a podcast by Pawlean

Were our degrees worth it? with special guest Matt Burman!

October 19, 2020 Pauline Narvas Season 1 Episode 6
a podcast by Pawlean
Were our degrees worth it? with special guest Matt Burman!
Chapters
a podcast by Pawlean
Were our degrees worth it? with special guest Matt Burman!
Oct 19, 2020 Season 1 Episode 6
Pauline Narvas

I'm joined today by a very special guest - Matt Burman! You might've heard of him before. We talk about the value of our university experiences and degrees and answering the question, "Was our degrees worth it?"

Let's connect:

Show Notes Transcript

I'm joined today by a very special guest - Matt Burman! You might've heard of him before. We talk about the value of our university experiences and degrees and answering the question, "Was our degrees worth it?"

Let's connect:

Pauline Narvas:

Hello, everyone! Welcome to another episode of a podcast by Pawlean with your host, Pauline Narvas. So I'm really excited for today's episode... I think I always start my episodes with "I'm so excited". But every single time I sit down to do these, I'm really, really, really excited to talk about, like, whatever topic that I've chosen. And today, especially, I'm super excited because I have someone with me to help me with this episode. We're going to have a bit more conversation in this episode. So today, we've got Matt Burman, you might have heard of him before, I don't talk about him too often. And no, that's totally a joke. I feel like sometimes my social media accounts is just a Matt Burman fan account. So that's just how it goes, I think. But yeah, hi, Matt!

Matt Burman:

Hello.

Pauline Narvas:

Thanks for joining me, in our quarantined home.

Matt Burman:

No problem. Yeah, it was the traffic getting here was really bad and um-

Pauline Narvas:

it wasn't expecting much. I'm just excited because I haven't had another guest on this podcast, apart from my brother. So, I think I'm gonna start doing that thing, you know, like Michelle Obama on her podcast where she only speaks to her family for the first season.

Matt Burman:

It is a very personal podcast, isn't it? So you started with those those closest to you, I suppose?

Pauline Narvas:

Yeah, yeah, no, that's true. That is true. But, yeah. So today, we're gonna talk about a topic that I think we both have our own, like, thoughts and opinions over. Over the last few like, years, like probably since we met, we started having this conversation. So today, we're going to talk about University, we're gonna talk about degrees. And we're gonna ask ourselves, and probably, well, hopefully answer was our degrees worth it. Disclaimer: this is all our own opinion. So just based on what we say here, it doesn't it's not the, you know, the single truth or it's not like, what you should be doing or whatever. It's just our own opinion. And just wanted to say that up front. So, let's get started! Matt, do you want to tell us a bit about your like, university background and what you did at uni?

Matt Burman:

For sure, so I graduated with a Bachelors in Computer Science about two years ago. And so that was a three year course. Other people on that course might have taken four or five year course, depending on whether they did a Masters or whether they took a year in industry. But I opted for the three year Bachelors in Computer Science course.

Pauline Narvas:

Cool! So for me, I did a degree in Biomedical Sciences. So initially, when I first like signed up to the course, I also only opted in for the three year course. But then, when I was in my second year, the University was like, if anyone's interested in doing like, a year in industry, let us know. And there was that, like, I don't know, a few months where I was looking for a placement here, because I really wanted to see what else was out there. So I ended up doing a four year degree at the end with a year in industry. It's really interesting that we have like two different perspectives here! Because we obviously were from like different departments, we did two different degrees. And it'd be interesting to see like our views on if our degrees were worth it. So the first thing I wanted to discuss was what do you think has been the most useful part of your degree?

Matt Burman:

Not the degree itself. It's been the most useful part of my degree, which I would say would is not the degree. It's the experience of being at university. So if I can rephrase your question to what is the most useful part of going to university that would allow me to answer your question!

Pauline Narvas:

That's really good because my answer to this was going to list a few things that I thought was really useful in my degree. But then when I was like, planning this out, I was like, "actually, I'm only writing things that were weren't actually my degree. But like the experience itself." So what do you think then?

Matt Burman:

So the most useful part of that experience was hands down the people that I met and gained experience with both learning things, and spending time with people. So, I found a community of people that enjoy going to hackathons. For those who don't know, a hackathon is sort of a invention marathon way over a weekend, over sort of 24 hours, 48 hours, and you come together and build something, and solve a problem that hasn't been solved. And by the end of it, you've got a bunch of people that have solved a bunch of problems that weren't solved before. And you know, through those passionate people, I built up a lot of skills, both in building software, but also just communication, you know, having to demonstrate your what you've built. Working in a team, all those skills that was hands down the the most useful part of my experience.

Pauline Narvas:

Yeah.. And I think like, that's, that's very similar to my experience to the most useful part of like, my experience at university wasn't my degree at all, but it was more around all the extra stuff that I got involved in. So for me, similar to you, actually, I found a community - I found Code First Girls. So the course there, I got involved as an attendee as like a participant, and then I slowly and then I became a brand ambassador for them. And I also then became an instructor. It was really fun, because for the first time in my life, I found a community of people who enjoyed something the same thing I liked to do on the side. It wasn't even like a focus on like, you know, what my degree was about. So for me, yeah, like, meeting those people, connecting with people who were a lot like me, was like, the best part of my experience at university. And like you said, you have the chance to like build up your skills, like technically, and all the like soft skills, I don't really like calling them soft skills, but you know, like, people skills like us, I also had the opportunity to do that. And it was just, like, it was just so much more fun and much more engaging, it was a way for me to, like, learn these these skills, and yeah, just like learn in a more like active way, I guess, because I feel like when, you know, when I think back on my, my degree, a lot of what I did was, well, I was in lectures listening to someone read out a presentation to me. And that just wasn't useful to me. Whereas like, when I got involved with like, extracurricular stuff, like in societies in put us girls communities, even the part time jobs that I have around that time in campus, and even my placement year, I gained a lot more from that. And I just felt like that was that has been like, hands down the most useful part because I still refer back to those, like extra things that I did. And they've really helped me now that I'm, you know, in the working world, you talked about, like, the extra stuff. Was there anything in your degree that you felt like you use today, and that has been has proven to be useful?

Matt Burman:

Yeah. So absolutely. You know, while I don't think my success was attributed to my degree, necessarily, there's absolutely things that have been useful. You know, there are certain modules that are fundamental computer science, topics that you do end up using in software engineering in industry. But the things that aren't critical, you know, there's things like algorithms and data structures, analysing the runtime of code that you're writing. It's useful to know it is useful to know helps you with reviewing people's code and you know, knowing when things could be more efficient. But I can't say I'm using it all the time. You know, there's there's a lot of a lot of things that he learned during a computer science degree beyond the fundamentals as well, so more specific things. I don't know, say, the machine learning, which, if you want to go into machine learning great, that will make you very valuable. It's a very valuable thing at the moment, you know. I think PhDs in machine learning right now we're being coached by Amazon, or Google, because they know so much about machine learning, that they'll pay him a lot of money for. And so you know there is a lot of value in universities, but I think for the average person that wants to have an impact in software engineering, and in the workplace, a lot of what you're learning, you can learn much faster elsewhere. And whilst those, those modules, some of them are absolutely, like fundamental and useful, they're not the fastest way to get started on delivering.

Pauline Narvas:

Totally. And I feel like if we can talk about value a bit later on,. But like for example, for those who don't know, I currently work in tech, and I managed to, like, create that path for myself without having a Computer Science degree, I feel like this is a whole different episodes in itself. But I always thought that for me to get into tech, when I finally started to realise that it's something I wanted to do, I was like, actually considering doing another degree, I was considering doing computer science, or like switching somehow, when I finally realised that it was something I really wanted to pursue. But then I realised that actually, now that I'm working in industry that one of the most important things that they look out for is like your willingness to learn your enthusiasm, your passion, and all of the like softer skills that can't really be taught in a lecture or like cost you 9K a year, or however much it is. So yeah, I just feel like, like you said, it is, I'm sure you learned some stuff that you have, you know, applied here and there in the real world, like you said, learn a lot faster. Probably doing it through an online course even or something like that. Or like, you know, going into like, for example, in my case, I went through a grad scheme, and I was really thrown into it. Because I was thrown into it, I learned so much on the go, rather than you know, you know, just going to lectures and learning it from a from a lecturer, or whatever, as part of my degree. But yeah, in my case, I did. And I have to say, I don't think I've used it as much as I thought I would. So like, I knew that I was gonna go into tech by all I was always like, "Oh, I'm sure that one day in the next like, few years, my biomed degree will be useful somehow, like, I'll refer back to it and I'd be like, I learned that from my degree." And to be honest with you, I don't think I've done that as often as I I mean, there have been some times where for example, with Coronavirus right now, when it first like came out in March and stuff I remember reading a lot about it and I was like oh I remember I did something related to like viruses like the Coronavirus back when I was at university I did like a module on like viruses and stuff. So yeah, you know, I feel like what I learned from my degree, I can now apply to things I'm really, really interested in. So in this case, I was interested in knowing more about the Coronavirus, so it was relatively easy for me to read, like a paper on it over like some scientific like texts really, really like high scientific text about it. I mean, it would make so much sense, you know? And, and yeah, so that's that's one thing, but also I've been using my like Biomedical Science degree in terms of my general, my general interests around health and wellness. So sometimes I've read something in a book and I'd be like, hmm, I'm not sure if that's true, because I remember a lecturer had told me before or there's this study that I learned at university that contradicted that completely. So then again, that's another thing about I've used it for. And the other thing that I've used my degree for is my, so my dad in 2018 went to the hospital for some, he had some like heart complications. And during that time, I remember, it was really hard for me to stay like rational, I was very emotional about everything going on. And as soon as they found out why it was, and then I read up on it, and I, like did loads of research on his condition. I was like, oh, okay, I learned this in college, in my like heart disease module in my first year. And I sort of like comforted me knowing that it's not, it wasn't all like doom and gloom, and that there was like, light at the end of the tunnel. So I mean, like, at the end of the day, the more like, you go out, and like, try and educate yourself, the more of like, full view of the world, but you know, that you have. And so for me, like, knowledge has been like, power. And so yeah, I've learned a lot from the degree and I am applying it here and there. So it's not completely useless. Oh, yeah. And then, one last thing that I thought was really useful as part of my degree, I don't know if you had this in your degree, but we had like a careers module. I can see your face change!

Matt Burman:

Um, yeah, we didn't.

Pauline Narvas:

Didn't you have like a project or something?

Matt Burman:

It was different, but yeah, I can talk about that separately.

Pauline Narvas:

Oh, okay. Okay, as part of my degree, in my second year, we have a whole module on careers. And it was actually a really, it, this is an unpopular opinion. But this, this careers module for me was super useful, because it started to get me thinking that if I don't want to be a biomedical scientist, or anything related to medicine, and you know, this scientific field, there's also there's always other employers that look out for for my skills that I learned from biomed. And that's something that the careers module really taught me. And it was like, really hands on, I just thoroughly enjoyed it, it was like a lot different to like spending hours in the lab or, like, hours back in back to back lectures, enjoyed how, like, like I said, it encouraged you to think about your skills, rather than, like, focus on your biomed knowledge. And so because of that, I still refer back to all the content that I learned from that module today. And I feel like that has helped me, you know, when I, when I was looking for jobs after university that really helped me, like, go through the different interviews and assessment centres that I was a part of. So So yeah, again, it's something I refer back to every single time, I have to go through a process like that. So it was very useful. So how about you?

Matt Burman:

So I mean, we didn't have something that focus necessarily, on sort of skills like that, however, I think this is a relatively common thing is software engineering modules in a computer science degree. They try to simulate real world software engineering by perhaps dreaming up a client that needs a set of requirements. And then you have to deliver this software, perhaps in an agile way. And this is a podcast, but I'm quoting my fingers. In many ways, you're essentially role playing, what it would be like to be in the industry, and I absolutely think there's value to that you. You do learn agile practices, you know, you might learn about Scrum, Kanban, ticket sizing tickets, you know, that's absolutely valuable. But the reality is, it doesn't matter how much you learn from that. When you come out of university, you're still a graduate. It doesn't matter what your modules look like, no one cares. So you're still a graduate, and they're still going to put you in a box as a graduate. They're going to give you the graduate salary. They're not they're not going to look at the things that you've learned. The things that you know, they're going to compare you with every other graduate. And that's the same with every every company. Every company will look at you as a graduate. They're not going to look at you For the skills that you have, and the value that you can actually deliver. So those kind of modules, whilst absolutely useful, probably do help you want to get a job, it's not going to help you immediately. But they absolutely probably do help you get going quickly, more quickly in industry, yeah. And paying off in the long run, well, not necessarily in the long run, you know, they'll pay off at the start of your first job. And then, at that point, after you've been there for a year, you would have learned it anyway. So it's sort of it's just helping you with the start of your career. But then, you may as well just started your career.

Pauline Narvas:

Yeah, no, I see where you're from tonnes of thought, but I feel like, I don't know. Like, we can quickly talk about this. But like, I don't know, do you find it? fair? Not graduates have the um, so once you finish university, and you've graduated, everyone compares thinks of you as a grad. And then because you're a grad, you're sort of like put in that box. Do you think that's fair? Because from, like the majority of grads would think that's great, because, you know, they're early in their career that they're quite Junior still. So it's nice to have a bit of that like hand holding, I guess? Yeah, I'm definitely right.

Matt Burman:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I, you know, in many ways, when I did start my first job out of university, I didn't try to show all my skills all at once, because I was sort of enjoying the fact that the expectations were Oh, yeah, for sure. Not that large. Sure. Yeah. But you know, quite quickly, I got bored of that. I gave it a few months were very well. I mean, yeah, you know, then surprised a lot of people. Yeah. And, you know, I was suddenly, you know, I wasn't the most junior member of the team, even though I've only been there a few months. And, yeah, there's value in in being a bit more handheld. But yeah, only briefly. Oh, yeah. Don't want to let yourself just let that happen.

Pauline Narvas:

You out to be totally, I mean, like, I had the same experience. When I started my first job. I felt like, it was nice to be to have that support, you know, for people to think of you as a graduate and to give you more like, yeah, support more hand holding, it was great. But then I think like you I got bored pretty quickly. And I was like, actually, I know what I can do. Of course, I still need support here in there. But I still I sort of got tired of people just thinking of me. I was like, Oh, she's just graduated from university, blah, blah, blah. And, you know, sort of, like you said, putting me in a box. And, you know, I've, I feel like I've been fighting to get out of that box for like, since I graduated University, I've always been like, you know, I stopped actually saying, I recently graduated from university because that's how I used to pitch myself to people. I'm like, when I go to like meetups and stuff, I used to be like, I used to go, you know, I I recently graduated from, from from university, but I hate pitching myself like that, because I was like, actually, I don't want people to, like judge me based on like, the amount of years have been in industry, you know, when I have a lot of when I know have a lot of value that you know, yeah, that I can deliver.

Matt Burman:

I've always tried to distance myself as someone who went to university in general. Yeah, don't want. It doesn't actually give me any benefit. You know, there's a reason I didn't want to apply to graduate scheme. Because I knew that I could just get any job. Yeah, well, you know, any standard job? Yeah, obviously, not senior, whatever, when I first come out of university, but, you know, I could get outside jobs that are available to the average software engineer.And, as it happens, that was definitely the right decision.

Pauline Narvas:

Yeah, for sure. For sure. Yeah. No, no, that's really insightful. Thank you. I think we touched on this already, like the most useless parts of our degree. And I guess, most we've sort of come to the consensus That was definitely a huge chunk of our degree, the degree itself,

Matt Burman:

I began to become quite disengaged with university while so. So anyway, so the things that I did deem to be useless, I started to not engage with them anyway, so certain lectures, you know, particularly as the degree starts to specialise, you know, you realise you're probably not going to need this ever. If you do, you've decided to go down a really specific career path. So you probably already know already if you were interested in it, and wanted to do that. So, you know, I'd say that there's a lot of lot of subjects that you have to study that you don't really want to do. And they're, they're useless to you. doesn't mean they're useless to everyone. But

Pauline Narvas:

Yeah, of course.

Matt Burman:

But useless, if you don't care about it, and you don't want to don't want to do it, because it's nice. And specialist.

Pauline Narvas:

Yeah. I mean, like, like you, I've had so many modules that I've just not, that were, for me, quite useless. And I haven't even formed them. Until, like, right now. But yeah, I think like, in general, another part that was sort of useless, was, you know, when, when you'd go into a lecture, and then you sit, you'd sit down, and you're like, really feeling really optimistic for it. And you're like, I got your, your notepad ready, you're like, I'm gonna just like, smash this lecture, I'm gonna, like, get as much as I can. And then the lecturer is just like blabbing on about something that's not related to anything that that, you know, the exam will talk about, or even if it is, it's like a tiny part of what the, the, the lecture was supposed to be about. And so and so use the spot, like, you know, that motivation, just slowly start started to like, drop, like, super, super quickly, when, as the test time went on. So for me, it was like, I don't know, I think it's becoming more apparent now. You know, as people are moving to online teaching, that you can't pay the amount that you pay for, to go to university, for someone to read slides. And you can't go to university, for someone who, like I said, read slides, and who isn't like engaging with you and making sure that you have that, like, top quality? You know, education, and, you know, engagement from what, what they're talking about?

Matt Burman:

Absolutely. I mean, I think people have never been paying just for the teaching, especially in sort of a modern age, perhaps hundreds of years ago, in those traditional old universities, like, those people were there, their content wasn't communicated in the world. You know, it was hard to access those people and that information, but in today's you know, modern age where you can communicate an idea in seconds. It's, it's just, it doesn't make as much sense. Yeah. And the value now is, it's the prestige of universities. And it's still to this day seen as something that is prestigious is going to sort of just bump you up. Yeah, in the social, like, how people view you how your, your parents, oh, my God, your family view you as a, quote, unquote, success. The reality is different in the I don't think a degree gives you success. By itself, it's what you do with that. Yeah, that gives you success. Yeah. But society as a whole family, whatever, see, often see the prestige that those institutions have built up for themselves. They see that as a success, despite really not giving you any, any actual capability to improve the world or do anything for society just by going to some prestigious institution. So I think the Coronavirus has shown that it's just sort of really highlighted that, you know that the only thing that I'm actually getting is some teaching. That if you really look at you can probably get elsewhere. Oh for sure. There's absolutely Probably some specific niche courses that you probably can't get elsewhere. You know, at the end of the day universities do have researchers that are at the edge of their field, but for early, you know, sort of bachelor's degrees, they're not the best teachers. No, they're not, they're not going to help you learn the fundamental things quickly. They care most about the edge. Yeah, pushing their field forward. Teaching is really just something they do, because you're willing to pay them 9000 pounds a year to do. That's the truth of it. Yeah. And, you know, I feel bad for the people joining University right now, because for sure, that is all they're getting. Yeah, from the university experience is the the degree part of it. I'm the teaching part of it. And they can compare that to courses they can do online, where they can learn a lot more. I feel bad for those people.

Pauline Narvas:

Yeah. No, definitely. Like, I feel. Every time I've seen people go, Well, I've been looking on social media, when people are like going to university and going here. And then you know, that they've been locked down, and quarantine in their student halls.

Matt Burman:

And that's like, terrible.

Pauline Narvas:

I can't do that. Because especially when I reflect that the quality of teaching from from my experience in certain modules. And yeah, just having to sit in front of your computer listening to someone. Not even try to engage with you.

Matt Burman:

Yeah, I mean, at the end of the day, as well, it's not the lecturer who's giving you your education, it's, it's yourself at the end of the day. So no matter where you're learning this stuff, it's still your work. Yeah, it's teaching it to you. You know, it's so for sure, yeah, that's free. I mean, it's not like, there's certain resources that you might want to have access to, but it's not nine K, at the end of the day, you're learning is coming from yourself, which is free. You don't need to pay that much money for it for the learning itself. There's obviously benefits of going to university around just the learning. Yeah, well, right now. In questionable in quarantine. Yeah, it's not definitely not worth it. Yeah.

Pauline Narvas:

Yeah, no, totally. So now we're like, in working in industry. We've been two years out of university. Before we talked about the value four degrees of what we think of it. But have you got any more like comments in terms of now you're working in industry, and, you know, if your degree was actually worth it, like?

Matt Burman:

So, I think it's hard for me to say that. I shouldn't have gone to university, I think that that's not necessarily true. The I started University as someone who wasn't confident in both my skills and my ability to communicate and deliver value. So all my confidence came through the university experience in general. Yeah. So it's absolutely shaped the person that I've become. And I think, in normal circumstances, that might be the right choice for a lot of people. For a lot of people that don't have a lot of confidence, but helps them to become who they want to be in the world when they don't know who they are. Yeah. I think that's a common thing. It's the default thing to do. Yeah, for someone is to go to university. And just explore what is out there. It's the safe thing as well. Yeah. Because of the prestige. You're gonna be alright. Yeah, at the end of it, because societies for some reason seems to value a degree more than more than not having a degree, you might be able to get certain jobs. Yeah, more, like, easily. But for more specialist jobs, it's always going to be your experience that counts more.

Pauline Narvas:

Yeah.

Matt Burman:

I'm not saying that I, you know, shouldn't have gone to university. I just think that people should try and be more critical.

Pauline Narvas:

Yeah, of course. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, for me like that question. You know, should I have gone to university was my degree worth it? If I was doing my degree, Right now I'd say absolutely, you know, I would probably have dropped out by now, if I if I like, signed up. But I don't know, 9K a year? Was it worth it for the experience? And for me? Yeah, I think it was. I don't know, like, I'm just thinking of all the things that I got from university outside of my degree if we just like, move, like, just remove the degree part completely for a sec. And think about everything else I got. So I got community I got, I made friends who were similar minded to me, and I met you. That wouldn't have happened if I didn't go to university. And like you said, when I joined University, what was it? 18. I was 18 when we went. Yeah, 18 where I was confused, no idea who I wanted to be no idea what I wanted to do, or like, you know, for the next three years. I don't know, it was a really, like you said it was a safe bet for me to go and explore and see. what's what's out there. The 9k? Yeah, I don't know. Like it is. It is a lot, but that's just how it is. And maybe that's something that that's a whole different conversation. I don't know, maybe if universities still, like survive for the next few years? I don't know. I don't know if it's worth nine k? I don't know maybe that they should revise that. I don't know. But um, for me, like I wouldn't have, I wouldn't be where I am today. I wouldn't be in my standards in my definitions. As a successful person, without the experience that I've got from my degree, sorry, not from my degree from my university experience. And, and yeah, I am still very grateful for my time there cuz I learned a lot of things that I just feel like I wouldn't have learned elsewhere if I did. Anything else. So yeah, for me, my experience is worth it. My degree. I'm not too sure. And how about you like, bottom line? Was it just worth it? Yes or no?

Matt Burman:

I sit on the fence. Okay. in general. Okay. whole experience in total. Two the green if I could have just done half of it. I mean, that's whole thing is Yeah, I shared experiences net buy your course, mate. So yeah, whatever. So it doesn't you can't have half of it. You can't have just the experience. Yeah, we have to be going through it together. Right. And it's almost a shame there's not a some sort of separate

Pauline Narvas:

Like a camp?

Matt Burman:

Ha, yeah that you go for three years. But it doesn't cost that much and yeah, you're all learning together but you still have some kind of shared thing.

Pauline Narvas:

I don't know that would look like! Thank you so much for giving us your your insights. I've really enjoyed that. And thank you for for listening! If you want to chat to us about your thoughts on university, if your degree was worth it or anything related to that, then you can find us on social media. You can find me on social media, on Twitter at @paulienuh, Instagram @paw.lean or you can read some some of my university related posts on pawlean.com.