I've toyed with the idea of going back to school to get a more formal programming degree for years. I've found much success with being self-taught, asking myself good questions to drive my research and learning intentions, and speedily ingesting new material to learn the process of things.
With being laid off from Flashtalking at the end of December last year, I thought: why not!
So I signed up for 3 classes at my old community college, College of San Mateo.
It took me a long time floating through a number of programs and majors to decide what I wanted to do with my life when I was in my 20's. Airplane mechanic, electronics, civil engineering - each field of study had something I liked, but each had their own setbacks. Can I tell you the number of times I got a D in Chemistry? Or how frustrating programming in Fortran was? But I kept taking all my general education classes along the way, figuring I would find something to fit into.
Eventually, I happened into a new program being put together by several different disciplines at the college, Multimedia. The Broadcasting, Graphic Arts, Photography, and Journalism departments put together a field of study to deal with the emerging web at the end of 1997 - a big experiment for everyone involved. During my time in the Multimedia program, I was introduced to so many tools and techniques that lead to web production, it showed me a lifelong interest in creating things I didn't realize I had.
What it really showed me was how to ask good questions - then find the answers I was looking for.
Beyond anything else, this is what drove my career. I happened into programming in Flash, what eventually became ActionScript and enjoyed the process and organization of that. I strove to become better, learning programming techniques leveraged in other programming languages, how to write classes, use design patterns, stay organized, create extensible applications and not just one-off programs.
And along the way, as technology changed, libraries were written, new tools became available, and web technologies changed - and I changed along with them.
I've spent quite a lot of time at this college, having returned as a part-time teacher in the same program I graduated from, teaching beginning and intermediate Flash programming for designers for over 12 years, writing all my own curriculum for the first 10 years until I found a book toward the end of my tenure there that had everything I wanted for my students. I had a passion for sharing this information with my students.
So, with some time off - I decide to go back to school. Plus all the classes are offered online in this program, so I can remain flexible when I go back to work. Seemed like a win-win.
The costs took me by surprise. 20 years ago, I could register for a full load of a semester of classes for $100-$150. the 3 classes (11 units) I enrolled in cost me over $500, plus $70 for a "textbook" I would have never bought professionally. To complete this program and get an A.S. in Computer Science will take another 20 units, provided I'm able to reuse all of my general education units.
Costs go up, I can appreciate that, but wow... Frustrating but not enough to scare me off.
Next up, the Intro class I had to sign up for required a mandatory online orientation, and I was trying to add the class, so I figured what can I lose. What was supposed to be an hour screen-share ended up starting 30-40 minutes late, then we watch the teacher use a Wacom tablet like a chalkboard writing things that took forever to show up, then once they did were mostly illegible. This wrapped up with a 'bonus' 30-minute explanation of how to zip files. From there I had to e-mail the teacher 3 times in order to get the add code so I could enroll. In fact, the three times I e-mailed the teacher during the semester, he either 'didn't understand my question' or couldn't be bothered to respond - even when I found an error on his final and reported it.
I had one really good teacher who was quite passionate about teaching and what she was teaching, but my other teacher dinged me significant points for very trivial issues for my work. To top it all off, the homework and assignments trickled out over the semester, so there was no way I could manage to get ahead. This might sound fair or standard, but none of these classes really had lectures. Each week you would read a book or some online resource, and do an assignment. Why do I need to wait? And honestly, why can't I take a test and get placed further along in the program? Especially for an intro class.
Although I'm a little frustrated with this whole process, and the overall lack of passion and engagement with 2 of my 3 teachers, its been a good experience. I managed to get straight A's in all classes I signed up for, and look forward to continuing - probably at a slower pace since the slow release of assignments really becomes a waste of time in my schedule.