Tag Archives: computing


I promise you, this is a photo of me shaking the hand of the Dean at my graduation ceremony, not just a noisy, slightly out-of-focus shot of people in some funny hats. But it's that too, of course.

I promise you, this is a photo of me shaking the hand of the Dean at my graduation ceremony, not just a noisy, slightly out-of-focus shot of people in some funny hats. But it’s that too, of course.

On the 10th of August this year, at approximately 11:20 AM, I graduated.

It took me four and a half years to do it — when it probably should have taken just three — but it’s done, and honestly, I’m kind of glad it’s over.

When people asked me how uni was going, I almost always said “OK”, or “alright”. Never “fantastic”, “great”, or even “good”, but just “fine”, or “not bad”. I told others that I didn’t mind uni, but the truth is that I just liked the uni lifestyle; being able to do basically nothing for weeks on end was pretty great, right up until the point where I hadn’t started an assignment that was due in the next 72 hours.

Back in high school I was pretty adamant I wanted to go to uni after finishing year 12. Others in my grade weren’t so sure: some wanted to do apprenticeships, and others still wanted to do TAFE, or have a gap year before getting back into study. Of course, there were people like me who wanted to go to uni straight after finishing year 12, but those that wanted to jump straight into uni without taking a break were in the minority, I feel.

Looking back at my time at uni, there’s a bunch of stuff I would rather forget. I’m ashamed to admit I failed more than a few classes due to sheer laziness on my part, and repeated multiple classes because I pulled stunts like not going to to the final exam. Mostly when I knew I wasn’t passing internally, but still. I’m keenly aware of the fact that if I was just a little motivated, or procrastinated just a little less, then I might have been able to complete my degree in maybe three and a half years, instead of the four and a half it took me.

It was around the end of my forth year when one particular individual asked me what I was doing at uni and how it was all going. This one time, I didn’t say that it was fine or good, but I said something along the lines of “it’s different to what I expected”, or “I’m not enjoying it as much as I thought I would”. It wasn’t intended to be a negative comment, but it just kind of came out that way. He seemed to sympathise, and said a degree was something that was good to have “under your belt”, so I should soldier on and keep at it.

I must have taken those words to heart, because that’s what I did.

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English 1A, aka Reading Too Much Into Things

English 1A Header

Alternate title: I think I would have made a good Arts student. Maybe not a great one, but at least a good one.

As part of the final semester of my long winded Computing degree, I’m doing an English unit.

It all started when I realised that there weren’t enough Computing units this year for me to do that I hadn’t already done, or didn’t have the prerequisites for, or just plain wasn’t eligible for, in order for me to graduate this semester. A quick email to my degree coordinator revealed that I was allowed to do units outside the School of Computing and Information Systems, and that was that: I started looking for something a little different, something that I would actually enjoy.

And truth be told, I’m interested in a lot of things, but wouldn’t necessarily want to do a course at Uni on them. Take statistics, for example: I like knowing how statistics are derived and an intrigued by the whole numbers side of things, but from what I’ve heard, statistics at Uni is more of a mathematical nightmare than it is “fun stuff to do with numbers”. With that in mind, it was basically a toss up between some photography-based unit, and some writing-based one.

Photography would have been cool. I’ve been wanting to get into the whole darkroom development side of photography, and I’d like some kind of formal training rather than just reading PetaPixel posts on how to be a better photographer. Then I read something in the unit outline which said that you needed to do a certain number of hours of photography per week, and that kind of turned me off. Reason being, most, if not all, of my photography is done for my own enjoyment, not so I can impress someone else with my compositional technique. Forcing myself to get out there and shoot might have turned me off photography altogether, and I’m a little scared by the prospect of someone else critiquing my work, as much as I might want them to.

With photography out of the picture (so to speak), I looked towards a writing-based subject. Of those, it was a choice between some journalism based unit or a writing-one — not having the prerequisites for a more advanced unit, I chose English 1A for two reasons. One, I thought I’d be able to get feedback on my writing process, and two, it would be something a little different. Plus, I thought I’d be able to get decent enough grades without really having to try. Sue me for being lazy.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in, but honestly, it all turned out pretty great. I always looked forward to the tutorials, even if they were at the end of a long Monday of other classes, and even though I couldn’t go to lectures due it a clash with another subject, I was there in spirit whenever I listened to the recorded lectures at home. But that wasn’t the same as the real thing, as I soon discovered…

About two-thirds through the semester, I realised that it was probably time to start blowing off the other class (which wasn’t really worth going to anyway, seeing as all the material was given to us online), and start going to English lectures. Starting around week 9 of the 13 weeks in a semester, I went to my first ever English lecture, and just like the tutorials, they were an entirely different experience than the Computing lectures I was used to.

I mean, they still had someone who delivered the lectures, obviously, and they still used PowerPoint presentations, but the kind of lecture delivered was so much different. There was interaction! The lecturer asked people questions to do with their opinion on certain ideas, certain aspects of whichever text we were studying at the time — something that is pretty much unheard of in Computing lectures. The atmosphere of an English lecture was just so different — people seemed more engaged, attendance always seemed great (although this was a first-year Arts unit, so not entirely unexpected), and yeah, there were heaps of cute girls. Again, not entirely unexpected — although welcome — for a first year Arts unit.

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English 1A

Part of my degree means I get to complete a certain number of electives, units of my own choosing. For a Computing degree these are normally other Computing-relating units, such as more programming-based units, games-design/production related units, or even information systems units. But this semester, I decided to mix it up a little and do something entirely unrelated to computers and programming: I decided to do a first-year English unit.

I really had no idea what to expect besides a vague similarity to the English I did in high school many moons ago, and one of the first things I realised was how much different to Computing it all is. The environment, the tutorials, the assignments, everything is a lot different than what I’m used to back in the School of Computing and Information Systems.

Tutorials were the first real surprise. Computing units usually have very few females; that’s just how it is. There’s usually a few more women in information systems/business units, but yeah, other than that, no real women in technology units — enough words have already been written elsewhere about this so I’ll leave it at that, but showing up to a tutorial where the genders were split almost exactly down the middle? Totally not used to that.

And while we’re talking about tutorials, we might as well talk about the interaction at tutorials. In Computing units, because we’re all socially-inept nerds, no-one talks to other people they don’t know. There aren’t any introductions at the first tutorial, and everyone pretty much keeps to themselves; you know, the usual don’t-disturb-me-I-don’t-know-you type stuff. In English tutes, though, the first thing you do at the very first tutorial are icebreaker games.

I mean, talking to other people in my tutorial is one thing, but talking to other people when that “other person” has a high likelihood of being a person of the opposite sex? Might as well be asking me to do hard maths in front of everyone.

And the people that attend these tutorials are so different, too. It’s like they’re from a totally different world, a world where people do other things besides sit on computers all day long. A world where people actually read novels on a regular basis (something I’m struggling to do, even after I said I’d try).

I remember my first tutorial pretty well, just because of how different it was to every other tutorial I’ve ever had. I sat in between a guy and a girl, and during the first icebreaker task we were asked to talk to the person on our left. The guy happened to be first, and we chatted about what we ate for lunch and something about the unit which I don’t remember (but it was along the lines of how many assessment pieces there were, or something). That wasn’t so bad, but the next icebreaker task was talking to the person on the other side of us — once again, doing the usual introduction thing, telling each other our favourite book, and something else related to the unit. I ended up talking to a girl the second time around, but it’s the strangest thing: I can remember her name and how she was really pretty, but I cannot, for the life of me, remember what she said her favourite book was (although I know I hadn’t read nor heard of it before). I also remember she didn’t know who Matthew Reilly was, after telling her my favourite series was the Scarecrow series of books. Sadly, I’ve never seen her in the same tutorial again — she either moved to another tutorial class or dropped the unit entirely. If I ever meet her again, I’ll make sure to ask her what her favourite book is1.

Take the recent assignment as another example of how English differs from Computing. One of two major assessment pieces, our 1000-word poem explication due a few weeks ago was a foray into a world I was somewhat unfamiliar with. Of course I had written essays in high school english, but this was something entirely different. And back in high school, I did English Communications, not English Studies, the harder and more theory-based English unit. A poem explication, then, was a totally foreign concept.

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I’m a fifth year computing student.

No, wait.

I’m five years into my three-year degree.

Still wrong.

My degree usually takes three years, but this is my fifth.

You don’t really realise how bad it sounds until you say out it loud. Say it out loud to a friend you haven’t seen in a few years, and you might as well wish for the earth to swallow you up right there and then.

I guess whichever way I put it, there’s no getting around the fact that saying that “I’m a fifth-year computing student that isn’t doing honours” is awkward as all hell. And really, as awkward as it might be, it’s fair enough — it is a pretty awkward situation to be in, if I’m honest.

If you’ve bought stuff online from the US before, you might have had the option of shipping your goods via USPS. The United States Postal Service is kind of weird in that their basic service is called “first class”, and a faster service is called priority1. On the surface, this makes very little sense: if you want something shipped fast and have the choice between “first class” and “priority”, which one do you choose? You might lean towards first class, as that usually represents the best out of all the possible choices (it certainly does in terms of airline tickets, anyway), but then you realise that priority is more expensive. This is totally weird the first time you come across it, and if you’re not careful, can lead to a package arriving later than you expected. Depending on how impatient you are, this may be the worst thing in the world, or you might not care.

For the longest time, I’ve put “student” as my occupation in forms and surveys. But it was only the other day that I realised what this actually meant: for me, it means the only priority in my life should be to finish my degree and graduate. Not to be proficient at Mass Effect 3 multiplayer on the platinum difficultly level. Not to capture the flag in Battlefield 3’s End Game. Not to operate like an operator in ARMA 2’s Wasteland. Because when it comes down to it, I should have no other priority than to graduate this semester. Actually, I could have graduated last semester too, but I got lazy.

Now that I think about it, I get lazy a lot.

It just gets to a certain point in the semester where there’s just too much work to do and too little time to do it in, so I just… don’t do any of it. And as stupid as that sounds, I usually write it off with excuses like “it’s just a Benny thing” or “I couldn’t have passed that unit internally anyway” and skive off the exam.

I’ve long considered the possibility that I have an issue with how University-level assessment works, in that it encourages cramming and rote-learning (memorising stuff, then forgetting it over the summer break), and to a certain extent, that’s true. I don’t like how it works. Java? I did that in first year, and I’ll be damned if I can remember even a fraction of it.

I’ve also considered the fact that, for the most part, I just don’t get programming. Everyone tells the joke about “to understand recursion, you must first understand recursion”, but recursion still makes very little sense. Looking at my code these days, it’s just really basic-level stuff; methods/functions that might do complex things, but it still consists of basic if-else statements at the core. There’s heaps of technical stuff I still don’t understand, either. I would have thought that computing students would be able to regex their way out of any given problem. I would have thought that computing students would be able to code fluently in several different programming languages, instead of constantly having to refer to documentation to figure out what any given function does. Maybe I need to re-adjust my view on programming as a whole (as in, how it “works”), but I would have thought that by now, programming would be easier than it is2.

All this makes me wonder: at the end of my degree, what will I have actually learned? I mean, anyone can copy and paste code from Stack Overflow. It might take a few more skills to work out what any given code does or why it doesn’t work, but what are those skills worth? A few years of your life? Tens of thousands of dollars in HECS fees?

Education or no, what you get out of it will depend on what your expectations are going in. I’ve wondered what life without a degree might be like — I see successful people all the time doing things that are completely unrelated to the degree they attained in university — and as much as I might have wanted to quit and drop out, they’ve all said it’s a good thing to get under my belt.

So I guess there’s nothing else to do but grin and bear it. As much as it sucks now, it probably won’t suck as much after, right?


  1. USPS also has an actual express service available, too. In order of fastest to slowest: express, priority, and first class. Go figure. 
  2. Maybe I needed to lower my expectations of what a computing degree would do for me, as if I would magically become some gung-ho programmer overnight. Tangentially related: maybe we expect too much of geeks