Open University

When I was 20 and had just finished technical school, I was ready for my first job in automation (that’s what it was called back then). I definitely didn’t feel like spending another 4 years in school. Yet, somehow I loved learning (and this love never ceased). So, almost immediately after completing technical school and landing my first job, I enrolled in my first course at Open University (Open Universiteit in Dutch). I loved the prospect of having both 10 years of working experience and completed a master’s degree in computer science. But I was fully ignorant to the enormous amount of work that needs to be done to obtain such a degree, especially with a fulltime job. How could I know? Very few family members had obtained master’s degrees, so I had no reference, nobody to warn me. And nobody really cared.

My first course at OU was a course about digital electronics and microprocessors, and I guess 80% of it had already been covered in my lessons at technical school. Easy, I thought. This was a tough lesson… I managed to pass the exam, but just barely. Academic studying, and academic exams, are quite different from the practical style of studying and applying knowledge that I had been used to before. Somehow I found the courage to enrol in a second course, but since I had a job that required me to travel a lot, the course remained untouched for many weeks. Weeks became months and somewhere in 1992 I decided to postpone the study.

It wasn’t before 2005 that I continued. My employer at the time (Dutch Police) allowed me and all my colleagues to follow courses at, again, Open University. I didn’t feel the need to obtain a bachelor’s degree, as I was already happily working as a senior software engineer. Instead, I decided to work on a certification for software architect in a short, bachelor/master-level track. The track consisted of 4 OU-modules, 3 of which were from the master’s degree programme. I passed them all, with flying colours.

I did some more cherry-picking from the OU’s curriculum, and followed courses like Web Culture and Databases. In 2013 I started the course Logic Programming, and this one would be left uncompleted. I realised that completing the full bachelor’s degree programme would take me another 5 years… And I wasn’t even after the bachelor’s degree at all; I simply needed the damn diploma to be allowed to do what I really wanted: a master’s degree. Da Real Thing®. So I talked to my manager at the university of applied sciences that I had been working at for about a year, and they let me examine my options for studying with my own employer! A colleague who was also lecturer in chief at the computer science department (I worked elsewhere) looked at my diplomas and certificates and decided that I would be able to complete the bachelor’s degree in 2 years, with exemptions for most introductory topics. Cool! So I left Open University again, but I would most likely return.

Never too late

This is a blog about being late. At the age of 47 I am still in the final stages of my bachelor’s degree. In a few weeks I’ll start writing the thesis, hoping I will complete it just before Christmas. Why on earth would anyone complete a bachelor’s at 47? Well, simply because a bachelor’s degree is a minimum requirement before being allowed to a master’s study. In a career in IT that spans 27 years I have studied my ass off, doing all kinds of courses, trainings, obtaining certificates, etc. Never really considered finishing my bachelors’ first, simply because I didn’t need it.  As a software engineer I was just as qualified, talented, motivated and eager to learn as any of my colleagues who had actually finished bachelor’s or master’s degrees. I earned the same salary and wasn’t treated differently. Hence, there was no need to spend time in doing subjects that I had already done before in different programming languages or contexts.

This changed when I started to work as an instructor at a university of applied sciences. All of a sudden, diplomas and certificates became very important (I should have known this, as giving out diplomas is actually their core business). They were so kind as to provide me an opportunity to complete my bachelor’s degree, partly during office hours and partly in my own time. This was great. During the studying my motivation to studying, that had been away for quite some time, came back. So I decided that I would finally give in to that very old dream, which was obtaining a master’s degree.

I am definitely not the oldest student on this planet. The Internet is full of people that decided that a study would enhance their lives. Because they never had had the opportunity to study. Because it took them much longer than average to find out what they actually wanted to do. Because they thought they knew it, but changed plans. Changed opinions. Changed as a human. So many reasons to study. This blog is about my motivations and my experiences. It is entirely dedicated to my bright and beautiful children Max and Julia. I hope it may inspire them and possibly other people to realize it is simply never too late for anything.