Colleges and Universities Won’t Teach You Everything

The opportunity to join the University of Nairobi in October 2009 to pursue a Bachelors degree in Computer Science, the best University in Kenya and ranked 9th in Africa, was a dream come true to me, given the fact that all my life I had grown up in the village and attended village schools for my primary and high school studies. It was a chance to measure myself against students who were from the best high schools in the country and who had learnt better reading skills due to their exposure to better teachers in high school. I will be very frank, I had chosen to pursue a degree which I had no clue about, I didn’t know anyone in this field, that’s how naive I were.

The fact that I didn’t own neither a laptop nor a smartphone, compounds how unprepared I were for the industrious career ahead of me.

How was I going to pursue a Computer Science degree without these basic needs that a programmer needs so much? The University provided desktops which came in handy helping me do my assignments and homework but this was not enough, it always forced me to stay in the lab till late. Well, along the way after a year I managed to own a laptop, which highly improved my productivity. Learning C and C++ would be the first step to learning programming languages.

Learning Discrete Mathematics, Linear Algebra and Semi conductor Electronics is not what I had anticipated to learn as an aspiring Computer Scientist. After a year, I started learning how these skills would not really help me out in the future, I were not going to be an electronics engineer, my interest was highly in databases, networks, design and programming. Other than C and C++, I knew no other language, except Visual Basic, which I had shallowly learnt in high school. I started falling in love with websites, both front end and back end, databases and design. Since this is what I envisioned I wanted to be doing in the next few years, I took a look of the course programme for the second, third and final years. Astonishingly, there was no a single course that was going to equip me with websites development, web applications development, software development and design skills. I felt I was in the wrong degree programme, for the right purpose.

I started learning how this was a chance for me to learn new technologies and programming languages. For the first time in my life, I were going to mastermind the way I would live my future life. I started learning that pursuing a degree in Computer Science was a chance to become a Software Engineer, UI designer, Web applications Developer, Web Designer, a Lecturer, Auditor, Database Administrator, System Analyst, among other careers, but nobody was going to teach me how to be all this.

Thanks to Google, a simple ‘best programming languages’ search, introduced me to Java, HTML5, CSS3, Javascript, PHP, Phython, Ruby , .NET and SQL. I was up to the challenge, to learn all these before my graduation in three years time. Was I going to be best in all these? No way, it is impossible. I ended up loving PHP, C#, HTML5, Java, Javascript, SQL and CSS3. Thanks to w3schools, TutorialsPoint, Udemy and Codecademy, this was made possible. Along the way , because of CSS3, I developed a huge interest in design, I was highly impressed by applications and software that is easy to use. I started learning how different users sieve through content, their software usability patterns and their interest in key graphics. My love for typography had just been unearthed.

My interest in design lead me into liking art, thus I started learning Adobe Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop. Technology was moving from flash websites so I opted not to learn Adobe Flash Builder. Creativity, simplicity and eye to detail were going to be very important in this, I could depict. I had to love colors, it didn’t matter if am color blind or not. It is a passion I had.Today, am an experienced Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator designer expert.

Since I had developed a high interest in Web applications, I started learning how doing a website from scratch can really take a huge time to do, a case study goes to my final year web project which took about five months. I learnt a new terminology – frameworks. Get your application done faster and stick to a proven standard of coding, this was going to help me not necessarily code a whole module from scratch. This landed me into CSS frameworks like Bootstrap, Boilerplate and Foundation. CodeIgniter, Laravel, Yii and CakePhp frameworks would come in handy too for PHP, and so was BackboneJs, NodeJs, AngularJs, SpineJs, AgilityJs among others, for Javascript. Django also came in handy for Phython.

Looking back to four years ago, if I had followed the university course structure and restrict myself to learning what lecturers taught us week in week out, I would have graduated with same skills like just everyone. No single lecturer came to class and instructed us to open our Dream Wevaers, Photoshop, Illustrator, CodeIgniter, Laravel, WordPress, Drupal, Eclipse, Notepad++ or Sublime Text, and really they were never going to. I needed a cutting edge in the job market, am glad I had realized this three years before graduation. After graduation and an experience of exactly one year since graduating, I have learnt that a degree actually is not very important, it is in fact only a ticket to a job, but it is not a guarantee of maintaining the job for months. What matters most is the skills you have acquired over the time, attitude, your character as a person and experience. I believe the ability and willingness to learn new things and technologies is very important, it makes you stay on the top of your field. However, students should take the first step in achieving a good honors degree.

Most importantly, learn ethics, honesty, integrity, professionalism, how to communicate to clients and network with like minded people.

The friends you make in campus are most likely going to refer you to someone they know who might offer you an opportunity, and they play a good role in your career since most of them you already have same interests in the field you are pursuing.

As Steve Jobs once said, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”. I would never have learnt all this if I waited for a lecturer to ever teach me. I was hungry for knowledge, skills, strong work ethic and expertise.

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