Monday, 10 March 2008

Procrastination is a Bitch

I created this blog a couple of nights ago when perusing widgets for my Dashboard. I think that was it. I ran into a Wordpress widget for updating a blog from the Dashboard, and thought, "I forgot about my last two blogs... third time lucky?" Wordpress didn't seem to be what I wanted, though, so I headed over to Blogger and whacked this blog up. Filling it with content has been something of an afterthought.

I'm a bit disappointed to see that Blogger hasn't updated the themes, or added any level of variability -- at least this seems to be the case at first glance -- though I do recall seeing something about being able to significantly modify the theme, so I'll have a go at that once the pressing workload of leaving everything to the last minute is lifted from my shoulder by either rousing success or disappointing failure.

And that's what this post is about. The dangers of procrastination. I'm a third-year Software Engineering student at Manchester University, these past two weeks have been devoted to demonstrating the fruits of our labours: working project applications. I'll not go into the details of my project, but suffice to say that I spent far too much time thinking about the project and not enough time actually doing it. So when T-minus-Two Weeks rolled around and the only coding I'd actually done was a prototype that didn't work, a bowel-shaking thought struck me: Shit, I'd better fucking do something.

See, failing these demonstrations means failing not just the year, but the degree. There's no do-over like in the first two years. Failure here costs three years of tuition fees, and puts you in a dire position: either quit and get a job and get those fees paid off, or start the degree again, more-than tripling the fees (in the U.K. we now have 'top-up' fees which means Universities charge ~£3k/year rather than the £1225/year I'm paying for my degree) to try and get into a very good position afterwards for paying those fees off.

It's difficult to complete a project you don't give a shit about. It's even harder when the guy they've assigned you as your supervisor doesn't give a shit about you. He moved my weekly appointment with him so he could see somebody else in that time, and then didn't show up for the rescheduled appointment. He told me he "doesn't do e-mail", and that his inbox is full of spam due to having the address for so long, only to then tell his other, more Computer Sciencey students that he got their e-mails and so on and so forth.

Manchester University is a mess, administratively and politically. I spent the first two years of my degree at the School of Informatics; a perfect school for my heavily human degree. Software Engineering is not about Computer Science. It's a brilliant hybrid of technological competence, business skills, and the ability to not just straddle the line between the two, but to make them work together. So when, last year, we found out that the administrators of the University had decided to sell the land the School of Informatics was on, and to move all those students over to the Business School and the School of Computer Science, I was appalled. Having a friend in the student representatives body, I asked him what was going on. "It's all a political mess", he told me.

See, Manchester University has been under new administration for a number of years. This administration has tasked itself with the lofty goal of being one of the top five universities in the world, and they want to achieve this by 2015. Selling off the old UMIST campus was, apparently, a good way to move forward in that direction. Moving hundreds of Software Engineering students to a school that had neither the capacity nor empathy to handle them was, apparently, a good way to move forward in that direction. And this is why we're having such trouble at the School of Computer Science. Computer Scientists don't give a shit about our degree. They consider it a soft degree, said with the same tone that a Briton of the 1940s might refer to the Germans. Maybe it's that most of my fellow Software Engineers don't know how to recompile a *nix kernel. Maybe it's that most of my fellow Software Engineers don't know where to start solving a complex differential equation. I don't know. All I know is, if there's a red-headed stepchild at Manchester University, the Software Engineers are that stepchild.

The good news is, it's not looking too bad for my project. I just need to make my project report hella-convincing. So remember, people, don't leave things 'til the last minute. That wall of text I just posted, while true, is me rationalising my position, when my position is mostly my fault for spending many months working on my own projects instead of the one that mattered. You can't always expect a do-over, so never take it as a given.

"I'm a programmer and it's okay, I work all night and I sleep all day."

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