Thursday, 1 July 2010


Goal 34: To finish and complete my degree

What is it I'm doing exactly? Why did I decide to do it?

I turned thirty in 2002. Unlike most people I know, I had really been looking forward to reaching that milestone. Incidentally, I'm looking forward to turning forty as well in a couple of years!

As a family we had been through a rough few years and I feel it is safe to say that together we had lost our focus.

I was doing a fair amount of thinking about the past few years and was becoming aware that I lacked skills that other people seemed to take forgranted. A major issue was that I wasn't even sure what skills I was lacking, just that other people I had been working with had ways of working that seemed to be more successful or efficient and I was not even sure how to go about identifying what it was I needed.

By this time, we had two young children and our house was beginning to seem quite small. I was on minimum wage and although I knew I was capable of doing more skilled work, wasn't able to convince an employer to pay me more.

At that time, the plumbing industry was in the news as a shortage of skilled plumbers was allowing them to charge higher rates. I seriously considered training to be a plumber as it was something I had a little experience of.

I also looked into doing a degree or college course as I was conscious that time was passing and I did not want to be earning minimum wage for the rest of my life. I wanted to be able to take my family on holiday, to help support my children through university, to even possibly one day retire.

Several years before, I had worked with a colleague who was doing an HNC at night class. This had seemed interesting at the time but for whatever reason, I did not follow it up. I remembered this and became convinced that I needed to do something, get a trade or education, anything to allow myself to make a career.

Eventually I began to favour either training to be a plumber or doing a night class towards an HNC in Computing. Both seemed interesting and to offer potentially lucrative opportunities. My decision eventually came down to a question of whether at thirty I wanted to see myself crawling under floorboards at fifty or whether a desk job might be preferable. I chose the desk job.

I think it turned out to be a fantastic decision. I found the college system to fit with my learning style and for the first time, I began to excel at education. Several aspects of computing fascinated me. Systems analysis - analysing a process or paper based system and creating a more efficient computer system; database design; and programming. Computing had advanced sufficiently that the hurdles of programming that turned me off as a teenager ,such as typing in a page of code only to have it fail with an error, had been overcome or simplified.

Our tutors encouraged us to consider continuing education and working towards a degree and by the time I finished two years of night class I was converted to the idea. This was helped by having completed my first two IT contracts during my last year at college, and on one of them earning more in six months than I would have during a year on minimum wage.

I had such a good experience at York College that after a year without studying, I longed to pick up the idea of doing a degree.

I couldn't conceive of taking a break from work to complete a degree full time and so eventually began looking at the Open University. One of their named degrees caught my eye. I'm not sure if that degree is still available but the closest seems to be Computing and Systems Practice (

This has a systems course: Managing complexity: a systems approach (T306) which I really wanted to do. Although I already felt like I had gained many of the skills I had lacked years before, this course seemed to be an opportunity to take my skills to a new level. The emphasis on managing complexity in particular addressed a concern I had that on projects I had managed and in reports of IT disasters, traditional project management approaches could not cope with the real world.

Last year, it was announced that 2010 would be the last year T306 would be offered and though I still have an additional 60 credits to complete at level 2 to get my degree, I decided that I had to do this course.

I have enjoyed it. I feel I've already, four months in, learned some incredibly useful methods. I have begun using these methods in other situations and found them useful. I have not enjoyed the sheer slog of combining work with an intensive 60 credit level 3 course but I am sure that I will look back and be glad that I stuck this course through to completion.

Dan, you were right. It has been helpful to write about this. Thanks!