How a Degree In Computer Networks Accelerated My Career in Technology

This article is slightly different from the usual tech posts but I wanted to give those that are looking for a career in tech an insight into how a degree helped me.

Now before we delve into the details, I want to start by stressing that a career in Information Technology DOES NOT always require a degree. With that being said, a degree has certainly helped me in kick-starting my career and here’s how it all started…

In 2013 I decided that I wanted to really take hold of my life. For far too long I kept finding myself in dead-end jobs, those of which I never really enjoyed and although I acquired many skills doing these jobs, I knew I was destined for more. I remember it like it was yesterday, after I was medically discharged from the Royal Marines I decided that I needed to take time out and really think about what sort of job I wanted to do.

After gathering my thoughts, I decided that I should do something that I was naturally good at and something that I enjoyed, this was working with computers. There was one problem though and that was finding where to start. After all, the only computer work I’d ever done at this point was for family and friends. Even then when I come to think of it, I was only fixing broken laptop screens and install anti-virus software, little did I know, there was so much more that I could be doing.

After weeks of really thinking about my next move, I found that I had two options, one was to try and get an entry-level job within the IT field and the other was to go to University to learn more about a specific area within IT before trying to acquire a job in the field. If I’m totally honest at the time I was siding more towards just trying to get a job because I had bills to pay and I honestly didn’t think I was capable of University because of my ‘educational past’. I think it’s important for me to elaborate on the point I made about my previous education because I know that some people will read this article and be able to relate.

When I was in secondary school (UK), the equivalent to Junior High/High school (US), I wasn’t the best-behaved student. I believe this was mainly because I didn’t find school interesting and I’d do anything I could to NOT be in school, even if that meant getting sent home from school. The teachers had given up on me and I was tarnished as a bad student so much so that some teachers would tell me that I would never amount to much and I would never make the grade for University.

These comments clearly affected me and it wasn’t until now that I realised this. Here I was having to decide University vs. Job and automatically I was siding more towards a job before even really considering University. Now when I think back, this was because of my subconscious mind reminding me of what my old teachers had once said, it was sad but true.

Nevertheless, I was ready to change my life around and I knew that if I was going to do that, it meant that I had to defy all odds and delve into the unknown. That unknown was University! So I began to look into different degrees in Information Technology and the more I looked the wider my search became. This was because I started to realise that there was so much more to IT than I even knew about. I started finding courses on Programming, Business Computing and Engineering to name a few.

After reviewing many different courses, there was one that stood out and even though I didn’t know what half of it meant for some reason I was drawn to the course.

The course was entitled BSc (Hons) Computer Networks & Systems Support and it was full (3 years) or part-time (6 years) at Bradford College, University Centre.

At first, I applied for the part-time course simply because I needed to support my family, so I intended to work while I wasn’t at University. Not long after applying, I received a response from the lecturers and I was asked to attend an interview so that they could meet me and I could meet them and find out more about the course.

I went down to the College and met one of the lecturers who described the course and told me what to expect. After this interview, I was left nervous and a little unsure as to whether I could actually be successful on the course. This was because the lecturer had told me about the Microsoft and more specifically, Cisco certifications, all of which meant absolutely nothing to me apart from the fact that I’d have to do exams. I was told that Cisco certifications were embedded into the course and students would be required to pass with 70% or more in order to pass. I was happy with certainly embracing this and doing the best I could but I recall going home and asking myself if I was really ready for this potential 6-year journey.

September soon came around and I found myself starting the course. On the very first day (induction day) I met lecturers, students and found out more about what to expect in the first year. After talking with other students and one of the lecturers I found out that I was the only one that was embarking on the part-time, 6-year journey. Soon after being told this, I looked at my timetable, talked to my lecturer and realised that I could move across to the full-time course and still maintain a part-time job. I knew that it wouldn’t be easy but I was willing to do it and it also meant that I would cut the course in half and have the ability to study with other students.

Below is a breakdown of what I learnt throughout the 3 years:

(Year 1) Level 4 modules will include:

Operating Systems, Hardware and Maintenance
Introduction to Networks and Computer Security
Introduction to Systems Support
Networking Architecture, Standards and Addressing Schemes
Supporting Operating Systems
Emerging Technologies

(Year 2) Level 5 modules will include:

Configuring and Maintaining Routing Environments
Desktop Support Technician
Helpdesk Management
Enterprise Routing and Switching
Systems Security
Project Management for IT

(Year 3) Level 6 modules will include:

Designing and Supporting Enterprise Networks
Server Configuration and Administration
Advanced Network Design and Testing
Employability Skills for Computer Graduates
Final Year Project

You might look at the above and say “surely you didn’t take away something from all those topics”. Well, I can honestly say that I DID and I’m sure those that equally worked as hard did too. After all, in the UK we pay for our education and I knew that if I was going to do this, it had to be 100% of my effort and nothing less.

Sooooo…now that you’ve got an insight into how University even became a thing for me and you also know what I covered as part of my degree, let’s return back to the main topic…

How a Degree In Computer Networks Accelerated My Carrer in Technology

  • It taught me that I can do the unthinkable
  • It taught me that I am capable
  • It taught me that there is more to just IT
  • It allowed me to find me again
  • It showed me that I could be more than what I subjected myself to
  • It taught me about Computer engineering
  • I went from not knowing what a switch or a router was to being certified by the time I finished University
  • It showed me that I can excel in anything I decide to focus on
  • It rejuvenated my writing skills
  • It expanded my communication skills
  • I taught me that projects require careful management for the best chances of success
  • It taught me that careful planning & design is required before jumping into configuring devices
  • It gave me the chance to lead IT projects within a contained environment
  • It allowed me to use the skills I acquired from previous jobs
  • It improved my presentation skills
  • It taught me how to focus more
  • It taught me independent learning
  • It helped build me up as an engineer, ready for a career as an engineer
  • It taught me how to analyse and research information

The list could go on but I’ll leave it there. If there is anything you take away from this article let it be the following:

  • Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t do something – this post shows you that you can. I started my degree with hesitation and I finished with a 1st class honours degree and one of the highest graded students to go through the course
  • You grow in unfamiliar situations so don’t be afraid to put yourself in them – I was scared about maybe not being able to meet the 70% marker required on the course. I finished the course with a Cisco certification and a job as a Security Engineer as soon as I finished
  • A degree in IT is not just focused on IT – As probably noticed from the above course outline, my degree included modules on Project Management and Employability Skills. These were things that weren’t directly related to IT but allowed me to excel beyond others that didn’t acquire those skills
  • Amongst other things, a degree can show the ability to learn and stay focused – My degree allowed me to apply for a graduate position with Cisco Systems and my hard work, motivation and dedication got me the job
  • Organised events give you the chance to showcase your talents and network – Throughout my course, we went to many conferences that included day-trips to the Cisco offices. I had the opportunity to meet people that I probably wouldn’t meet unless I had direct contacts. We had arranged trips to Cisco Tech Huddles, IP Expo’s and even had ex-students come in and talk to us
  • An opportunity to kick-start certification training – In University you get the chance to focus on certifications and access content that you would normally need to pay for. I had access to the Cisco Network Academy which gave me access to the full CCNA R&S course
  • If you work hard you’ll reap the benefits – Good things take time but if you continue to work hard you’ll reap the rewards of your hard work when it’s your time
  • You never know who is watching! – You never know who is looking for fresh graduates. We were fortunate to have a local company (Eclipse Legal) sponsor our Final Year projects and also provide rewards to hard-working students. So keep working hard, opportunities will come knocking. On the back of this, some students were offered jobs with the company

Thank you for reading, you can also watch the following video from a 2015 student conference where I talk about how I got to Bradford College.

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