Over the past year, I have been studying a part-time Master’s degree in Computer Science at the University of York online and writing reviews about my experience with each module. Since then I have received dozens of emails, Linkedin, Instagram and Twitter messages from people all over the world asking whether the course is as bad as the famous Student Room 70-page forum thread says it is. This is why I decided to write this comprehensive Q and A to answer the most popular questions hopefully to answer all of them in one go and provide my own opinions regarding this course. Please bear in mind I’m writing this with only 4/11 modules under my belt and all views are my own and I take no liability for the results of your life decisions.
My views on this course have wavered from module to module from bad to good to bad and I’m not sure whether it’s due to preferring some content and not others or the different teaching styles for each module or whether it was how much I struggled, therefore, I will also try to answer the questions in a way that is as balanced as possible.
I haven’t studied a STEM degree will I be able to manage this Masters?
This Master’s was created for those seeking to change careers. As it technically does not require a STEM degree I would say you need GCSE(UK school system) math level skills to tackle the course at the least.
I’m saying this because some modules require you to ‘work things out’ algebraically. Therefore, you need to understand a method and use it and sometimes without even understanding why. It is what it is which is same for a lot of the theoretical content.
In terms of the content, it is delivered from absolute beginner to more complex theories. I had to put in so much energy into understanding even the basic concepts – as I come from a design/creative background – that it became very time-consuming.
If you have no technical background then you may also find yourself spending more time doing extra research to understand even the basic concepts which is what I have found for this course. This sometimes means watching 5 different videos on the SAME topic or asking really really dumb questions in Slack, our student chat room. If you have the time it may take you longer but with perseverance, you will totally be able to manage.
Is it okay that I haven’t got any programming experience?
In this course, you are taught Java and Python from scratch and it’s amazing with how much you learn BUT they don’t give you much time. For each module that introduces you to a new programming language, you get around 1 week to learn it basically turning it into a coding Bootcamp where if you don’t learn it in time it overlaps into the other topics where you will be required to program thus making you fall behind.
I made the mistake of not learning Python OR Java prior to this course. It’s doable if you’re super smart and a quick learner but if you, like me, are an average student then you may struggle with picking it up in a short time. Therefore I recommend doing simple Codeacademy courses in Python and Java to give you a bit of a head start. You don’t have to be a pro-level programmer is programming is such a TINY part of this course but I do recommend you go into it with some understanding of basic Object-Oriented Programming principles like variables, methods, class and for-loops etc so you can focus more on implementation.
How much time will I need to dedicate per week to this course?
It really depends on your study style. There was Method 1) Those that start on the assigned tasks as soon as they get it. When they study they only study what they need for the assignments basically using it as a filter to go direct to the information they need. This cuts out the unnecessary time and quite often those people get higher grades with less time invested in ‘studying’ and reading. This is the smart and efficient way.
I would say method 1 requires 3 hours x 5 days a week to keep up with the content. That’s around 15 hours and then 1 hour x 5 days for the tasks = 20 hours per week providing you understand the content in the first attempt. Then when deadlines are due then it ramped up to 16 hours over the weekend because you have to find the time to study AND do assignments at the same time so that would make it = 36 hours.
Personally, I do Method 2) the dumb way and study all the content and read all the books given because I don’t want to miss anything interesting/important. I enjoy learning about the content but reading can get REALLY boring. I guess this way isn’t as efficient as I consume everything we need to read and do all the tasks which take A VERY LONG TIME. I left my job and started working 1 day a week to pay the bills which left me 6 days a week of freedom to study as much as I wanted. So I was studying 50+ hours a week.
Since I now have a full-time job as a Data Engineer I will most likely not have any time at all and have to revert to only learning the essential information, spend around 20 hours a week on it, take time off(if possible) and focus on just passing.
Will I be able to get a job with this degree?
As some may already know with every degree, you have no guarantee of a job. There is no security in the modern workplace even with all the experience and certifications you can find yourself unemployed and unable to find work. That’s why it’s important if you aim to work in tech to constantly keep up with the latest tech, tools, frameworks, languages everything.
Reality-check aside all those credentials, experience, degrees can most certainly help build up your case to get hired in entry-level jobs. A university degree can give you an advantage; for example, if two CV’s are read and one has a degree and one doesn’t it will get you ‘looked at’ but that’s it. You will also need to prove you are capable whether it’s past experiences, your projects or your hobbies these are evidence you can complete tasks and are competent enough but most of all you need to be a good fit for the role. You can find this out by researching about the company, analysing the job spec and creating an application specifically catered towards the job you are applying for.
There is a process of CV, portfolio, cover letter for each job you are applying for which takes a lot of time and energy. I have found the most successful applications and callbacks were from the ones I wrote cover letters specifically catering towards that company and job role. And that sh* takes time!
If you have managed to attract the attention of the recruiter then comes the interview process. It will be a mixture of screening, case studies, presentations, tech interviews and competency interviews. Mastering these things step-by-step and learning as you go along will be the best way to gain experience. Unfortunately, you don’t learn any of this with your degree.
Just sending off your CV with your degree listed and hobbies is now no longer sufficient. It’s competitive out there, especially if you are just starting out at entry-level. You need to stand out and doing internships before you graduate is the best way to get that experience and help you stand out. If you’re already working then your past experience + this degree experience should be enough to help you get interviews.
If you require any advice on job application then please comment on this blog post and I will get back to you!
Can I change careers with this degree?
You can change careers without this degree!
This degree is great for those who know they like tech but are confused about what they want to do in the future. It’s also good for those looking to: fill in gaps, get a shallow understanding of programming concepts, machine learning, work with data, computer networks, cyber security etc enough to expose you to new concepts and get a feel of whether you find them interesting. It will give you enough information to research further online about any career paths or topics you like the sound of. This is how I discovered Data Engineering.
There are quite a few modules that have Data Science style assignments especially if you’re going down the Data Analytics path and I started to enjoy the programming aspect of Data Mining with a quick google I had found the role of Data Engineer. I started to watch videos about it, read Reddit posts and join communities on social networks to see what people in this field were saying. Then I found the people working in this field to explain what they did in-depth, the skills required, and the tools they used. These things helped me know what direction to go down and discover a new career to check out.
If you already know what you require to make that move then building on those specific skills will be the best move. Reading job descriptions of your next career, listing the skills, upskilling in those skills, working on your CV, cover letter applications will be the things that help you change careers. The degree will be the thing to boost your credentials and maybe give you and recruiters some confidence in your abilities but that’s it.
Changing careers is a long process with many steps which you can do without a degree.
What does “the assignments are cryptic” mean?
It means the assignment brief is very hard to decipher what they are asking for. Sometimes there are mistakes in the deliverables and sometimes what they ask is vague. I’ve done an assignment completely wrong before and it’s important to read the assignment questions (if they are a question) to determine the way you approach the task. For example, sometimes they will ask you to show, describe, explain, argue and all of these may mean different things.
I made the mistake of not asking ahead of time and using my “out of box” thinking to answer the question in creative ways. They do not like this. The exam markers have to go through hundreds of assignments which are long, technical and tedious and they need to be able to check to mark criteria based on what you are talking about.
I still have not been able to grasp report writing so I am still unable to elaborate on what makes a ‘good’ assignment. This part may frustrate you as it does me but remember it’s just an exam the important part is that you enjoy what you are learning and it’s put to use towards your personal goals.
This course is awful and there is no doubt about that. You will most likely hate it, get frustrated, drop out or be stubborn and stick it out but complain and suffer the entire way. You could save yourself time by researching your other options and weighing out the pros and cons and do everything possible to gain clarity and only then take a decision. Or you can change your mindset and go into this course knowing that it isn’t perfect and that there’s lots of value in everything you are learning. I have completed 1/3 of this course and I have managed to achieve my goal of changing careers into tech and getting a job at a Global 500 company. Because of this I believe there is value in everything you do and whatever happens you can make it your own.
Make the right choices and find yourself closer to where you want to be. Make the wrong choices and learn from your mistakes and find yourself closer to knowing where you need to be. There is no right or wrong if you understand your own goals and gain clarity to enable yourself to make the best decisions for YOU.