Published on: 10th December 2019
It’s often true that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone; one of those mistakes as humans that we’ve probably always made and if I was one for betting, we probably always will. Ah, humans...
To that philosophical note, I don’t think I really appreciated education when I was in the midst of it. I could achieve consistently (including the achievement of failing every biology exam that I ever sat), but was regularly in the ‘get through it’ camp. For some reason I just wanted to get into work, into the ‘real world’ - regrettably so, because the more I look back, the more I see the opportunity. Not an opportunity to be in top-set maths, get A*s across the board and walk out of a Russell Group university with a first-class degree; but an opportunity to use the great resources around you to learn.
After all, isn’t that what education is about? It seems obvious now. All the way through, you’re gifted with mentors knowledgeable in their field, who choose to give their time to bettering you and others. There are vast resources, equipment and technologies at your fingertips; for a long time you’re given access to as many of those people and as many of those resources as possible, because education knows not to arbitrarily lock you down. A plethora of opportunities and exploration at your fingertips but alongside the politics of schooling, it’s difficult to see.
Eventually you get to university and lock yourself down; but you did so knowingly, so that’s alright. So to say, you’ve taken that wide range of opportunities and decided to focus it into a chosen field. That allows university to take that exploration,those opportunities, and focus those too. Great libraries, state-of-the-art labs and theatres; industry on your doorstep, lecturers who have been tied to the path you’re planning to take and have seen it all on their way. In the end, universities are a great place to learn about whatever you’ve focused on. There’s a lot there for you, and you deserve it - you locked yourself down.
Having been there and done that, I’d credit decidedly normal, non-Russell Group Manchester Metropolitan University with the above. The problem is a personal one, that I didn’t make the best use of it; the library was only really explored in my final year, and I’d tend to float along instead of asking questions. I was interested when professionals visited but didn’t always attend, and I only once went out of my way to engage after the fact.
I’m not a student anymore, and I’ve realised what I had now it’s gone. Now I actually have to buy books, forego the discounted conference tickets and find engagement opportunities myself. The joy of research and development, of being able to get stuck into something with no exception, does have its place and won’t be shied away from - but there’s usually some sort of expectation, and first and foremost there is a job to do. The real world is pretty awful.
Approached by lead on the Web Development course that several of us have graduated from, Richard, to participate in a panel of graduates new and old, I couldn’t turn it down. Who can say they’ve been on a panel?
Really, networking with professionals and giving students access to these people is one of the things that MMU - and certainly the Web Development cohort - do awfully well, so it’s great to be a part of. This was illustrated on the afternoon itself, the graduate panel to follow a panel of industry employers - quite literally the people whose job it is to hire the students sat in front of them, giving those students advice on how to be hired. Having not taken full advantage of that myself, it’s right to help students in the same position to make the most of it.
Catching the end of the employer panel while fixing a coffee, the theme of attitude immediately emerged, and students preferably having a good one. That was off the back of a question raised on meetups: in short, students, go to them. Putting your spare time into these events goes a long way to showing your interest. That’s something that I plan on starting now, even as a graduate who’s now in the industry - but as a student I’d rarely engage.
You’d be fortunate to be in the middle of Manchester, competing digitally with cities like Leeds and second perhaps only to London... which you can’t afford. Manchester’s a place with no shortage of this sort of thing in walking distance, and you’re a Google away from finding the next event. Most of these are actually free and easier than ever to attend, so it’s just the effort that’s the question… and the effort that counts. Funnily enough, the effort is what people notice.
The interim saw Richard get me chatting with a few current students about work experience; the everlasting chance to embarrass yourself, to mark one agency off the list for good. Will you ever get a chance like that again? Certainly, the natural line of thinking is a spooky one.
The answer I’d reiterate - to quote from the origins of a man sentenced to death by firing squad - is to just do it. Take every interview you’re offered, every chance to experience an office and see others at work. The working world is very different to education, so to experience it as a student can go a long way. Finding yourself invited in the first place, you’ve sparked someone’s interest. Someone is interested in you and what you do. You might not know what (I didn’t), but there’s probably logic to it.
So go! You’ll learn, you’ll teach someone else about yourself and if you’re lucky, you might even be tested - but none of that means roll-up, know the drill, and have a website built by 5pm. You’d benefit from not worrying about what you can’t do, from being honest about what you can do, and from not concerning yourself about expectations that don’t exist. You won’t land every job, but that’s beyond the point; you’ll learn something to take forward every time. I’m not just saying that… I managed to fail enough job interviews to know.
On the grad panel and between a handful of us in varied positions, between questions from Richard and the audience of students, attitude stuck out once more. ‘You can teach code’ was one of the early remarks that stood out to me - meaning that if you can show people you want to learn, that you’re willing to participate, that you’re the right individual, your technical ability can become secondary. The best programmer in the world could be a terrible human and the worst possible colleague to have. Personally I wouldn’t want to work with that person, but I’d make an exception for my mate who despite still learning, I know will go about it the right way.
Most everybody on the panel urged students to ask any and all questions, to lecturers, employers and experts alike, which goes back to the earlier point of being surrounded by mentors. You’ll get those mentors in the workplace if you’re lucky (disguised as colleagues), but it’s important to have the confidence to admit what you don’t know and realise that there are people who can help you know it. If they could read your mind, they’d just tell you the answer. Given that having asked you’re unlikely to emerge knowing any less, you probably won’t be worse off.
One the whole, the afternoon was well spent - one that I hope can help students keep the right approach. It was great to catch up with Richard afterwards, a chance to thank him for grads Harry and Nayeem who joined us at Frank this year, and to discuss the future of the course. While the everlong BSc Web Development will be taking a break, I’m well intrigued by the Digital User Experience (UX) Degree Apprenticeship being introduced this coming year, added to the development of a new course in the future. That’s not to mention the opening of the School of Digital Arts in 2021, which will house the apprenticeship programme going forwards.
As a developer it’s traditionally more peripheral to the role, but between interest in the fields of design and user experience, and being a fan of apprenticeships as a way of ‘learning while doing’, this arch towards the modern and creative aspects of UX and web design makes makes me envy those approaching university now. As for the School of Digital Arts, it’s starting to sound like I need a student disguise of sorts; fake student ID, sticking to the thick-rimmed glasses and stick-on moustache.
So much to say that the future for the university sounds strong - one that I (and Frank on the whole, I’m sure) hope to be involved with along the way! Thanks once more to Richard (@eskins) for the invitation, and I’m sure we’ll be there to pop in and see the students when the next chance comes along.
- Cameron Barnes, Web Developer, Frank