Almost 3 years ago, I accepted a job at a large technology company as part of their Graduate Scheme. I had graduated from university with a First Class MEng degree, and spent months applying to many different graduate jobs. I wasn’t having much luck, and had been out of university without earning money for about 6 months. The job I was offered wasn’t my first, second, or even third choice, but a last resort choice because I was getting desperate. Rent and bills do not pay themselves, and I don’t hide the fact that I needed money.
I knew that the job was in a very specific industry, and although it advertised itself as a technical job, I had my doubts as to how true this would actually be. All the advice I received at the time was to take the job, that it would be good experience and would help me move on to a better job in the future. I doubted this even then when I signed the contract, months before I started the job. I was very worried I would be getting in to a job where what I would learn would apply only to that one narrow industry, and not help me in the wider technical job market in the future. But I believed the advice and as I knew it would at least earn me something, much less than most other graduate jobs but still something, I accepted it. I still continued looking for other jobs right up until my first day of work, but to no avail.
When I started there it wasn’t long until I saw why the job only required someone with a minimum of a 2:2, and not even a 2:1 degree. The job had been sold to me as one with opportunities for electronics, embedded development, programming/software development, and even computational fluid dynamics. But in the 2.5 years I have been working there, it feels like I’ve barely gone beyond ‘Hello World’. There have been a few small projects which have been interesting and technically challenging, where I feel I have learnt something worthwhile. But the majority of work has barely required anything beyond what I was doing during my first and second years at university. Most of what I have learnt has been specific to that one industry, and so as I expected, not beneficial when looking for other work now.
As with any knowledge or skills, if you don’t apply them regularly, or keep developing them, you get rusty. Most of what I had learnt during the 4 years of my degree has been stagnating. I can go back and look at work I did at university, and some of it might as well be in a foreign language. I was under the possibly false impression that a graduate level job was meant to take someone after they have finished university, and provide them opportunities to develop knowledge and skills that build upon their degree. I hope that at other companies, this happens. But with the job I have been doing, I feel that I could have gone there without a university degree and be doing just as well, as all the industry specific training would have given me what I needed for those areas anyway.
So I really wish I had followed my instincts and gut feeling 3 years ago, and not taken this job. It would have meant times were harder financially for a bit longer, but it would have given me longer to find a more suitable job. I have now completed the 2 year Graduate Scheme, and see that as a good point to look for other opportunities. But as I come to look for other work, once potential employers find out what the past 2.5 years of employment has actually involved for me, they realise I wouldn’t be right for them. Yes I can make things look good on paper, and people tell me that my C.V. isn’t too bad. But most of that builds upon my time at university, which I finished 3 years ago. All of that is going rusty while I’m doing a job every day that uses only the basics from a technical point of view. It feels like my career has been set back considerably. What I am learning isn’t relevant outside that industry. The technology world is huge, and I’m finding it hard to work out what I should be learning in my spare time that will help me get a job I enjoy.
It feels in some way I’m still at zero or worse, and almost need to go back to university, get another degree, and start again. Everyone assured me what employers want is experience, that it doesn’t matter where. Even advice given to graduates today by careers advice services is that they shouldn’t be picky. They should take any job they get offered, whatever it is, because it will get them experience.
After making that mistake myself, and regretting it, I hope no one else does the same. Be picky. Don’t take the first job you’re offered if you’re unsure about it. Employers may want people with experience. But if the experience is in a totally different area to the job, then it’s not going to help. Don’t start working in an industry you know you don’t want to be in, because this could damage your chances of working somewhere else in the future. Be sure that the job will have you doing things you want to do, and let you develop the knowledge and skills you want to develop. If the job will only need knowledge you already have, won’t challenge you and give you the chances to develop, be wary. You could find that despite having experience, you still won’t have the skills potential employers are looking for should you go to leave that job for something you’d rather be doing.
The job market is tough, especially for graduates. But sometimes it is better to trust your instincts, your own gut feeling, than follow other people’s advice.
Somehow, the first decade of the new millennium, dubbed ‘The Naughties’, is now over, and for me, it has been a very eventful one. I finished secondary school, started and finished college, and this year have just finished university, so it has been a decade filled with education. Heading in to 2010, I think I’m finally leaving that behind, unless I do end up doing a postgraduate degree. Along with education, it has also been filled with a vast combination of high points and low points for me, in some ways dominated by the lows, especially during the past 4 years. Fortunately, life has been looking up for the last few months, which I can only hope is a positive indication that the next decade will be better.
Technology wise is where this decade has been amazing! I don’t need to go into detail, there are already plenty of blogs and articles covering the best and worst technology of the past ten years. But the general pace of technological development just seems phenomenal. At the start of the decade I had recently got my first mobile phone, and the idea of video calling, full mobile internet and even augmented reality on such a device hadn’t happened yet. Hell, Augmented Reality itself probably wasn’t thought of back then, let alone being developed for a mobile phone. The subtle things as well, the phasing out of analogue TV, the almost complete move from CRT to LCD displays/televisions, and the replacement of VCRs with DVD/HDD recorders, have also been amazing breakthroughs, even though many consumers take the technological developments for granted. If the next decade, ‘insert decade nickname here’, continues to see technology develop as rapidly as it has, perhaps faster, then we are in for some mind-blowing stuff in the future, and I absolutely look forward to it, hopefully being a part of it happening too!
As recently I’d been devoting more time to revising for my final two exams, I’d had less involvement with the MUVEnation project. Once my exams were over, just about signalling the end of my undergraduate degree, it was time to jump back in and continue with the work. Fortunately this coincided with an in-world meeting with the other participants at Reading, to discuss progress. As I would discover, while I’d been away from the project, much progress had been made.
During an earlier ‘real world’ meeting, it was decided that not only should we review existing tools, but we should also be thinking of ideas for tools we could design and build ourselves. Many of these revolved around organising meetings and discussions, so that the conversations could be logged and to give all participants the chance to speak fairly without interruption. To that end, there were two tools being demonstrated here, each of which aimed at solving part, or all, of this problem.
The first tool was something along the lines of a HUD that used a separate chat channel. I believe this would allow a speaker to send messages out on a specific channel, so that all users wearing the HUD would receive them. Global chat would then be left free for other conversations, without disrupting the flow of the speaker. Unfortunately this demo didn’t go as smoothly, perhaps because its creator is relatively new to Second Life. It looked promising though and we look forward to a second demonstration in the near future.
The second tool, well, right from the start, clearly was made by someone who knows Second Life inside out, perhaps indicated by the fact they were giving this demonstration, not in humanoid form, but in canine form. What’s more is their comment about it, how when looking through the existing tools they saw a possible gap, and thought they’d put something together that would do the job. We didn’t know they had made anything until this point, and to think that they just made it because they felt like it, as if it was a simple thing to do, definitely shows me I have a lot lot more to learn about Second Life.
The tool itself was a discussion moderation/organisation system, which not only included a means of giving all participants a fair chance to speak, but also a complete and customisable seating arena. Each can operate separately, or be used together, depending on what is needed. The arena I thought was very novel, consisting of multiple curved rectangular prims of various sizes. First various parameters are specified, to a base prim, such as the number of rows and how much of the circle to build. Once entered, you just stand back and watch as the right number of prims are automatically created and put in the correct position to form the arena. These then act as seats, so all participants are sitting facing a central spot.
The discussion moderation came from a simple box shaped object that was placed on the floor in the centre of the seating arena. A person who wanted to speak would click on the green box to add their name to the list. When it was their turn to speak, their name would be displayed above the box. Once they had finished speaking, they would click the red box to remove themselves from the list. If they were in the queue but did not want to speak, they could also click the red box to remove themselves early. It was pointed out that this required certain social rules to be followed, as the boxes did not prevent anyone from talking and interrupting someone. But it did make it clear who was meant to be speaking, so there would not be confusion with many people trying to talk at once, and would make it clear if someone was speaking out of turn.
These tools, along with any more that are developed, will then form part of the University of Reading’s contribution to the MUVEnation/LLL3D project. I’m looking forward to see what else is developed, and the working demonstration of the HUD tool. For the time being that leaves me continuing to review the existing educational tools, as unfortunately, while I was away, that was not completed as I thought it might be.