When There’s No ‘You’ In University
A Computer Science dropout finds a new learning environment to finish what he started
Some people love university. They would stay in school their whole lives if they could, packing information into their brains and learning all about the world. Some people even do. (The keeners.)
But not Sam Finan. Oh, he went to university of course, because he thought that’s what you’re supposed to do after high school. But the dry, impersonal “teacher-talks-to-hundreds-of-students-for-three-hours-about-abstract-problems-then-leaves-without-taking-questions” scenario was downright depressing for a person like Sam. He was practical. He needed to feel like he accomplished something in a day. Instead, he’d leave class not really sure what to do with himself. “You have a bunch of these weird theories but you couldn’t build a website,” he shakes his head.
So, quite understandably, when his health forced him to put his Computer Science degree on hold three years into it, he wasn’t entirely torn up. “I always told myself I’d go back,” he says. “But then the ‘going back’ part became hard.”
A cruel mistress
When you have a stable job running a sales and biz-dev operation, quitting to go back to schooling that you never loved is not particularly appealing. That was where Sam was at after recovering from his health dip.
And yet, it wasn’t long before the job got stale and Sam started getting itchy for a challenge again. “Going to work wasn’t fun anymore and I didn’t have any passion in what I was doing,” he says. “I felt like I was doing the same thing every day and not growing as a person.”
In other words? “It was a job, and not much else,” he puts it simply. Ouch. Sorry, sales job. (It’s not you, it’s him.)
The cruel mistress called Education was summoning Sam again, but this time he would answer on his terms.
The Alternative Learning Environment
When Sam heard about RED Academy from a friend who taught there, he had mixed emotions about it. “I was apprehensive,” he confesses. “I didn’t have a very good experience the first time at university, and I was pretty skeptical it would be the same thing.”
But the people he spoke to at the unconventional tech school said it would be different. They described a hands-on, career-oriented, personalized atmosphere, and it gave him hope.
So, leaving the comforts of his sales job and signing up for the Web Developer Professional, Sam jumped back into the education ring, wondering what he would find there.
“I was building things on a daily basis instead of doing another linear algebra class and not really knowing why I’m learning it.”
Within the first week, the impression was made. “I was actively learning applicable things,” he marvels. “I was building things on a daily basis instead of doing another Linear Algebra class and not really knowing why I’m learning it.” His feelings on such an environment? “It was engaging. I needed that kind of grounding.”
Not only did the curriculum speak Sam’s language, he was in a group of less than ten students—not more than a hundred—and it made all the difference. “I didn’t feel like a number. The instructors actually care about their graduates. They want more success stories.” (And here we are.)
Instructors would check in on him and the other students to make sure they’re progressing and being challenged enough. And when Sam encountered some health problems, they made accommodations to make sure he didn’t miss a beat. There was no stopping him this time.
A reformed keener
It was official: Sam had found his ideal learning environment. Some would even say he became a keener; he enrolled in a second program—App Development—but dropped out before he could finish, this time because he got a great job offer in his field of study. “Not a bad position to be in,” he laughs.
But don’t get the wrong idea—job searching wasn’t exactly easy. “It was exhausting. I applied to close to 80 positions via LinkedIn and Glassdoor and sat through 20 interviews or so,” he admits. “With one company, I had four interviews before receiving an offer.”
However, the support staff were the key to helping him power through. “Everyone at RED, and especially Carlos, James, and Peter, were extremely helpful in getting me hired,” he says. “It’s hard to stay motivated and even more difficult to interpret some employers’ emails. They kept me focused and positive throughout the process.”
Hindsight is 20/20
After several job offers, Sam settled on a company called Pilot Interactive Inc, a boutique development firm focused on creating digital brand experiences. The team is small—around 15-16 people—and Sam and his boss keep a great open line of communication. “He’s 31 and very nontraditional, so he really set the tone for me,” Sam says. “I’m thankful for that. One of the other companies I was going to work at was the complete opposite, a more formal atmosphere.”
Small group of people? Non-formal work environment? Sounds right up Sam’s ally.
And while the university scene wasn’t particularly a match for Sam, he can see now that his three years studying Computer Science weren’t wasted. “It’s made me a better programmer,” he says. “And it’s given me some higher level concepts that will help me in the future.”
“But,” he adds, “It didn’t give me any applicable skills to actually get a job or start working on a project.”
If Sam could leave some advice for anyone in his former position, it’s this: “It’s not impossible to pivot into a different career. Time management, dedication, and hustle can get you there.”
Written by Carly Walde
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