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A four year engineering degree was something I dove into without really looking into the alternatives. When asked, “Why did you choose to go to university?”, it is hard to find a better answer than, “To get a good job…?”. Now at the tail end of my studies I reflect on my time spent and where I’m at now, considering my choices.

An Evolving Industry

Having grown up in the 90s I was largely unaware of the dotcom boom, but was all too aware of the rise of mobile devices. I watched teachers combat the presence of phones in high school classes and later, university lecturers embrace them – some of them utilising them to gain more student participation rather than less (systems like UCanAsk that allow students to vote on live polls in lectures). Maybe being a consumer, one entrenched in the evolution of mobile apps (from Doodle Jump to Angry Birds to Clash of Clans), is what lead me to a Software Engineering degree – and later completing a mobile application as an Honours project. Who knew your interest in gaming on an iPod Touch could eventually lead you to a job at Media Suite?

The shift around the general population’s opinion of computer science is an interesting one. Shows like Silicon Valley, hot topics like machine learning and cryptocurrencies, as well as the rise of Google-esque companies, have shown the world that geeks with computers can become powerful influencers. This opinion is felt in academia too; with enrolment in Software Engineering doubling every year at Canterbury for the last 3 years. The number of code-hungry students continues to increase due to the need for programmers in the workplace today. This means it’s a good time to be a young professional with in-demand skills!

The opinions of peers studying other engineering disciplines has also changed over time. “Why are you doing software? That’s barely engineering LOL”. Apparently I wasn’t a real engineer because I hadn’t taken a course teaching me the ins-and-outs of Microsoft Excel… some people scare me. The tables turned when the same people suddenly needed help comprehending the “complexities” of mathematical programming tool, MatLab.

Richard Hendricks captures the newfound power of IT workers succinctly; “Now, for the first time, [guys like us] are living in an era, where we can be in charge and build empires”. Being known as a professional nerd is now a license to innovate 😉 .

Good Luck in the Real World!

In order to give students a helping hand in getting in contact with industry employers, UC hosts a careers fair for most engineering disciplines. The Computer Science occurrence is known as the ICT Fair. The hustle and bustle of these over-crowded events can be intimidating when there are jobs at stake. The sea of nerd-culture t-shirts and shorts form swells between shores of various IT company stands, powered by prospective employment. Asking companies about internships is what the majority of students are there for. Despite previously finding success at one of these fairs, I did not land my internship with Media Suite though one of them. I got my foot in the door through a lecturer who knew Media Suite was looking for interns.

It’s funny that you can spend all the time and money gaining a qualification where all stress is focused on academic assessments, but you may be wholly unprepared for an interview (in which employment after all your study is actually hinged upon). This may be where the argument of a computer science vs a software engineering degree is won and lost. I have found that the main difference between students in these respective boxes, aside from slightly different academic knowledge, are presentation/speaking skills. My SENG (software engineering) papers have consisted of the large majority of presentation assessments during my studies, as opposed to COSC (computer science) papers. Regularly presenting progress on long-term assignments as part of a development team forces SENG students to become comfortable speaking to audiences even when potentially unprepared.

I found that the scrutiny of onlooking lecturers also taught me to formally justify design decisions or defend perhaps under-delivered milestones. The simulation of real-world clients was especially felt when curve-balls like, “Your project is pivoting. Throw away xyz from your codebase”, or, “Your company is struggling. Vote out a member of your team”, are thrown at unsuspecting students.

Upon Landing a Job

After applying for jobs and receiving X number of rejection emails and ‘thanks but no thanks’ responses to interviews, hopefully you snag a positive response or two! Now for living up to what you said you can offer. Thankfully for me, Media Suite takes care of interns with a mentor who babysits your work efforts (thanks for the patience, Matt!). A few things I have picked up on and have had to remind myself of a few times include the short list below:

  • You are not expected to hit the ground running and be a fully functioning developer straight out of your education (provided your employer is not an emotionless robot overlord).
  • Know what you don’t know – the sooner you accept you’re out of your depth with something the sooner you can ask for help and start making real progress.
  • Following this^ ASK QUESTIONS. About everything. Open-ended ones are best for annoying a mentor; “What’s the difference between X and Y?”, “How do I make that decision myself next time?”, “Why do A over B?”. If you’re first met with a long inhale/exhale you’re asking the right stuff.

So after four years of lectures, exams and late night assignments what have I gained? When asked “Why did you choose to go to university?” maybe the best answer is “It was an investment in my future”. Meanwhile Media Suite’s first intern James took an 18 week course for a fraction of the student loan… Despite his grin when telling him how much I owe the government, I have no regrets.

…Other than maybe studying prior to Jacinda Ardern handing out university sponsorships.


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