A year ago I took a big step towards improving one of my learning goals. That goal was to have a degree in programming. So I went back to school after more than 4 years, while still working full time.
Now after a year of going to college and working full time as well, I want to share my experience of this journey.
The first hurdle that challenged me was of course the whole pandemic. The first few weeks I could attend class without too much of a hassle. I did not have to wear a facemask in the class, I had no online classes, everything was in person.
But then the next pandemic wave hit, and we were forced to follow all of our classes online through platforms as Teams, Discord, BigBlueButton,… Most of the time this was doable. But distractions were around the corner and it was just too easy to skip classes, or doing something else while being in the meeting.
I learned a lot from this, as this was the first time that I had to attend online lectures. To not overcomplicate things I will provide a bullet list of some of my findings.
- Turn off your phone or at least mute all notifications
- Use plugins that block social media for a set timespan
- Invest in a good chair
- Invest in good computer peripherals (webcam, microphone, multiple monitors)
- During a break, stand up and walk or grab a coffee
- Clean your desk before and after
- Close or lock the door
- Let everybody know that you have an online class
Scheduling work and school
I had a hard time managing work and school. It can quickly become overwhelming or to lose focus on the learning. As I am a big procrastinator I went out of my ‘comfort zone’ quite some times. Being productive for work and school is a mental challenge, as you want to have other things to do.
Being lazy is not worth it! Those deadlines keep coming and just doing the work the day before the deadline is just the worst. Using all the tools provided by college has helped me to overcome my procrastination (not completely of course).
Some general tips that I found helpful.
- Use that calendar and plan ahead
- Calculate more time than needed for schoolwork
- Just start from day 1
- Take that day off from work if necessary to focus on schoolwork
- Check how you will be scored
- Don’t ask too quickly for help, schoolwork is made to help you learn
- Have some free time, don’t clog up your calendar with only work and school
The scariest part of going to school is taking exams. Even for me, this is the part that stresses me out. But it shouldn’t, that is what I learned in my first year. I did not study long and had even exams for which I only studied on the exam day itself. Of course, that is not the smartest approach, in the end, I still passed the exam and even had some unbelievable scores. That is not to say I will do my next year in the same way, because this way of studying stressed me out.
Studying should be healthy and keep you sane. Worrying and studying will not. So here are some of my favorite things I will do differently next year in my learning journey.
- Don’t study only on the day of the exam itself!
- Don’t worry about failing, just try to best you can
- Study with friends (learn from each other)
- Put every aspect to practice (if applicable)
- Don’t just repeat but try to explain the concept
- Use the Pomodoro technique and take effective breaks (hydrate, walk,..)
- Make every task into mini tasks
Finding a balance between school and work differs from person to person. But the main items will be the same, doing both will take a lot of your spare time away. It can be a stressful journey, but in the end, it is worth it. Not just for the degree, but for everything that is being learned, all the friendships that come forth from this, all the experiences there are.
That’s why I call it a journey because learning is a never-ending story.