Don't think I've mentioned this previously on this blog but just now I'm studying with the Open University. In fact, I'm fast approaching the end of my first ever course - which is called My Digital Life (TU100) - and the first step on the road to what I hope will end up being a BSc in Computing and IT.
"So what?" I hear you cry. Well, it's been an interesting ride for me and I wanted to get some of my thoughts down now before they all disappear.
I suppose I should start with why I'm studying. It may seem a little strange to some that at this stage in my life, career etc I'm choosing to do a degree in a subject relating to an industry that I've been working in for the last 11 years or so. And those people are probably right. I dropped out of Uni back in 1998, went off, did some very random stuff with my life, and then worked my way back into IT from the bottom up. Throughout that time I've (very smugly at times) told people that "I don't need a degree to do my job", that "I've already got far more valuable experience" and also that practically nobody I know who has a degree does anything relevant with it (back in the NHS some of my colleagues had degrees in Modern Languages, Fine Art and Pharmacology. Very relevant.)
But then in 2010 I was doing a Leadership and Management course through work. I'll be honest and say that it wasn't my cup of tea - I thought that those things that were of any use were either obvious or things I had been doing for years. However, towards the end we did an exercise that was essentially (i) where we were, (ii) where we wanted to be (given an ideal world) and (iii) whether there was anything we could do to reconcile the two. Now don't get me wrong, I do not have a bad job, but like most people it's not my dream job. In an ideal world I'd be a software developer of some kind. Any chance I've had over the years to roll up my sleeves and do some coding I've jumped at and loved - there's a real deep sense of fulfillment for me in creating something new to solve a problem; the nearest I get to that in my normal day to day life is working out why a particular system keeps falling over and applying the recommended fix. In fact, the best and most enjoyable example of that is the reason this blog was started (the Windows 7 SP1 problem).
But I digress. I decided that in an ideal world I'd retrain, get a degree and get into software development. And I realised that I COULD do that - there was nothing stopping me from studying part time, getting my degree and then either finding a new job or (hopefully) re-sculpting my current job more in the direction of software development.
So I applied to Edinburgh Napier to study with them part-time for a degree. Shockingly I got accepted very quickly. Even more shockingly they offered me direct entry into 3rd year! Starting that week!! Amazing and ego boosting though that was, it was unrealistic for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, when I applied to study I had incorrectly assumed that I'd be able to do it evenings and weekends which I couldn't - I'd need to be in there for a minimum of a day and a half a week during term time. There was no realistic way that work were going to let me do that (well, not AND pay me for the privilege!) Also, it was just too scary an option to go right into 3rd year study after such an absence from studying for me. So, I thanked them very much but turned down the offer and instead looked at the OU.
Which pretty much brings me to where I am now. I'm one of the first batch of students to take on TU100 and it's been an interesting experience. The Sense programming language they use (based on MIT's Scratch language) is great for anyone who hasn't done any programming before as it allows you to learn about the fundamental concepts of programming without having to learn a language - it uses a drag and drop GUI interface. The Senseboard they supply you with has some interesting possibilities and makes things a bit more fun. I'll admit that there have been some elements of the course that I didn't enjoy - things like researching information and looking at the Data Protection Act - but you can't expect to love everything can you? It's been hard at times to find the time to study - 16 hours a week turns out to be quite a lot when you're out of the house for 12 hours every weekday and have a 2 year old to contend with - but I've managed it. And I'm pleased (and a little big headed) to say that I've had pretty good marks for my assignments - at present I'm averaging just over 90% :-D.
As the course draws to a close I'm considering my next move and I've decided that I could do with something slightly less intensive so I've picked a 30 point module in Microsoft Server Technologies (TM128). At half the points of TU100 it should be a bit less work and, to be fair, I work with Windows Server 2008 on a daily basis. I'm hoping a lot of it will therefore be stuff I do every day or just a bit of revision. After that I get to move on to some more meaty stuff - there's a new course starting in Java that I quite like the sound of so I'll probably pick that up early next year.
To sum up, although I'm drawing to the end of one set of studying, it's far from being the end of study all together. I reckon I've got about another 5 or 6 years to go before the degree is finished. So, by the time I'm 40... I'll have a degree! No problem then eh? *ehem*
However, I know it's going to be worth it.