Why a BSc (Hons) Computing & IT degree?

I’ve basically said why I’m getting a degree, and why I’m getting it from the Open University. So then why a degree in computing when I’m already a network engineer?

The last time I was looking down this path, before the company I was working for went bust and before my wife became pregnant with our second son, I was asked this question outright by a coworker. He had a degree in history from Ireland, and more than ten years later he was a mid-level engineer for a cloud services company. (Though due to the company falling apart, he was trained up quickly and was helping me do senior level work.) His argument was that I was paying money to study, and could get any education I wanted with that money, but using it to get a degree that people normally use to work for someone at my position was throwing the money away on a piece of paper. Or maybe parchment. Probably paper, though. Like, fake age-yellowed paper.  Fake age, not fake paper.  Because fake paper would be parchment, again.

It’s a fair question. With the whole of the Open University course list in front of me, I could pick out anything I want to study, and go down that path. I could learn history, myself. Business administration, psychology, law, and anything else are all possibilities, and I could just pick the most interesting one.

Except I have already picked the most interesting one.  I picked it twenty years ago. I like computers. I love networking. I like the career, the people, the fact that every year there’s more things for me to learn. I love that no matter what organisation I’m with, I can use my skills to invent a solution to something that’s keeping someone from being satisfied with their job.

What would I do if I got a history degree? I’d still be working in IT. I don’t think there are any IT Historian positions that need filling. You know what I’d be doing with a history degree? The same thing my coworker is doing with his: Letting it sit on the wall and ignoring it while I worked in IT.

In the meantime, it’s not like I’m even close to knowing everything about computing. When I started at the school I work in now, there was a student intern who taught me things about PHP that I now use every single week. He had no degree or work experience, and I learned real world job skills that I’ve constantly used for the year and a half since from him.

Think how much more I’ll use after a current higher education degree course? In a field I already know that I love, have experience in, know I can find work in and will enjoy? Surely that’s worth a few quid here or there.

Also, let’s be honest, I’m already a full-time dad and a full-time employee.  I’m also a part-time semi-professional geocacher and drinker. These things take dedication. To say nothing of all the time I spend avoiding work on the allotment.

Getting a degree in my current field will certainly optimise the time I can devote to study. I know it won’t be easy, but it will certainly be easier than, say, an accounting degree would be, unless I were an accounting clerk.

As an example, I’m going to have a large leg-up on things like coming up with assessment project ideas. I even have a potential idea for my final project of the degree already, integrating our school’s student management system with an open source VLE to give teachers the option of using the VLE without any setup work on their behalf. (I’ll probably end up doing this in a year or two anyway, so I’m not worried if someone swipes this idea. I’ll come up with a thousand more ideas between now and then.) And certainly the CCNA module will be easier for someone who can already figure out networking subnets in his head.

If I can shave off a few minutes here or there because I’m already scripting solutions, and spend them with my kids, and still get a degree, that’s worth it.

And finally, it’s going to give me the chance to explore other parts of Computing & IT than my current little kingdom. I’ve already decided to switch my degree focus from networking to web development. Currently a lot of the solutions I’m providing to the school are bespoke web applications, and I’m really enjoying it.  Before my previous employer imploded, I was starting to design a new cloud services platform. This degree will let me convince future employers to let me keep playing with these technologies, which I love.  I almost wish I could just take forever and take all the modules.  (Considering how often they have to retire modules due to the speed of change in the industry, that’s potentially literally impossible.)

So that’s why. Oh, and I’ve always, always wanted a degree in computing.  Maybe I could have just left it at that.

4 comments

  1. Hi Mark,

    What you think about the OU Computing & IT degree for someone wanting to be in programming? I’m considering it but trying to work out if it would be suitable as normally a degree in Computer Science is what is asked for and that does look a bit different.

    1. It’s an interesting question, Sam. And one which needs some judgement calls that I’m not really qualified to make.

      What I can say is that people often have a view of computer science and software engineering courses that aren’t what they’re really about. The point of the degree programmes aren’t to teach how to code, and they certainly aren’t about teaching programming languages. They should teach you how to design programs in a way that’s entirely agnostic about the chosen programming language. As an example, M250 (Object-oriented Java programming) is meant to teach the concepts which are universal to the entire OOP paradigm, and just happens to use Java, one of many candidate languages, to do it. The point isn’t to teach Java.

      TM470 is the OU’s honours capstone project for their computing degrees. If your TM470 project is about software engineering, then you’ll be pulling together a lot of the instruction in your previous modules. There’s a good chance you’ll have taught yourself coding in languages you’re more drawn to by then, and so you’ll likely be pulling together way more than is in the Q62 or Q67 courses. You’ll go through identifying stakeholders in your project, gathering specifications, generalised and detailed project planning, identifying key interim goals, resource planning and management, evaluating your work, reporting on your work, analysing the project, researching the key areas of the project, etc.

      Having a computing degree (any computing degree, frankly) will get your CV past the first hurdle of satisfying a recruiter that you have a related degree. After that, you’re going to need to convince the hiring manager that you can do the job that they need done. Your TM470 project will be a great start for that, but it’s even better if you can have several projects of the same calibre to show in a portfolio.
      The OU degree will give you the tools necessary to plan, program, and produce projects to a high standard, as will many other degrees. But convincing someone to hire you will likely require showing that you can put those tools to good use, also like many other degrees.

      1. Thank you for your very detailed reply! It’s really appreciated.

        I’ve been watching some of the CS lectures on YouTube (which are really good) so I have some idea of what that covers but not so much the OU. That’s how I found your blog when trying to get more information which is really helpful!

        I did see M269 and M250 which look like CS modules but I’m not sure how comparable the other modules are. So I’m wondering if the OU would give the same/enough foundation for programming.

        Also from what I’ve read most people who work as developers say getting passed the first hurdle without a degree, even when they have experience, is getting harder. Because of that I’m also a worried that a degree that doesn’t say CS on it might also have issues for programming as that’s what everyone asks for.

        I can’t do full time financially so my choices are the OU or University of London. The OU has great reviews, seems to be well regarded and is geared up to part time but isn’t CS. The UoL doesn’t have great reviews, isn’t well known and is still fairly new at distance learning but it is CS. I’d prefer the OU it’s just how suitable it is for programming.

        Thanks again for your detailed reply though, it really is very helpful.

        1. Ah! Well, the OU might have you covered there. There’s a new policy where certain pathways will result in different names for your degree. There isn’t one that is specifically called Computer Science, but there is one called “BSc Honours Computing and IT (Software)”. It’s common practice, however, that many students just include their broad route path at Stage 2 on their CV when listing their degree. I’ll be following this latter practice, and list my degree as BSc Honours Computing and IT (Computer Science path). It’s possible that there’d be some companies that would pass even on this, but those are the kinds of companies I wouldn’t want to work for, anyway. They’re following a specification without thinking, and would expect me to do the same. No thanks.

          (Anecdotally, though, I’d heard positive things from people taking from UoL, but it’s all friend-of-a-friend type stuff.)

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