This is a recap post of my 4 semesters studying Computer Science at undergraduate level via and online degree by the University of Hertfordshire; including structure of the degree program, time management, and  my experience this far. Link to the course page.

Long Way To Go

Two years ago I was past my fourth semester in Management Information Systems (MIS); a combination between Computer Science and Management. Two years ago, half-way through my Undergraduate Degree, I decided to drop out.

Why?

Many reasons led me to the point and it is probably worth doing another post, titled "How not to choose a University and the 10 things to avoid". To keep this post short and focused on my current CS Degree, here are the top three reasons why I left that University and degree program.

  1. Although I had a scholarship at that University, it was still a private University and way too expensive for what I was getting out of the learning experience.
  2. The University staff and students were sexist.
  3. Class expectations were measured by the laziest student to make sure that everyone can pass the class.

All in all, this was not the University experience that I was looking for. Additionally, I wanted to get my hands dirty and learn real-work-skills. Thus, I decided to drop out, start a long-distance (i.e. online) Bachelor in Computer Science and find a job.

Structure of My Degree

Don't think about a long-distance degree program like a long-distance relationship; rather, it is optimized for a different lifestyle.

The Degree Program is divided into three different levels. Each of those levels are ultimately 2 years of part-time study, or 1 year of full-time study. However, the first level, you can only study part-time.

I could have probably skipped the first level by transferring credits from my previous Degree program. I chose not to since I did not feel like those credits were worth much. Also, I wanted to get started working which seemed a lot easier without full-time studies.

Each semester is based on one broader subject (during part time study), which then discusses several topics within the subject, as part of Units, in more detail. Resulting, you have one Unit of content each week. A Unit consists of

  • Optional Reading List
  • Mandatory Reading List
  • Video Material
  • Course Material with the essential information on the Unit

The Units are either tested through

  • A non-graded Quiz
  • Individual (graded) Assignment
  • Course Work as part of the Units
  • Supervised Exam

I know what you wonder

How do you take supervised Exam in an online Degree

Here is the process

  1. Exam dates are provided 1 month in advance or at the beginning of the Semester.
  2. About 1 to 2 weeks before the exam, you sign-in to ProctorU and choose a time on the date of the exam. (Usually, you can choose between a 24h window.)
  3. On the date and time of your exam, you sign-into ProctorU and you will be assigned an examiner. With your webcam, you will show them your surrounding. They will observe you and your laptop screen during the entire time of your exam.

That's it :) – taking exams in you Pyjamas in the comfort of your living room.

via GIPHY

Semester Recap

But what do I actually learn? (I am not yet ready to publish my course notes but here is the rough content of my semesters.)

Semester 1 – Human Dimensions of Computing

  • Computing Development History
  • Computing Models
  • Development Trends of Computing System
  • Impact of IoT and Cloud Computing
  • Pervasive Computing
  • Social Networks, including calculating a sociability score
  • Product Management for Computing
  • Research Principles of Computer Science and Academic Conventions
  • Fundamental Statistics
  • Statistics in Practice (basically using Excel :D )

Semester 2 Models & Methods in Computing

The goal of this module was to gain an understanding of the principles of computation and computer-based systems by exploring different ways of modelling computer Systems. (For this module I took over 160 pages of course notes.)

  • Algebra recap and naming conventions
  • Lots of set theory
  • Propositional Logic
  • Predicate Logic
  • Using sets to model data
  • Relations and functions
  • Relations on sets
  • Graph Theory
  • Formal language
  • Finite state machines and Automata
  • Operations on value
  • Operations on state

Semester 3 Programming

(Basically, learning Java)

  • Foundations of Programming
  • Variables, Types, Statements, Operators
  • Arrays, Matrices and strings
  • Functions and files
  • Debugging
  • Larger Problems
  • Object Oriented Programming
  • Classes and Inheritance
  • More Object Oriented Programming

Semester 4 Platforms of Computing

  • Computer Systems
  • Number Systems and Data Types
  • Central Processing Unit
  • Memory, Low-level Hardware, Input/Output
  • Operating Systems Features
  • Operating Systems Architecture
  • Networking Protocols and Services
  • Networking Devices and Connectivity
  • Troubleshooting

Work-Study Balance

Imagine you are doing a split... between two sky scrapers ... the buildings are on fire and you are holding two crying babies – that is approximately what it is like studying and working at the same time.

via GIPHY

Just kidding (well maybe some days that's how it feels). Usually, it really comes down to time management, meetings and the urgency of events. If we have important events coming up at work that require tasks to be completed in a timely-manner, then yes, it can get stressful. On most days,

  • I wake up at 7 AM and go to bed at 10 to 11 PM. Meaning I have 15 hours of day time.
  • 8h to 10h are work, leaving me with at least 5 hours (I work from home, so no need to commute)
  • 2 hours are cooking, eating, working out and household stuff
  • And I still have 3 hours to pursue hobbies and to study

Yes, my days are usually structured per 30 min blocks. Additional side-effects are that I really want to know how long a meeting will take (independent of meeting friends or co-workers) since that allows me to plan ahead easier.

Also, consider that everyone is dealing with time management differently. You might be able to squeeze all your studies into your weekends or you get your work done in less than 8 hours – I am not that kind of person. I am a control freak and managing my time in predictable blocks gives me security and takes away unnecessary worry.

Prepared for Lock-Down

I am that person, whose life did not become more complicated during the lock-down.

I work from home.
I study from home.
I have my hobbies at home.

My place is set up for my lifestyle.

While I would usually travel for work, attend meetups and other events. My degree does not require me to go anywhere. It is the online version of the on-campus equivalent. Thus, neither I nor the University had to go through much change to adapt to the new situation during the pandemic.

Would I recommend it?

The short answer is (as usual): It really depends.

It is exhausting at times, it requires you to set boundaries and decide on trade-offs in your lifestyle. However, the learning experience that I am able to get right now is not going to wait for me to finish a Degree Program. The notion of "get your degree first" and then try to get a job is quite limiting and does not allow for much outside the box thinking.

Online Degrees have the additional benefit that you have a lot more freedom to structure your studies based on your interests. We have access to a variety of online learning resources and tools, including the online collection of O'Reilly, GitHub learning, an extensive online library by the University and much more. When choosing your online degree, you want to go for a University that provides you to a variety of content beyond the course material.

Overall, I would recommend to establish a 'personal curriculum' first, of which the degree program might be part of. Specifically, have conversations with professionals within the industry that you want to join. Based on the expectations of the profession, put together a list of topics that you should learn and skills that you have to acquire. Depending on the profession, it might be worth to complete a collection of online courses instead of a full degree program.

Degrees are mainly useful for learning the fundamentals within a field of study rather than becoming job-ready.

TLDR

Online Degrees

  • Require self-incentives, time management and motivation
  • Are sometimes based on the on-campus equivalent
  • Work

Thank you for reading :) here is a Cookie 🍪 and my contact information