This blog post will be divided into two separate entities. First I will tell you about my journey from studies to work life and bring up some thoughts on that process. This part only considers my personal experience and might contradict other views, but in my experience, it is not too far from what I have heard from associates about their own journey. Secondly, I will have a look back at my years at Chalmers University and compare studies and work life to figure out the important question – which one rocks the most?
Part 1: The journey from studies to work life
When I was younger I rarely thought about my future. Questions like “What do you wanna become when you grow up?” of course ran through my head once or twice but mostly I just did what I thought was interesting at the moment. It has always been quite easy for me to learn new stuff and adapt to situations rather quickly which meant that my attitude to prepare for the future was quite close to “Pffft, I guess I’ll solve it along the way”.
Getting closer to the end of the studies
However, during the last years at the university, this mentality changed. Suddenly it felt important to do everything right – select the correct master’s programme, select all my courses with care and generally make sure all choices aligned in a clear direction for the life that was to come after my studies were done. As a consequence of this, I also started worrying about the future and if I had made decent choices in the past – something I had never even considered before.
My studies in the master’s programme went well but soon it was time for the biggest mental hurdle of them all – the master thesis. It represented half a year of work where I would have to use all of the skills I had learned during the past 4.5 years and package this into a compact project which had to have strong academic value, a report longer than any I had written before and conclusion that would help save the world. Or at least, this was my initial thoughts on the master thesis.
Master Thesis – do or die?
When it was time to find a subject for my master thesis, most of the companies I talked to were very positive on taking me in but none really presented an actual proposal on what I could do. Even though I might be creative in coding, I am not very good at trying to make up new projects from nothing which meant I needed some help to get started. Late in November, after meeting some Scionova employees at the Date-IT fair and later attending their meetup, I heard an amazing idea about bringing more cybersecurity into the field of smart homes. Soon the hype train was going and I found myself together with Lisa, whom I had done multiple projects with during other courses, towards a master thesis at Scionova. I remember going home that evening thinking, “Wait, that wasn’t so hard and scary?”.
After having some struggles with Chalmers administration details, particularly in getting a master thesis supervisor for our project, we finally could start the project in May 2019. It still felt a bit scary to maintain all parts of such a big project all by ourselves but it worked out nicely in the end. We got employed by Scionova somewhere in October and everything started to feel a little less stressed again. Suddenly I was not that stressed about leaving studies and entering the working world.
Getting rid of all the nervousness
In December I went to a consultant interview and it actually felt really good. I got to meet some people from the team and they seemed like normal human beings, the project did not sound like rocket science and somehow I started to realize that it would all turn out okay. One month later I started the assignment and now four months later it is hard to understand how I could feel so nervous about growing up and starting to work. It is actually even more interesting now since I can dive into challenging coding problems all day long and actually get paid for it. Work-life DO actually have some benefits!
Part 2: Studies or work life – which one rocks the most?
This is probably the most classic thing to mention when comparing studies and work life but an interesting opinion of mine is that neither side has the upper hand. On one side, work life means free weekends and no responsibilities outside working hours. On the other hand, while studies might keep you busy on both evenings and weekends you do not have the same requirement concerning the amount of working hours. As long as you have learned what you are supposed to, you could actually take the rest day off to work on your hobby coding project, or go out to see the sun, or go out for a run, or…. Yeah, you get it. I miss the freedom in time management that studies bring but I definitely do not miss the stress.
Another one of those classic aspects to mention is money. I am one of those people who do not spend particularly much money overall, which actually made it rather easy for me to survive on study grants and the cheap study loans CSN provides. However, one must remember that this is something rather unique to Sweden – instead of paying for education we actually get money to study. However, with all that said, getting a salary and feel that I can do anything is rather nice. Wanna buy that new cool tech stuff to integrate into your smart home? Wanna have both Netflix and HBO at the same time? Now it is actually possible!
Chalmers last study period during spring ends around the beginning of June and the first study period of the autumn starts at the beginning of September, giving roughly 13 weeks of study break. Most students have summer jobs but those are usually rather flexible and is often an interesting contrast to study life. Personally, I usually worked around 6 weeks every summer, late June to early August, leaving 7 weeks of freedom. Working life is not quite as generous with 4 weeks leave in the summer to keep some days for the rest of the year as well. Amazingly long relaxing summers are definitely something I am going to miss.
Club activities (föreningsliv)
Student life outside studies is filled with activities, associations and other fun stuff that makes life really amazing. Unfortunately, this is not really the case for work life. It seems like people are trying to organize fun activities within companies, but it is much harder to get it going. When you think of it, this actually makes a lot of sense. Instead of having people in the same life situation with flexible schedules and apartments nearby attending your activity you will have to coordinate a mix of people in all ages, with or without children, with other hobbies outside work, etc. However, I love that AWs, celebrations and other nice activities still happen even though these barriers exist.. +1 to student life for all the activities but +1 to work life for effort!
Studies are all about learning new things and hence you never stick with the same courses and projects for a long time – do what you are supposed to do in the course, learn from it, move on and start with another entirely different task in the next course. As a contrast, work life is all about one big project that you are supposed to take from one less evolved state to another more evolved state during a longer period. You get to explore problems in its depth, feel the face slaps from your own errors coming back at you and enjoy the progress of yourself and your team when the code actually starts working!
Smart experienced people
I have had the luck to end up in a team with incredibly talented senior developers who have taught me so much even in this short time. This is something that sometimes is lacking in studies – most students are on the same skill level and you rarely get a close enough relationship to teaching assistants and professors to be able to absorb such knowledge effectively.Working in IT definitely means learning a lot of stuff!
So that was a list of differences and similarities between work life and student life. In the end though, who wins? For me personally, it is actually fifty-fifty with pros and cons on every front. Sooner or later you will have to transition from one to another and the most important thing to remember is that it does not get worse. Maybe different. But not worse.