University : Graduand & “The Real World”

Looking back, it has been nearly a year since my last internship post – a long time if anyone actually reads this blog or a heartbeat for the fast paced world of the internet.

My absence has been for the sake of Completing my Applied Computer Science BSc at Reading University. Something which was less than appealing after a year of paid work at Microsoft UK which you can read all about in the past. Returning to the student life not only brings a pay cut, but a change of lifestyle. I have never been one  for regularly getting sloshed and flailing around in town, but none the less – trading in my Jaguar XJ and taking up residence in a 1960s, tissue box sized room with only freezer foods for sustenance was a culture shock at the very least.

But even that was a whole academic year ago, 3 terms, 10 modules, countless coursework, and one near heart attack.

The heart attack, if you are wondering, is thankfully metaphoric – and came in the form of “Preliminary Classification Release Day”. As the delightfully descriptive name suggests, the day when our classifications (1st, 2:1, 2:2 etc) are released, and each students 3/4 year stay along with their value as a human being is rounded down to a number. This, as you can imagine is a stressful enough experience without any amplification. Our school however decided that to help ease everyone’s nerves by slathering everything in banners and congratulations, forcing the assumption that everyone would be thrilled with their result.

My experience of this was divided. I had to complete 6 final exams on separate subjects. 5 of those, came and went with little more than the expected frantic revision and standard stress. It was the penultimate one however, that was to ruin my week. “Concurrent Systems”, a deceptively named module – suggesting parallel programming, network syn, distributed joy – which three weeks in, turned out to be an exercise in process algebra, one of my weakest subjects. To make matters worse, the day of the exam rolled around and the paper seemed to be partly on the subject, and partly a random assortment of vague questions regarding parallel systems which were not even hinted in the syllabus. The capping blow ? Even the genius kid, and yes we had one, came out looking pale and terrified. From that moment on, my graduate job (>=2:1 requirement) felt like the prize in a 50/50 lottery. If I had failed the module, my degree would be a maximum classification of “Pass” – whereas passing the module mean’t at least a 2:1, and a job to go to.

Ameture dramatics aside, results day came and after three weeks of sweating we were finally allowed to see the oh so very public results listing. I will be graduating with a 1st Class, much to my surprise, and relief, but I will never forget the feeling of dread that followed me around for that time. Naturally those around me seem to think I was being overly modest or being a ass by supposing I had failed all along, but believe me, I lived every second of it. According to the school, this pre graduate limbo state makes me a “Graduand”.

Which brings me to post results, awaiting my graduation day early next month. Many people have said many things to me since my results, “Well Done”, “Congrats” and similar uplifting comments, but its one particular comment that has dominated every conversation – “Welcome to the Real World”, “Time to get a real world job”. – or words to that effect. My response to this, is at least, unfortunate for those who make the mistake of such “congratulations”, as it often comes tinted blue, with a mild dose of scathing.

To illustrate why, some brief history on my education and work habits is required.
At 13 I had a paper round, my friend dicked me over for far too much of the money but it was honest paid work, and it bought me tyres for my bike. When I went to college, I did four days a week of education and coursework (the BND is all coursework!) and 3 days working in the freezers and warehouse at the local Makro wholesale. 9-6 and more often later 7 days a week, just so I could afford the train fair to get to college. Between years, I got a break – I worked an 8 week contract for Verizon business, formatting and preparing laptops which landed me just enough to learn to drive and buy a car. The next year I worked delivering catalogs, running errands and any other job which allowed me to spend time with my car (<3), for most of the three days a week I wasn’t studying. When I finally got to Uni, I worked 0800-1900 Sat & Sun at PC World, marching stock up and down the stairs and making the shop look pretty (merchandising). This was pretty cruddy, target driven, pressure based – awful customers and tight deadlines, alongside starting my degree. For most people the first year is all drinking and fun, for me it was all working and I still nearly failed, partly due to myself, partly because I was always tired. I transitioned from this, thankfully, to a customer service/support position with IT Services at the University which for the last 3/4 years has been much better to me, despite management changes, re-orgs and changes at the University. Finally, I worked for  a year with Microsoft, in an extremely high pressure code/development support role for some of the highest profile companies that exist, trying to solve code bugs and upgrade bashes as fast as possible for time critical problems – mind you the pay was good and the lifestyle excellent.

My parents aren’t rich, and my student loan doesn’t even cover hall fees. I have worked every day of my further/higher education life to pay my way to where I am, in a multitude of customer service/menial/rubbish jobs, and the odd awesome one (Microsoft/ITS), while completing a BND with100% and getting a 1st class degree. But until now, I have not even mentioned it, because I don’t care. Its been an experience, I have made excellent friends, overcome my shyness, learnt how to deal with people and bosses, and I would not change it for the world, I like to challenge myself and expand and learn and the last 6 years has been the perfect way to cram it all in.

I have many friends who have walked the very same path,

So please, think before you belittle us – University isn’t the booze fueled lazy trip you see on TV for every student, some of us come out totally looking forward to the “real world”.