Monday, October 12, 2015

My Online Degree

Much like the frogs in today's comic, I got a Master's degree online. Unlike the frogs in today's comic, I was using the Internet to do coursework.

I received my Master's Degree in Software Engineering from Penn State University in 2012 after completing two years of online instruction. Penn State calls these types of programs their "World Campus" because the students can literally be located anywhere in the world. That part alone creates some unique challenges, but more on that in a minute.

Overall, I would say that it was a good program. I feel like I learned a lot of extremely practical aspects of the software engineering discipline. This particular program has a heavy focus on real-world applications for professionals, and less on research and writing papers. This suited me. I feel like talk is cheap and I much prefer building stuff. Even though I write on here three times per week...

Even though all my classes were online,
I did go to a real-life graduation.
I would not say that the program was perfect. It was difficult, especially for me. I know it was probably stupid of me, but I waited 10 years after finishing my Bachelor's Degree to start my Master's. When I started in 2011, I had two children. One was only two years old. When I finished in 2012, I had four children (keep in mind, we're foster parents). I had a very demanding job that required sometimes long hours as well as international travel. The whole "world campus" thing worked well for me when I was in the United Kingdom and could do my coursework just as if I was at home, but was really inconvenient when every member of a 4-person project group was located in a different time zone. Scheduling group meetings was a challenge.

And let me talk about group meetings for a minute. Now, if any of my former classmates happen to read this, I want to be clear that I didn't dislike working with any of them specifically. But in general, I hated the group work. Maybe I just hate working in groups. I think I chose a career in software engineering under the assumption that I would work with computers all the time. As it turns out, I work with people all the time and I wonder if I chose the right path in life. But when I'm not at work, I like to not be in groups. At least virtually, I was robbed of that for two years by this degree.

The pace of the program was relentless. To get 36 credits completed in two years, I had to take two 3-credit courses in the Spring, Summer, and Fall semesters. Why is there no Winter semester? The Spring semester starts in January when it is clearly Winter and only ends in the Spring. The Fall semester actually takes place almost entirely in the Fall. Same with Summer. Spring semester is completely misnamed. What's my point? I never got break from classes. They just kept coming and coming and coming. I guess I have another issue, related to this. Because it took all of my free time for years, I feel as though I missed out on a lot of "real" learning. As in, the opposite of "book" learning. For example, right before I started grad school I was doing some work with Node.js, which was still in its infancy. I had to totally abandon all of my personal learning endeavors while I was working on my degree. When I came back to Node, it had come quite a long way. Who knows, maybe if I hadn't gotten a Master's Degree I could have instead become a Node expert. Or I could have started a web comic years earlier. Something.

What's the bottom line? Am I glad I did it? I guess so. Am I glad that it's over? Absolutely!

Are you glad there's a comic for today?

Amphibian.com comic for 12 October 2015