The Hardest Things About Studying Outside of Work

Some of you whom have read my blog before will be aware that as well as working full time as a software developer I am studying for a BSc(Hons) in my spare time. Recently I’ve been finding it really difficult to push myself forward through the final years so I’ve decided to write down the advice I’ve given to other people in the past with the hope of taking it in myself ;) .

Losing momentum on the downward slope
I’m four years into my degree and I have two years left so I’m on the downward slope. Many said I was on the home straight and it would be easier to have that goal insight. Except….it’s not. It’s hard! Make no mistake those last few legs are the most tiring. This being said, keep your chin up, there are only a few more assignments to go. Look at what you have already achieved, you are almost there!

Career is progressing and so I have less time to focus
This is something I’ve found recently. My career is progressing really well and I’m really happy with it. On the flip side of this I’m not able to concentrate as much on my coursework as I used to. So what you need to do is allocate time for you studies, sit in a room with NO distractions and do what you can in that time.

It’s hard to plan the tasks without peers
What I have just started to do is treat each module like an epic. Each assignment within that epic has a story and then you break down that story into tasks. The idea is that you can move tasks through a Kanban board to give you a sense of achievement. Any blockages can also be seen very quickly and you can rank tasks by importance. I use kanbantool.com

I don’t have much contact with peers or tutor
This is a hard one. How do you know you’re on the right track if you’re not seeing a tutor or peer? The best thing I have come up with is to make sure you have a peer as a point of contact for a student view and also touch base with your tutor fortnightly if possible. I try to make a list of things that I want to address over the weeks so that I don’t forget when I do contact them. If you don’t have peers or a tutor, use your network you will find people are helpful.

Feeling like you are very behind
You know…you’re probably not. If you touch base with your peers you will probably find you are only a little behind or even right on track. The only way to sort this is to speak to someone to clarify where you are at and where you should be heading.

Not having access to the lecture feedback or questions
It’s hard to compensate for this one, you’re not in the lectures so you aren’t getting what all of the other students are in the way of context. It’s easy to read the material online but it is so much better when you have the context behind it. However remember you are working, you have real life work experience and resources. I have found so many members of my industry network have been so willing to help and are the perfect people to ask.

I don’t have any rest time
I find that when its term time the only thing I am thinking when I’m not at work is “shouldn’t I being doing some coursework right now?!” that feeling doesn’t go away, believe me I’ve tried. However you must still remember to take a break now and again and enjoy yourself. A refreshed mind is a clearer more productive mind!

On the whole, yes it is hard but you have to keep going. You can do it! Now haven’t you got an assignment to do?! :P

S :)

Filed under: Personal Development, , ,

8 Responses

  1. Dominique Louis Says:

    I did tweet something similar to you, but I’ll put it here anyway…

    The hardest part with anything that requires will power, is to start doing it. Once you start, usually momentum takes over until you stop. Then you go through it all again next time you have to start.

    Same goes for things like going to gym, the hardest part is actually getting our of the office/house and getting TO the gym because once you get to the gym, you go through the motions & you do your workout. Job Done!.
    I’m sure you’ll find the right motivation to get yourself back on track and completing your degree.

    I’ve been in IT for about 20 years now, and have become a little disillusioned with it all, so I want to go back to uni to study something totally different ( lion taming :) – only Monty Python fans might get that ), but right now I’ve no idea what direction I should head, which is a worse place to be, than having a direction, which you have, and not able being able to get to your destination. Lack of direction is the worse thing that can happen to any human being.

    But I digress. So get out there and kick some course work arse!

    Posted on November 28th, 2010 at 16:28

  2. kellabyte Says:

    I totally hear you in regards to no rest time. I have difficulty going to sleep knowing I have so many things to create or learn. I just want to consume more and more and turning that off is very difficult.

    It’s awesome that you’re finishing your schooling and have been able to have your career start to blossom at the same time. A curse and a blessing at the same time, I am sure :)

    When the dust settles you’re going to be in for a crazy ride. Can you imagine that you’ll be able to focus even more on your career results than you do now? Insane, I know. So very exciting too :)

    Posted on November 28th, 2010 at 16:30

  3. Bill Campbell Says:

    Hi Sara,
    I sure can relate to all you’re saying. I wasn’t that great of a student when in high school as I didn’t care much about studies at all – I was in a rock band instead and that would be my future. :) I wasn’t ready to go to college when I graduated and since there was a war at the time and the draft was very probably I enlisted for 4 years. By the time I got out, 4 years later, I was armed with the G.I. Bill to help me pay for college and realized I had learned a little discipline from those 4 years of service. I got a full time job and started taking 4 classes/term at night. It was crazy busy – but still there were many classmates that would come over after our 10pm class was over and we’d drink some adult beverages and play music. I found that I did most of my studies at lunch time and weekends. My weekends were mostly studying and prepping notes that I could study during the week at lunchtime. I used the 3×5 notecards for many of my classes (question or fill-in on one side and answer on the other). I made a notecard for everything that could be asked on a test (lots of cards :) . I would go through these cards at lunchtime putting all the ones that I answered correctly in one pile and the others in another. When one pass was complete I’d go through the pile of those that I missed until I had them all correct. One term I actually took 5 classes (one at lunch time). My adviser told me that I’d never be able to handle it. Thanking her for the motivation I got a 4.0 that term! haha!
    I was able to complete my Bachelor’s in 4 years (went summers too). Did similar for masters but found quickly I could only manage 2 classes/term.
    As I look back I think about – Was it hard? Yes – but SO worth it. I still managed to find time to have fun. The time does go so much faster than anyone can imagine. I remember studing with a girlfriend on the weekends – her grades came up a lot and her parents loved me! LOL!
    Anyhow – just wanted to say – what you are doing is Great! Keep it up and you’ll be really glad that you did. I loved the whole kanban thought you connected with. What a great way to look at it.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Bill44077

    Posted on November 28th, 2010 at 16:35

  4. antonio Says:

    I think part of the problem is that the university system is so focused on career cultivation rather than actual learning. I’m 15 years removed from the system and found that I’ve learned a lot more since then. Focus on the learning and worry less about your career. That will come later.

    Posted on November 28th, 2010 at 17:04

  5. Jeroen Says:

    Damn, very recognizable! Got the exact same thing going on here! Also studying for my BSc on a dutch university while having a fulltime job as a developer. It’s really hard to keep focussed on studying during the weekends.

    Posted on November 28th, 2010 at 17:49

  6. Matt Frear Says:

    Why bother studying IT if you’re already working? I only did my degree so that I could get a job, and once I got a job most of the theory I learnt at uni was soon forgotten. Nowadays I keep up by reading books and blogs and podcasts and conferences… That’s plenty. Plenty of smart people drop out of college, bill gates, zuckerberg, etc

    Posted on November 28th, 2010 at 23:46

  7. Dominique Louis Says:

    @Matt Frear : I actually never got a degree ( tooo busy enjoying earning money to go back to Uni ), but still managed to work as an IT consultant/contractor etc over the last 20 years. So I can vouch for the fact that a degree is not essential, but conversely more and more employers expect you to have a degree and job agencies might refuse to put you forward when you don’t have one, even if you do have vast amounts of experience.

    My only other advice for Sara, is to make sure you are doing the degree for the right reasons. Otherwise you’ll complete the degree and feel like it was a waste of time, and that is the last feeling you want after dedicating 4+ years of your life to something.

    Better to have a degree and not need it, than need a degree and not have it ;) .

    Posted on November 29th, 2010 at 16:31

  8. Haddicus Says:

    There’s a lot of reasons to study in a field you already work in Matt. Mostly, to gain more respect and a greater well-rounded understanding of the area.

    I personally am in the same situation. Have worked in IT for nearly 7 years, but am currently working on obtaining my BS in Software Development. Why? I want to teach it someday at a college, and this is the first step. Also, many companies won’t even look at your resume without a BS, so it’s a good idea anyways.

    Getting up the momentum to continue and complete an education takes some serious will-power. Keep on trucking, and you’ll succeed where you first excelled.

    Posted on May 31st, 2011 at 17:49

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