Extras for the ideal degree

A university degree should provide you with the means to pursue a range of options upon graduation so that you know how to take advantage of good ones when they turn up in your path. Irrespective of which ‘flavour’ of degree you choose such as ‘IT’, or ‘data visualisation’, you should leave with a working knowledge of the professional skills in your profession along with hands-on experience using the critical thinking of that same profession. In addition, you should also leave with a general set of transferrable skills in a range of areas, which you can use as needed.

In computing something that meets these needs would probably look something like this:

  • You’d learn how and why you should use version control, testing and other ‘practices’ in software development so that you know what is expected of you in a new role when you’re hired, or go on a placement with a company.
  • You’d work through the theory of different computing science challenges and also apply that theory in appropriate applications that you built individually and in teams as part of a class.
  • You’d have experience working with large open data sets so that you understand the challenges of what awaits you upon graduation.
  • You’d have experience working with live clients so that you understand, and have used appropriate professional skills dealing with clients and have suitable examples to illustrate the points you will want to raise about your experience in your interviews.
  • You’d have regular opportunities to talk to a range of developers and designers with a range of backgrounds so that you know the variety of options available to you from freelance to salaried positions when you’re looking for work later.
  • You be able to attend conferences that bring in local, regional, national and international speakers so that you know what is happening in your field and be able to network with potential employers as well as talk to developers and designers about the industry too.
  • You’d have opportunities to work on small to large projects with professional developers and designers in hack events as well as other types of shared practice events.

Kate Stone demoing drum poster

Each of these items offer you chances to build upon what you learn in the classroom and to help you realise the subtle aspects of computing as practiced by computing scientists, as well as what is done in software houses and how they share experiences between them. Together these different aspects help to make you more resilient and to use a variety of learning opportunities to make it easier for you to find your next step upon graduation whether this be research or working as a software professional, or any of the many other roles available in the ICT field.

Each of these items would also help you if you decide to strike off on your own, or with a few others and launch your own company. As a computer person, that option is ALWAYS there too and should not be ruled out either. Starting a company is easier when you’re not worried about losing a salary, and you could also start it while a student too using the entrepreneurial unit that most universities all have too.

Be a creative thinker for job security

We need to explore ways of bringing all students closer to the world of work while they are still students so that they better understand the context of why they are learning what we are teaching during their degree. The world is in a constant state of change and the world they enter after graduation will be different from the one they knew at the start of their degree. We need to help them learn to navigate this ever-changing landscape so that they remain in suitable employment throughout their career.

A number of recent reports show that more jobs are likely to be lost due to automation. Happily, more jobs are being created than disappear, but the types of jobs being created are not always as professional as the ones lost. The BBC even has a simple app, which will tell you the likelihood of your job being automated out of existence. The main jobs at risk are those which contain routine, repetitive work. This means an ever growing list of work is at risk of being lost to automation, as today’s algorithms become more complex and adaptable. This means more traditional managerial and administrative jobs are at risk than might’ve been previously thought as software moves into the legal field, and also other areas. Automation is found in more places that than factories now.

The key to future job security is to be working in an area requiring creative knowledge management based on human judgement. Yes, this can be in the creative industries in the widest sense to include ‘design careers‘ such software development as well as traditional fields found in art and design schools as well as the games industry too. This also includes education and those areas where processes are based around those work flows where each item is different and thus requires a judgement call.

Your job now is to consider where you are now and see what options you have to acquire the skills you need in order to develop your career in a direction that aligns along creative knowledge management. It might be that you need to form a portfolio of work to suit the career you desire, and not rely upon one specific option. While being more complicated, it also provides greater resilience for you and your career.
A good starting point for exploring where you are now, and where you might be able to transition yourself too is to work through the Business Model You worksheet. Ideally you should work through this with a friend or two, so that you each have someone to contribute to the discussion and remind you of aspects about yourself, which you’ll probably overlook.

Our role as educators is to see how we can bring in more opportunities for students to be ‘in the world of work’ while still students. This can be done through placements, students working with live clients on projects either individually, or as part of a group, and also interacting with professionals in events alongside their studies.