Tips, Advice and Recommendations for Computer Science Students

Tips, Advice and Recommendations for Computer Science Students

According to tutors, I am one of my university's "top graduates," and I want to talk about my experience studying Computer Science and how I got to where I am.

To demonstrate and hopefully motivate what can be accomplished during your university studies, not only did I graduate with first-class honours from Manchester Metropolitan University and participate in a diverse range of extra-curricular activities, which I will discuss later in this blog post, but I also have the following roles and awards that I have specifically had as a student: I am effectively the "ex-Daenerys Targaryen" of the Department of Computing and Mathematics.

The roles and awards are the following:

  • Peer Mentor (2018)
  • 2nd Year Computer Science Rep (2017/18)
  • Secretary of the Computing Society (2017/18)
  • Academic Representative for the Societies Council (2017/18)
  • Freelancer for AaH! (previously Humanity Hallows) the official MMU Student Magazine (2017–18)
  • Chair of the Photography Society (shortlisted for Most Improved Society of the Year, 2017–18)
  • Workshop Lead for the Faculty of Arts and Humanities (2018)
  • Shortlisted as Committee Member of the Year (2018)
  • Chair of the Computing Society (2018–19)
  • Received the Faculty of Science and Engineering Extracurricular Award (both 2018 and 2019)
  • Received a Societies Honours Award from the Students Union (2019)

That's a lot.

Recommendation Areas

Aside from making sure you keep up with your classes and grades, there are a lot of extracurricular activities you could do, both inside and outside of university, to help your career and have fun.

My goal is to break those down into a few distinct areas, providing a brief overview of what to do, going into some detail over that, giving examples from Man Met if possible, and then giving highlights from my own personal experience, one from a career-progressing perspective and one from a fun and personally memorable perspective.

Activities

What to do TL:DR; Attend university hosted extracurricular activities.

The detail. Your course often has a set curriculum that is only reviewed on a set basis, every four years, for example, and usually has restrictions on any professor who wishes to teach any more industry-relevant or soft skills. Because of this, tutors or passionate students often put on additional activities to learn such topics, either related to their course or for other students who are interested in learning more about that topic in general.

At Manchester Metropolitan University. There are the Faculty of Science and Engineering Extracurricular Activities, which I have given examples of in my blog post.

One career-progressing highlight from my experience. At MMU, we had a building called The Shed, this was "the home of Digital Innovation at Manchester Metropolitan University" and hosted several activity events, both for students at the university and external events that people outside of the university could attend. Because I attended so many events there, Hayley Walsh, the Relationship and Events Coordinator, became very familiar with myself, my abilities, and my knowledge of the Manchester Technology Scene.

This led to her putting me in touch with a person who needed some technology developed. I had an initial conversation with this person and quickly got up to speed on the project and its goals, deciding that it was within my abilities as a developer. As a second-year university student, I was able to earn a few hundred on the side and demonstrate real project work on my portfolio.

One fun highlight from my experience. Randomly, I chose to participate in "Adventures in Chemiluminescence" (Making Things Glow) on a whim. This certainly didn't boost my career potential in the area in which I wanted to go, although it was the reason why I knew one of my best friends in my final year of university.

The Union / Societies

What to do TL:DR; Find a group (society) of peers which share common interests.

The detail. Universities often have over a hundred societies, and it's often not too difficult to find one that you will find interesting. These range from fun generic societies like the Rock (Music), Nerd and Gaming Societies, to the more academic societies such as the Computing Society.

One career-progressing highlight from my experience. Running the Computing Society. This gave me a wide range of additional skills and knowledge, all of which contribute towards career progression, including my Emergency First Aid at Work qualification, which I only received because I was the chair. If anyone reads this and is interested in running one, I have written about the actions I took while running it in a separate blog post.

One fun highlight from my experience. Not only did I run two societies at university, but I must have been a member of over a dozen more. At a certain point in time, Panic at the Disco had a concert on, but as a student, the price of a ticket to see them was far too high for me at the time.

Because of this, I jogged down to Zombie Shack in between attending an overnight hackathon, where there was a MySpace emo night, which was effectively a PTD afterparty, where several members of the Rock Society, including myself, met up and had a GREAT time. I barely bought a drink and certainly screamed my lungs out, as it should be, before running back to the hackathon and having a nap.

Events

What to do TL:DR; Attend professional events outside of the university.

The detail. If you are studying a technology, creative, or business course, there are very likely to be events happening in your area that have relevance to both what you are learning and can be useful to accelerate your career. These range from socials to networking events and conferences, all of which give you the opportunity to learn from experienced people and often provide free refreshments and/or swag.

At Manchester Metropolitan University. Attending events was one area in which I found myself doing quite a lot of, and because of that, being the computer scientist I am, I created an automated tool called CompiledMCR that aggregates such events from a variety of online sources. This is a free and open-source tool that was started during my studies at MMU, and I still heavily encourage any students there to use it.

One career-progressing highlight from my experience. Studying in Manchester City Centre and living in Salford makes any event happening in Salford more appealing due to it being closer to home, meaning I can usually stay out longer with less cost.

This explains why I was excited to hear about a "Retro Games Night" happening in MediaCity, half way between university and home. The first one I attended was on Feb. 15, 2019, and after a couple more of those events, I started talking to an individual called Ben Grubert, who founded a company called INEVITABLE... The rest is history.

One fun highlight from my experience. Out of the over three hundred events that I have attended, it's difficult to choose just one, which is why I will bend my own rules slightly and give two highlights. The first is more appealing to students, while the second brings back pleasant memories.

It's quite well known that the type of events I frequent often supply free beer as a refreshment, and occasionally there is a surplus supply. After one particular event back in 2018, there were two full 18x boxes of Corona beers that were not opened. As a joke, I asked the organiser of the event who I knew if I could have them; he said yes. They certainly weren't easy to carry. Getting them to the bus station, which was too far away, was a struggle, which is why when I got off the bus close to home, I faced a challenge. This concluded with probably the best £3 I have spent as a student, which was on a taxi to transport around £30 of beer home.

My second story comes from BSides 2018, a conference for people interested in (mostly) cyber security that was held in the business school at my university. At the time, I only knew a few people attending from the Manchester Tech Scene, but not much more. Closer to the end of the event, I met May while I was filling my bag with free swag given away by several sponsors. We started talking, and I went with them to the after-party, where OggCamp was mentioned, another conference that focuses on Open Source and was happening the next day in Sheffield. I knew no one going, apart from May, so I booked a train ticket that night, and I don't regret it, I made a few friends, and hanging out with May and their friends was especially hilarious, even if I was frightened after calling them out for using a knife and fork to eat a burger.

Coding Groups

What to do TL:DR; Join coding groups to learn and eventually mentor.

The detail. Even though you are formally studying, it still doesn't mean you know everything just yet and won't need assistance, which is where coding groups can assist greatly, although they should not be used to get other people to do your coursework for you. Not only can these groups answer any technical questions you may have and help you figure out how to solve them, but mentors may also be able to tell you about other opportunities.

Then, hopefully after your first year and somewhat into your second year, you should have learnt just about enough on your course to start helping other attendees of these coding groups with basic coding tasks, which will both help you to communicate and enforce your understanding of various concepts, but it will also look great on your CV.

At Manchester Metropolitan University. in Manchester, there are several coding groups, although after COVID only a few have started back up again, one of those being CodeWith, which has effectively taken the role of CodeUp and was started by several organisers of CodeUp branches, including myself.

One career-progressing highlight from my experience. COMING SOON

One fun highlight from my experience. COMING SOON

Hackathons

What to do TL:DR; Attend any event of any duration where people come together to solve problems.

The detail. They are a great way to quickly learn new skills, boost your career, and often provide a wealth of free swag, such as drinks, food, t-shirts, socks, USB sticks, hats, and plenty more (all real examples of free goodies I have received before).

At Manchester Metropolitan University. Pre-COVID, we used to have three main on-going hackathons that used to run annually on campus: ManMetHacks, StudentHacks, and GreatUniHacks.

One career-progressing highlight from my experience. Being second place at the British Cardiovascular Society Hackathon 2018, both because that earn me a prize of £300 as a second-year student, and because when I went back the year later representing INEVITABLE we won first place.

One fun highlight from my experience. There have been a variety of fun projects I have worked on while participating in hackathons, from the Company of Silicon game to the Party Parrot social media platform, but ultimately, the most fun project was SlackChat. It was set on a simple premise, and I have written a blog post that describes my experience in much more detail.

Projects

What to do TL:DR; Build your portfolio and don't be a sheep.

The detail. Start learning about topics you are passionate about and the tools required to develop those topics, such as Data Science and Python respectively, to give an example. Choose a project or challenge that is a little hard for you (and will require you to learn more over time), finish the project or challenge, document it, post it to GitHub and your resume, and then repeat the process while learning more and adding to your portfolio.

One career-progressing highlight from my experience. The most interesting project I worked on as a student was an IoT door system. Unlike other projects I worked on at and during university, this one required an understanding of cyber-security as well as a much broader understanding of the interactions that would be required, which necessitated the top-down mindset found in architecture as opposed to the bottom-up mindset found in engineering and coding.

This was also the project I talked to Ben about when I met him at the Retro Games Night event. MediaCityUK was investing in a certain IoT project, and a person in business development needed Ben to translate my technical knowledge into language that was easy to understand. 

One fun highlight from my experience. Not to do too much of a blantent plug, but CompiledMCR, it's a project started in 2017 and is still being worked on today for the good of the Manchester Tech Community and greater.

Git / Github

What to do TL:DR; Learn a useful industry skill and demonstrate your portfolio.

The detail. Github, or any source control implementation, is one of the most useful industry skills to have. It effectively bypasses the need to hand around USB devices with code and cuts through a bunch of other manual tasks that should stay in the 20th century.

I mainly include this as a separate section to projects because in my second-year Professional Development unit it was only mentioned in passing as a thing we might want to look at, which I want to avoid doing and emphasise the usefulness of it. Luckily, after my cohort, that module was revamped and included a new Developing Your Professionalism (DYP) element, now replaced by Industry and Community Engagement (ICE).

Social Media

What to do TL:DR; Engage online with professionals.

The detail. It's important to note that professionals, or people with more experience than yourself, should not be scary or intimidating; they are people just like the rest of us. Speaking with and following such professionals on peer-to-peer platforms like Twitter is a great way to stay up to date on any relevant events that are happening and to find people to engage with on specific topics.

One career-progressing highlight from my experience. During my dissertation, I put out a tweet asking for feedback on my project. I didn't expect a flood of responses, and I didn't, although I certainly received quality over quantity. Rick Threlfall gave me a wealth of useful and constructive feedback. It was unreal and greatly appreciated, and this interaction only happened since I followed him on Twitter after attending a lot of the NUX events he organizes.

One fun highlight from my experience. One of my best friends, Kelly Stanford, I only met through engaging with, Matthew Crossley, a professor at my Univieristy, back in September of 2017.

Other Manchester Metropolitan University Specific Recommendations

There will certainly be more to add over time, although Jobs4Students is a very decent way to earn a little extra money during your studies.

Conclusion

Socialise, engage with communities and companies that match your interests, give back by volunteering and mentoring, don’t be embarrassed to ask a stupid question, and most importantly, have fun.

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