📚 Frustrations with college

First Published: 2023-01-05

Don't study CS for administration

I'm not a Software Developer

So I, as some of my readers may know, am a dual student studying computer science in my 3rd semester.

I'm also a sysadmin. Someone who plays with infrastructure. I'm not a software developer, despite coding as a hobby and finding that quite enjoyable. I don't even want to become a software developer either. If by some magical circumstance I get offered a dream job writing clojure at cognitect or by an even more substantial miracle I get to live off donations received for my work on open source I wouldn't reject the idea of coding as my primary job. But I find general corporate software development and associated practices repulsive and wouldn't want to consciously risk putting myself in such an environment.

Computer Science == Software Development

Surely there are ways in which computer science is more akin to mathematics than to the practical art of software development. Yet computer science in the way it is taught at the colleges we dual students go to in the bachelors program could hardly be more aligned to suit future software developers. There are plenty of courses that are either clearly for improving ones fit for software development or don't require much mental gymnastics to determine to be of potential use for said field. Little to nothing I learn in college enriches me beyond some form of intellectual stimulation. Little to nothing can or will be applied in my day-job as a sysadmin.

Theory != Practice

If the previous paragraph lead you to believe I was promoting a CS degree for software devs, think again. Even software devs don't gain that much from a degree / college program. Sure, you can construct use-cases for them much more easily, but at that point you just get a collection of courses applicable to narrow and rare sub-fields of software development or computer science. Or, perhaps more frequently, you get taught basics in a very long winded and monotonous way. Everyone that studies CS does it for the degree. Not unlike me, the rest of my class studies to pass the tests. You extract useful bits and pieces here and there but ultimately it's a waste of your time.

Academic Writing

I already wrote one paper. It was terrible, but the bar was very low as well for that one so no major issues. I have to write at least 3 more papers, gradually larger in scope. Scientific writing is about proving or disproving a thesis. It may also be about measuring something. But, even more so than programming, administration is a craft not a science. Good admins have broad knowledge about some set of tools and/or components and use said knowledge to develop, improve and most prominently maintain infrastructure. While some programmer might at some point benefit from, to name an example, the concept of software complexity, we admins can learn pretty much all that's needed with a whiteboard and some first party documentation. I need to shoehorn a craft into a science and that mismatch has consequences. It's frustrating.

Why Continue Anyway?

Listen, I'm more or less half way through and will get some worthless piece of paper at the end that tells stupid recruiters that I'm capable of learning basic math. If I could travel back in time I would surely pick a regular apprenticeship over my studies, but changing gears now would reflect even more negatively on myself than if I had simply chosen said apprenticeship from the start.

The other way to look at things is as a hobbyist. I'm not a software developer by trade. But I'm a programmer and hacker recreationally. I can extract some knowledge from what I'm being taught and apply it to my daily coding. This knowledge is rather scarce and merely a byproduct of a ton of useless bullshit, but might as well take it.

The latter is my preferred justification. I may not end up working in IT anyway. I have no crystal ball to look into the future with. I'm open enough to try alternative lines of work. My large ego won't prevent me from pursuing jobs that get less recognition by the general public either.

A Word Of Caution

I see many young folks flocking towards IT as a goldmine of an employment opportunity. In Germany we recommend avoiding a career as a cook to people who like cooking, so as to not ruin the fun of their hobby. Why?

How is IT any different? Sure you get a ridiculous amount of money shoved up there but at it's core you're likely working for a stupid and/or evil company doing meaningless labour and doing it very poorly at that because everything is legacy. And who says this gold rush will never end? What guarantees that you'll be paid well by the time you get to call yourself senior?

Try out the IT field, but don't go in with the assumption that enjoying IT as a hobby will guarantee or even correlate with you enjoying IT as a job. Have realistic expectations and stay as far away from institutionalised science as you can.


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