My developer journey - School and University

Part 1: How I got into web development, from childhood through university

Dan Spratling

May 8, 2020

5 min read

This is part 1 in a multi-part blog series, talking about my journey from knowing nothing about programming, to where I am now.

These posts aim to share some context about my career and to help you get to know me. I believe anybody can be a developer, and I hope this helps someone decide to pursue their dream

First, some context: I'm a 25-year-old, straight white male born and raised in the UK. I come from a working-class farming family. Small farms typically don't make much money, so as a child, I didn't have much in terms of electronics. I was that kid who would go over to their friend's houses to be able to play the new version of Spyro.

My parents got us our first computer when I was 11, a second-hand Dell (one of those ugly cream-coloured boxy things). My brother and I got to use the computer for a couple of hours in the evenings, which I mostly spent playing Runescape.

As you can probably tell, I was never averse to electronics and was much more of an inside kid than an outside one, which persists to this day (except the kid part, mostly).

As I grew up, I became the person to fix any problems which came up; mostly just broken printers and plugging in monitors or routers. I'm sure a lot of you are familiar with being 'tech support' for your own family.

At school, I studied IT from ages 15-18, but the majority of what we learned was how to properly use Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, and a bit of history about the web. We learned about LANs WANs and MANs (networking), but at a fundamental level, and we learned how to put data into Microsoft Access, which I never used for anything practical. I don't remember anything about this content now, but it was all low-level stuff.

For my exams across all topics, I coasted. I didn't study outside of school and managed to achieve A's and B's at the end of Secondary School (Sophomore year). This approach gave me false confidence, and I coasted through 6th Form (Junior and Senior years) too, which was far less successful. I passed, barely, getting mostly D grades. Still, I managed to get into University (College).

I'm still not sure exactly why I went to university. I didn't get good grades, so I was going to a below-average university. I think I went because I'd never planned for my future. I didn't know what career path I wanted to take, but I could go to university, so I just followed the path laid out for me. I was still coasting.

I was most proficient with and most interested in computers, so I studied Computing, the most generic computer course you could take, aiming to figure out what I wanted to specialise in along the way.

University was my first exposure to coding. I started with C# and learned bits of lots of languages, including C++, Java, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP & .Net. Some of these were more natural to me than others. I also got lots of exposure to theory, including modules on User Experience, History of Computing, User Testing, Security and probably more things I'm not remembering.

Web development was the most exciting thing for me, so as I got closer to my final year, I specialised more in those topics. By the time I was graduating, I was creating (pretty bad) websites for coursework projects. I wasn't coasting any more, maybe because I'd found a topic I enjoyed, but I was still struggling to achieve consistently good grades.

Being able to score well in exams doesn't translate into being able to produce good work. No matter your level or your education, putting in hard work to learn what you need to grow is far more valuable than getting lots of A's. Don't learn to pass exams. Learn how to learn.

I graduated from university with an Upper Second class degree (2:1), but only just. I scored the lowest possible score I could get (not intentionally). The results of my modules varied drastically, with some scoring 35%, while others scored 90%+.

I left university with a relatively good grade, but no decent projects to show off, and no practical experience to my name, which led me to my struggled search for a job.

Good grades aren't everything. Many jobs, especially for junior roles, value practical experience more. Showing off work experience and real projects are incredibly valuable.

I may have a university degree, but I know a lot of people who don't and are better developers than I am. If you don't think university is the right path for you, choose a different one. You'll still be able to find a job as employers value real experience more than grades.