or those I hadn’t come across before (logic) but even subjects I had more experience with, such as programming, have inspired me and taught me new things and been really interesting.
What’s more is that reading a Computer Science degree has – and I know it will continue to do so – broadened my horizons and introduced me to so many new things that I otherwise wouldn’t have pursued in my own time, and has opened my mind to other ways of working and thinking.
My take – as I hope most other students’ is – on studying a degree is doing so because it interests you, not just because it will be a stepping stone (either career-wise and/or financially) for a better job. What I’ve enjoyed the most so far is spending the 50 or so potential working hours per week on something which I enjoy, and that’s the reason it’s been a great choice for me.
For those who are in a similar situation, I’d strongly advise considering a Computer Science degree at university (especially at an excellent department such as Imperial’s), even if you have previous experience in programming or writing software in your spare time (regardless of how in-depth it might be). Even after only a term the course has broadened me and extended my experience beyond what I thought it would, and I know it will have a big impact on my own work from now and in the future.