Growing up, I always felt that there was a familial expectation that my sister and I would go to University. I knew that my education path was mapped out once I realized being an author wasn’t on the cards. My natural assumption was GCSE > A-Level > University Degree > Job, and I was never disabused of this notion by my parents.
To be fair, we never really talked about it. I think they assumed I wanted it, and I assumed they expected it, so we both just went with it.
Despite my exhaustion at the educational treadmill, I applied to University and made sure that I thought the Uni choice was a good one and that the course made sense for the future. I started, as I am wont to do, fantasizing about what the future would be like. I was planning on going a long distance for University, and my girlfriend at the time wasn’t going to be moving that far away from home. We’d be long distance, but I imagined the romantic weekend getaways (Hah, on a student’s budget?! Clearly I was dreaming), the distance making the heart grow fonder, and all of that other bullshit.
Seriously, why am I writing all of this? I swear these are pivotal moments that validate the over sharing of otherwise meaningless personal details.The author
As exam season descended on us, my girlfriend began to grow slowly ever more distant. We had been best friends for a couple of years before going out with one another, so the pullback was immediately obvious and suspicious. As time went on, a friend of mine discovered that another friend (Blackadder in the previous post) had been spending an awful lot of time at her place, ostensibly to ‘study’.
Suffice it to say, the summer ended with us broken up, and me in a million pieces.
As I write this, Don’t Look Back in Anger is playing, hah! Very true words, Oasis.
My Fairytale of University had turned into a grey meaningless abyss, which is how I approached it. When I’d been delivered to my dorm and my parents had left, I had a miniature break down, feeling literally abandoned by everyone in the world that I loved.
The first year of University was tinged with the consequences of the summer. I had gone from being in a place that I loved with a girl that I loved (who was unreasonably out of my league – other friends can attest, this isn’t one of those pedestal moments) to a lonely stranger in a strange land.
I lost any confidence I’d had, and struggled through it badly. I did not go out and party once. I had two friends, one who was a great guy and nerdier than me, and another who was kind of annoying, but was a bit like a loyal golden retriever.
Academically, I did quite well. I did well overall, struggling only with normalization of databases, and when I got too cocky and almost failed a major Multimedia project because of a missed HTML tag in a webpage. I was definitely getting good exposure to a variety of computing disciplines, including some a really cool Artificial Intelligence module, and an occasion where we wrote code in Assembly Language so it could be run directly on chip without any compilation necessary.
After my first term I came back home to find that my ex and Blackadder were dating each other, which served to send the second term off on pretty much the same footing as the first.
By the summer, I found myself sat in the garden with my Dad, watching the birds in the early evening sky. I told him that I didn’t really think University was for me, and he – to my utter surprise – suggested that I quit if it wasn’t right. I told him of my surprise, and said that I’d assumed I was expected to go.
This, as it turns out (a shock twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan himself) was not true. I know, right?! Yes, I’m rolling my eyes at myself.
We agreed after further conversation that I’d go back for Year 2 and see how things went. I moved everything back to Manchester, moved into a house share (Dorms only in Year 1) that was a bus ride away from campus, and by the end of the first week knew I was quitting.
Year 2 allowed for a choice of modules vs prescribed like in Year 1. One of the modules I chose was Operating Systems and I envisaged learning operational IT with something like Microsoft Server 2003.
“Right ladies and gentlemen”, said the lecturer on Day 1 of Operating Systems, “this term we’ll be learning how to program a floppy disk driver in Unix.”
I walked out of that class and knew I wouldn’t be going back. I wanted operational experience and knowledge of systems that I knew were in use in corporations around the country. The ancient programming language at A-Level had taught me nothing (though I realize if I’d had less sex and paid more attention I would have learned more about coding methodologies), I’d learned a couple of useful things in Year 1 but nothing groundbreaking, and now I was going to do programming (which I was awful at) for a dead device in a non-Windows operating system (at the time, I thought Windows was all that mattered).
I had to interview with my head lecturers before I was allowed to leave (seeing as I wanted to do it the proper way and was a Good Boy again) and they all told me that I’d amount to nothing without the degree. They fundamentally disagreed that anything they taught was irrelevant. In hindsight, I agree with them on the second part, but for me it was still not the right sort of curriculum, and I firmly stand by that decision.
There was also another element that I’m not sure I’ve admitted to many people. On the morning of the Floppy Disk Instruction, I was walking to the bus stop when I saw a guy who looked my age getting out of a Mini Cooper.
‘I want that.’ I decided. I wanted the car. I wanted the freedom. I wanted autonomy. I wanted to learn the world. I wanted to work.
I think I was probably decided already, but the Floppy Disk thing really just sealed it for me.
So that was it. After 14 years of education I was out. I was free of enforced learning.
What the fuck comes next?