This post explains my overall university experience detailing what I learnt, how I felt about the experience and wether I thing it was worth it. It is difficult to summarise 3 years of my life into a single blog post, so I am sure I will talk about this further in future.
I started my university adventure in September 2018 at the University of the West of England (UWE) studying Cyber Security and Digital Forensics. Previously I was working a full-time job in retail and after a year of working there, I felt that I had more to offer in life than stacking shelves and saying “would you like a bag for all this?”. I saw university as an opportunity to better myself both in my education and help me grow as an individual as I had very little experience with living on my own and cooking for myself. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted from this degree. My goal at the start of the degree was to eventually go into some sort of forensic investigator role but I never had any clear path on what I wanted to do. I knew a few things about computers, played a lot of video games and heard there was a lot of money in IT so it seemed like the logical choice.
The first year was very interesting. I found it very easy living on my own and cooking for myself and although I did struggle with some homesickness overall I really enjoyed it. I loved the social aspects of the first year and had a lot of fun meeting new people. However, with all the socialising and fun I was having, my grades definitely suffered. Initially, I found the course really difficult. It was all new concepts and combined with the stress of looking after myself it was very overwhelming. Coming up to November I was honestly considering dropping out. I did okay in all my modules except for the Programming in C++ module which created a lot of stress for me. Combined with struggling with programming in the past and the fact that I put very little effort into my first year, my self-confidence was at its lowest and I almost gave up. If it wasn't for the support of my family, friends and my flatmate (who is now my girlfriend 3 years on) my journey probably would have ended a lot sooner.
As second-year came around I was very excited. I went back to working in retail over the summer break and it reminded me exactly why I started this journey in the first place. I decided that I wasn't going to let the work overwhelm me like the previous year and I had the advantage of being used to living on my own. Although the modules were more advanced I managed to keep up and found a lot of enjoyment from 2 modules in particular; The Law, Experts and Justice Module and the Secure Computer Network Module. These modules were the turning point for me in my degree and helped me created a goal that would help improve my work ethic and commitment to the course. The lecturer that I had for the law module was probably the best lecturer I had throughout my entire degree. He was entertaining, passionate about the subject and very engaging with everyone in the class. With studying Law in GSCE I has some understanding already and I was excited to show off what I already knew. Weeks later me and my friend found ourselves going into magistrates courtrooms just for fun to watch the cases (although I'm sure the afternoon pints in Wetherspoons was a factor.) I enjoyed the module so much I even considered completing a GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) after University which I still haven't ruled out. Overall I finished the module with 76% which was the highest grade I had achieved at that point.
The other module was Secure Computer Network. Now truthfully the lecturer we had for this was not the best. He was nice but it was difficult to learn from him and so I was very reliant on my own self-study to get through the module. This is where I discovered Penetration Testing which would soon be my new career path. I found the module really interesting and did a lot of independent research around it and played around with HackTheBox and Immersive Labs a lot within my spare time. Overall my work ethic improved tremendously through my second year and I had started to develop a keep drive to work in Information Security.
Third-year was the hardest yet most rewarding year of all 3. We had to balance even more modules as well as complete the looming dissertation which carried through the entire year. This forced me to improve my work ethic and my time management to make sure all of my work was completed on time and to a good standard. This year had a wide range of modules from the dissertation to ethics and from data analysis to security management. I developed many skills over these modules and even made some progress in Python programming (I’m still shocked). I decided to write my dissertation on Cambridge Analytica, a company that utilised ‘big data’ and ‘machine learning’ to single handle sway thousands of democratic events over the past decade, most notably the Trump 2016 Campaign and the 2018 Brexit Campaign. I focused on their actions, the impact that their actions had and presented possible solutions to stop something like this from happening again in the future. I recently received 74% for my dissertation which I am extremely happy with and it helps to show that hard work really does pay off. Having to complete this year through the COVID 19 Pandemic was also very challenging. I was generally okay through the lockdown since I'm used to sitting on a computer all day. But towards Feb-March time it really started to affect me. Not seeing family or friends and not having much opportunity to go out really started to affect my mood and my ability to work. Thankfully I am very happy with the grades that I finished with. Although they have not been confirmed I have an estimated grade of 2:1 at 68%. Considering the struggles I went through the first year and the tough times that we all had through the lockdown I am extremely happy with the estimated final grades.
So was it worth it?….
This degree was more than just a piece of paper to help get me a job. It was a learning experience both personally and academically. Not only did I learn new skills that will help me achieve a job but this degree also helped me grow as a person. I learnt how to look after myself, how to cook, how to clean, how to be more confident, how to meet new people and how to pull myself through during times of struggle. I am a completely different person from 3 years ago today. I am more confident, more mature and the hardest working I have ever been in my life so far. I would recommend anyone looking to push themselves to go get a degree.
Finally, I also learnt to take pride in my accomplishments. A few weeks ago I thought a degree was just a normal thing, lots of people do it and it's nothing special. Looking back I am so proud of the work I have put it and I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life.