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Thursday 6 September 2007

On slacking, education and self-improvement [Muz]

So, it's been over a year since I left the position of 'token student' within the clan (LCpl Beejenhausen stepped ably into my shoes, well done that man etc etc). When I left uni, I thought 'OK, it's been a good laugh, but really, four years of studying computer science, that'll do me; time to go and learn some useful stuff'.

Clannies with particularly good memories will recall that I got a 2(ii) - evidence of slackness in extremitas, also known as a 'Desmond'. And so it was that I made my way into the real world and sold my soul; to go and do 'IT stuff' for a bank.Doing a general IT job really wasn't that hard; bit of Windows, bit of Unix, bit of Perl, bit of random vendor apps, loads of talking to peons^H^H^H^H^Husers. Now, lots of people would view this as a pretty cool job; and indeed, it is, touching on a vast number of technology areas and learning how they interact. The one problem was that I wasn't doing anything that I couldn't have done before going to uni. And six months in, the question loomed in my mind - 'what have I actually learned?'. And I listed everything I could think of - time management, multi-tasking/prioritising, dealing with users, dealing with vendors, navigating a big company... and yet still the question loomed in my mind 'You're supposed to be a technologist - what new technologies have you learned?'

The answer was 'none' - and without much scope for that in the near future (I'm a grad, I'm going to get the shit jobs, and like it), I decided 'fuck it - what am I interested in?'. Long story short, this week I passed my CCNA, an entry level network certification, and am now planning on moving on to expert level network certs for next year.

This raises a couple of interesting points. The first is, had I worked anywhere like as hard in uni as I did for this exam (studying for three months in the evenings and weekends while working a full time job, and taking a week off before the exam and studying 8-10 hours a day), I would have gotten considerably better than a Desmond.

The second point, which is really the main focus of this blog, is I've realised I'm not happy unless I'm learning something new. University was an overload; learning a massive amount on loads of different technologies was perhaps a little overwhelming. But picking a specific subject and reading about it and working with it until I've gotten to a depth I feel sufficient is actually something I'm finding quite rewarding.

So, to the clan at large: am I alone in this? Do you think that you should always be learning something new in your job/life in general? Could you care less? What makes us want to work at some things and not at others? Or am I just crazy, and was this all a waste of time?


  1. I'm not a great example I'm afraid. But I've never been driven by cash, I've also been farcially lucky in my life. Left school, no great shakes but ended up a decent TT player, wandered into a YTS offer. Quick trip to Edinburgh at 17 to pass a shitty exam and I'm in! £17 a week no less PLUS travelcard, rolling in it. 95, wage went up to 12k in 4/5 years. No bad, but still living at home. Misc other shit happened, but landed a job with some training. Never taken to formal certification though.

    Now leaving another uni with mega redundancy package and assessing IT Market. Would I have enjoyed being a student? Damn straight, the fanny would be fantastic. Would I have enjoyed studying, no danger Muz Robinson.

    But I've been a jammy bast! Nearly 20 years in IT, jeez next year, not a day unpaid. Not a bad showing for a guy with 4 o'grade passes :)

    For me a degree has always shown a certain level of mental aptitude, discipline and willingness to aim for long term. Hats off to those that can knuckle down and actually get one. I still think, personally, it's a great step onto the working ladder. But it guarantees very little.

    It's all your donald duck!


  2. There's one thing people don't seem to do when it comes to planning their career and I absolutely include myself in this. That is asking the question, given I want to do this job, do I need to go to University to get into this career or is there something more useful I could be doing for the 3/4 years?

    For a great many jobs, IT being a big one, it's no so straightforward. To get a job at a bank, yes, they hire graduates - that's how they work. However you could have got an IT job at a small company years ago and by the time you were a graduate from Uni, you could have shown a CV which in that time showed that you had become responsible for the IT for a company and various other challenges/rolls.

    So given there's two routes to pretty much the same thing, it becomes about other stuff. I'd say if you can afford it, Uni is definately worth doing because you do things which really have absolutely no commercial relevance to what you'll be doing. That sounds negative, but the point is you don't often get that chance again. And by being exposed to all that different shit, a *lot* of students (like me) figure out that they don't like their first choice and go in a different direction.

    If you're entrepreneurial, you could come out of Uni with an entirely different path. Lash up a businessplan, put on a suit and go off and try get some VC for a new start up. People that have done that are the people that have genuinely done amazingly for themselves out of Uni.

    My view here might be skewed a bit by the fact I ended up ditching a pure course like computing and heading into engineering where I got to work with a wide variety of tradesmen who could do all sorts of amazing things, whether it was designing a circuit board, working out how to weld some space-age alloy, or building a wooden cabinet. That's the sort of thing I miss very deeply indeed and something unlikely to ever be delivered in a working environment.

    Course it can all be worse. You could go to Uni/work for years, become an expert in your field and fill your CV up with a pile of grade A stuff in your career path and then get to your mid 30s and realise that actually, you would have rather have done something else entirely and where that profession demands 6-years full-time study and the chances of even being enrolled for that sort of thing is more or less zero... So be happy :)


  3. Hey, don't knock the Desmond - it shows a balanced attitude and an ability to successfully network with your peers :)

    Learning's a life long thing & it sounds like you've got the right attitude/thirst. I was going nowhere with legacy VB code on a shit project so I kept up to date with .NET in my spare time. Result? When a high profile project came along I was the one they came to. Employee of the month type stuff, but the main thing was that it keptme interested. Now I've been cross trained to J2EE which I'm not doing, but been moved to architecture instead. WTF is that about?

    Away from work I've started to learn the guitar, busting out nursey rhymes & moving on to a mean Russian Cossack durge :) I may even pick up my learning Japanese by podcast that I was doing for a while. That was something I wanted to do at uni but the course clashed with my degree courses.

    Learning new stuff certainally drives me, there's loads of stuff I'd like to do but it's all a bit much with just one lifetime. [Note to self, investigate vamparism].


  4. I just smoked pot and played quake when I should have been doing some kind of further of higher education. Now I'm a the CIO for a global travel company. The only real difference I can discern at this stage is that I don't have any kind of debt to repay to the treasury.


  5. Unfortunately I wasn't taught to either "kind of further of higher" read what I've written. Or, "Now I'm a the CIO for a global travel company" read what I've written.


  6. That the sort of high quality comment which makes us glad we allow public comment.


  7. To be fair, Billox did correct a fairly meaningless comment of his own with another one that made even less sense.


  8. I've never really felt "the calling" to really push myself. I've had an amazingly lucky life so far. Well off family sent me to prep school and paid for me to goto one of the more expensive secondary schools in Southampton. Then kept me going all through out university. (altho to be fair I'm hardly outrageous so I spent very little compared to most :) Came away with a 1st but I never really had to work hard to get it. I've always believed that if you enjoy something you'll do well at it (coupled with a base level of intelligence)(plus people tend to enjoy what they're good at). I've always wanted to make video games and all my courses up till now have been towards that goal.

    I've pretty much worked exclusivly in AI in that time. All the work in other systems hasn't been that technical. I did do some cutting edge animation research and work during the move to ps3 a while back. But it was all work driven. Theres nothing I've researched on my own.

    The only exceptions are that like the Spiny I took up guitar and Japanese. The latter stopped when I swapped jobs and the former I've gotten bored of recently and is sitting on the shelf.

  9. The only real thing I learned in College/Uni was people/negotiation/problem solving skills when I was doing the whole Students Union thing..Every other thing I use in my life/career I have figured out as part of general work experience. I think Uni is a waste of time for a lot of people, a lot of people would be better off in an entry level job than on the beer studying for a HND in ‘17th Century Painting’. But no one in power would be bold enough to say that :)