University years provide students with many opportunities to gain a huge amount of knowledge. This, however, may require some extra effort and initiative.
The new academic year is about to start, so this is a good time to share with you some ideas on how to get the most out of university. They can be useful for both new students and those closer to graduation.
All the tips are based on my own university experience – the experience of a pretty successful student who started working in the IT industry after 1 year of studying. Now I’m close to graduation – I’m starting the final year in October, and I wish I had known all this before I started university.
Before you read on, try defining what you expect from university. Is it knowledge or preparation for a career? University will teach you how to deal with and find solutions to scientific problems. Sometimes this knowledge is completely different than the information and skills employers expect you to have. The scientific approach is not that useful in business, as the problems you solve at university are mostly analyzed only in academic environments. Of course, it may happen that you will have to solve an academic problem in the business world.
Does it mean that studying at university is a waste of time? For sure not. University gives you a fantastic background knowledge to help you learn by yourself and an overview of what computer science consists of. During the course of study, you touch upon different areas of computer science, such as programming AVRs, networking, algorithms, programming, AI, and many many more. This is a great opportunity to find out what interests you the most and what to pursue.
But whatever you chose, bear in mind that, unless you are going to work in an academic environment, university does not prepare you 100% for the future work. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively use your time at university to prepare for starting your career.
Find Interesting Subjects
This is probably your main task. Try to determine which areas of CS interest you the most.
How to find it? Well, there is no short and easy answer. You will feel it. In my case, there were topics I was happy to learn about and always eager to go for lectures. Of course, it is not easy and it may take a lot of time.
If you identify a subject you are especially curious about then learn more about it than you are taught at university:
- ask the professor for additional materials and recommendations,
- find videos and books
- find professionals who contribute to this particular area of science
- read articles and watch conferences
- follow blogs and social media
Think Twice Before You Say “I won’t need it”
Not so long ago you could hear me saying “I don’t need this subject! I won’t come across any of the problems discussed in this lecture within the next 50 years.”. I think I was completely wrong. For sure, there are things I’ll never deal with in the future, but this doesn’t mean it’s useless to learn them now.
I understood this when I got interested in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. When I started university, I was a guy interested only in programming. “I will be a programmer till I retire”.
But later I got into other things that require wider knowledge. Knowledge of math is key to reading scientific papers, Parallel and Distributed Computing allowed me to understand why Tensorflow has better performance on GPUs.
You never know what will interest you in the future. You should expect that one day the knowledge you consider useless today may be critical.
Learn On Your Own
Nobody will take care of your knowledge. The more technologies you know the better. Create a habit of playing with new toys.
If there is a technology that looks interesting then learn it by developing a “pet project”. There is no better way to learn to do things than just by doing.
Use the best sources possible for learning new technologies – blogs, courses, examples on GitHub, recordings from presentations. The Internet gives you unlimited access to a wide range of resources. Use them wisely.
In the next paragraphs, I will describe how to incorporate new technologies into compulsory activities.
Do Projects That Interest You
If you want to be a software developer then coding is the most important activity. At university, this is done by assignments or projects – this is how you gain most of your experience. Sometimes it is possible to propose both the technology stack and the topic for your project. Take a while and think about them. Write down the technologies you want to learn and topics that interest you.
Take this opportunity and learn the most popular languages and frameworks. Use tools required by employers. Play with architectures and design patterns. When you are preparing for an interview, put the projects in your CV.
Use Professional Tools and Methodologies
If you plan to become a professional developer (or a guy working in IT) you have to know professional tools. This software is extremely expensive, as it is used by enterprises. It doesn’t make sense to spend money on software for a technology you won’t be using.
I have a good news for you. Many software companies have special programs and give you a free license if you prove you are a student – a student ID or an email within the university domain will do. I have prepared an ebook that will give you a short overview of the most popular software.
The ebook also describes how to try to access software even if the company doesn’t have such programs. Leave me your email and I’ll send it to you.
Yet, the software is not everything. If you are developing a project in a team then learn how to cooperate. Use tools like Trello or Asana for task management. Read about project management methodologies like SCRUM or Waterfall.
Take Part in Additional Activities
The majority of universities cooperate with many local businesses. Those companies organize workshops for students as part of the cooperation.
A guy from the company comes to a university and speaks about the problems they are solving or the technologies they are using.
This is a fantastic opportunity to learn about new technologies or find out what interests you the most. You can also meet a specialist and ask what their work looks like. You can ask for advice on how you can prepare for a given role.
At every university, there are student interests groups. Find them and ask what are they doing. Perhaps they are developing something you will find interesting. These groups usually take part in many conferences. They will be a great occasion to learn something and see what such events look like.
Take Part in Hackathons
Hackathons are parties for tech people who build applications from scratch within a time limit.
The topics for the applications are provided before or during the event. You can take your mates and try to compete with others.
Hackathons are not only about programming. At the end of every event, you will have to present the project you created. Due to time limitations, you will be given 1-2 minutes. Not that much, so the presentation should be short and concise.
Hackathons give you a fantastic opportunity to learn and try new technologies. If there is a technology you want to learn and you haven’t had time for it – this is the right place (of course, if it meets the requirements of the project that you are going to build).
In this kind of events, you will meet people who are interested in the same things as you are. You will also meet companies that are open to supporting such events. Maybe someday you will be working for them? Ask the representatives about the company, their recruitment process, the roles they offer, and the company’s everyday life.
Connect With People
For me personally, this is one of the most important benefits of studying at university. I’ve met fantastic and creative people. When we first met, all of us were willing to get some knowledge, experience, and a well-paid job. Now, after a five-year journey, we have promising careers ahead. I know a lot of people who work for different companies, with a wide range of technologies, and on different positions.
This kind of relationships may help you in your professional life. Are you looking for a new job? Ask your network about recommendations. Are you taking part in a recruitment process? Ask your friend who is working for the company about what the company looks like from his or her perspective.
Moreover, if your friends know that you are a reliable specialist, they will start asking you if you are looking for a new job. Start working on your personal brand from the very beginning.
I hope that this post has shown you that being a student is not only about learning. There are plenty of opportunities that might change what your career will look like within next 5-10 years. Take all the opportunities and make your dreams real. Good luck!