Academia

  • Wow, what a story Mark

    Tommy Wiseau
    Tommy Wiseau, for the uninformed

    I realise it has been a while since I last uploaded to my blog, but I reassure it’s been because I’ve been busy! Rather than bore you with a ton of posts regarding minor things that probably don’t interest you all that much, allow me to give you a brief synopsis of what’s been going on!

    • I started graduate school! I moved back to Aberystwyth to start an MSc course in Computer Science, with a focus in Software Engineering. I decided to opt for different modules than those I elaborated about in a previous bit of writing – instead opting for areas that I had not previously explored, namely machine learning and artificial intelligence, and statistics and R programming; rather than those I would be already comfortable in. After all, that’s what uni is all about.
    • I’m currently working as a contractor for a company based in Essex. More information on that soon.
    • I’ve been hitting the gym and eating well like promised.
    • I’ve decided to scrap the GoFundMe campaign since I’m in a far better financial state than before and I’m getting on just fine.

    That about wraps it up here! So what am I doing on this blog? Well I’ve got plenty of good news on that front. I’ve got some more technical writing coming soon that aims to improve general interest in my blog, I got a small piece regarding health and how water really is changing how I work and indeed live, and a piece about an upcoming conference.

    Stay tuned, and thanks for your patience! Follow me on Twitter @notoliverearl (@Rejuvenescencia, my previous handle, is now the name of an upcoming project.) for more updates and musings!

  • My MSc Goals: Part 3/3 – Tackling Imposter Syndrome

    (If you haven’t read the first or second chapters of this post trilogy regarding my goals for this academic year, I highly suggest you do so!)

    Imposter Syndrome infographic
    Image credit: Hugh Kearns on Twitter

    Imposter Syndrome is a well-documented issue, and it is widely acknowledged to affect software engineers quite predominantly. When a lot of what you do involves copying solutions seen on Stack Overflow, or utilising already made frameworks and libraries to power your own solutions, it can be easy to feel like a fraud. For me, it is an issue that I’ve struggled to deal with since around my second (sophomore) year at Aberystwyth University.

    Being surrounded by people you perceive as far more intelligent, motivated, naturally enthusiastic, or gifted than you can make you question your own success. I found myself wondering how on Earth did I get the results I did, and how I was going to hope to stand out amongst them when they were just that better than I. I tried to remedy this by branching out to other paths and making my skill set and experiences more diverse, rather than attempting to directly compete with my classmates in programming ability, since I felt as though I’d never catch up.

    This did some great things for me; I nurtured a new found love for work in mental health volunteerism and student welfare, which helped me develop a wide range of strong soft skills and awards for public contributions. Great things honestly, and I would recommend these sorts of undertakings to those genuinely interested in making a difference in a heartbeat. The problem though, is it left me trailing further behind in software and my confidence as a programmer (as explored in my write-up about MSc Psychology) took a bit of a hit.

    When I managed to secure a place at Amadeus Germany for my industrial year internship, I felt like the planets had once again realigned and shifted the natural order back into my favour. I was absolutely thrilled to be joining such a wonderful international company that I would later find to be full of some of the most motivated and bright minds I had ever met. My internship was prematurely concluded six months in (half way) due to mental health issues exacerbated by numerous factors, one of which was severe Imposter Syndrome. I was surrounded by incredible people, especially my own classmates from Aberystwyth, and that far into my internship I felt as though I just had nothing to show for it. It made me feel like a failure. I had somehow cheated and lucked my way into a position for an international corporation and whatever code I could hope to write just wasn’t good enough.

    I know now, that that wasn’t the case. I was doing just fine and I was growing just fine in ability at Amadeus, but to the mind of someone hopelessly unhappy and being choked out slowly by the abyss that is major depression and living alone in a dingy underground apartment, I obviously couldn’t realise this. By the time I returned to England, made a full recovery, and had written my Industrial Year Report, a long report written in German detailing my experiences and what I learned, it all became apparent. I truly hope to remain on good terms with my former colleagues over at Amadeus, because they’re incredible, and it’s a workplace I would return to without hesitation.

    Fast forward to my final undergraduate year, I was plagued with feeling like an imposter throughout, and it wasn’t until I embarked on my final project (dissertation) that this was eventually overcome. Especially was the case when the results came in. I finally wrote something that I was proud of and felt as though my hard work had paid off.

    How do I hope to maintain this positive mentality? I have a three-step approach (everything comes in threes on this blog doesn’t it?) that I am hoping to use to leapfrog into industry following my graduation with absolute momentum:

    1. Keep learning. A good software engineer is one that is continuously learning, so if I keep learning new things and expanding my skill set and knowledge, I know that I’m giving my best.
    2. Don’t compare myself to others. What other people are getting up to is interesting and a great reference for my own learning and development, but ultimately, it is only my own professional development I should care about. Observe, praise, and assimilate. Don’t judge. Embrace kaizen.
    3. Maintain open dialogue. Something that I have learned from my experiences as a mental health volunteer is the importance on talking with others. I am not the only person going through what I am going through. Share my experiences with others, and learn from theirs.

    That concludes this trilogy of blog posts regarding what I am planning on doing for this academic year! I hope that it has been an enjoyable read for you as it was for me writing it, and I look forward to my continued publishing of personal anecdotes and editorials here on my website. It’s part of my own professional development (and personal enjoyment) to be more proactive online, as well as part of my commitments towards those supporting me over on GoFundMe. Stay tuned for more weekly content (minimum two posts per week), and I’d love to see your views and musings in the comment section.

  • Modules, Trimesters, and Decisions!

    I’m taking a break out of the big trilogy to talk about what modules I’m taking this year and my thoughts behind them. Some thoughts also behind the whole postgraduate academic year too. Think of this as more of a traditional blog post than any sort of editorial or interesting life piece.

    The degree scheme I’m studying this year at Aberystwyth University is G493 Computer Science (Software Engineering). It’s absolutely a CS degree, but the primary focus is software engineering, or CS in relation to software engineering, but there’s plenty of CS stuff in there too by the seems of things.

    Postgraduate years are split into trimesters, and they’re all set to be pretty darn busy. I’m not going to bore you with the details of what modules are available since that’s present on the module webpage, so I’ll go over what I’ve chosen and why, and why I didn’t chose the alternatives.

    First Trimester

    First module I’m undertaking is CSM2120 – The Object-Oriented Paradigm. It’s graded by a medium-sized study analysis and three practical assignments of a Java nature that include analysis and design. Design patterns, and object-oriented analysis are, from what I can tell, still important parts of the software development lifecycle, and are relevant to software engineers of all pathways. Definitely one worth taking, even if my Java needs some sharpening.

    The next module I’m enrolling in is CHM5720 – Internet Technologies. I was a little unsure of this one at first – it largely covers Internet protocols like TCP/IP and its varying underlying layers, including the physical aspects of things. There’s all knowledge here that can be applied though to web development and I personally believe it’ll be interesting. It’s graded through a two hour exam and a 2000 word essay, so it should be okay.

    Last module is CSM3120 – Modelling, Managing and Securing Data. Data modelling, relational algebra, databases, cryptography, and security are all really important, so another exceptionally useful module. It’ll be tough though, as I struggled a bit in its younger cousin that I enrolled in during my second year. This one is graded on a larger 4000 word report on security issues and a two hour exam.

    The other options were a module with an artificial intelligence (AI) focus which while interesting looks difficult and doesn’t interest me as much as the others, and the other was a stats module, which was ruled out immediately.

    Second Trimester

    This is where things pick up the pace. It starts with CHM1320 Advanced Software Engineering, which focuses a lot on the field itself, current issues, and related research. There is a grade for participation, along with a conference poster and 6000 word paper, so that’ll be fun. Judging by the course delivery statistics, there will be a far higher ratio of independent learning in this module than any previously encountered.

    Now the meat and potatoes. In my second year of university, I did a group project module. We built task management software that was split into three components – a server module, a Java desktop application, and a web-based component. We also had to make use of the traditional Waterfall software development model. I was specifically responsible for the web-based component, built in PHP and jQuery, and it was called TaskerMAN. I’ll re-build it at some point in the year when I’m doing up my portfolio – perhaps using frameworks. My point is, is that the group project was a nightmare, and many of my peers will agree with me.

    But alas, here’s another group project. Another group project, aptly named CSM2020 – Agile Software Development Project. This time, it’ll be using agile methodologies, which does make things a lot easier and a lot less bureaucratic. But a group project is still a group project. Let’s pray it goes well. It’s marked 70% from the project itself and its deliverables, and 30% from a presentation of said project.

    Finally, I’ll be simultaneously working on CSM2220 – Mobile Solutions. This is much more focused on mobile development and the implications. 60% comes from three programming assignments worth 20% each, and a 40% case study of 2000 words.

    The only other alternative options to the last module I discussed just now were another AI module, and a data mining module that is more bioinformatics focused and doesn’t interest me too much.

    Final Trimester

    Master’s thesis. Dissertation. Yep, this one. The nightmares and flashbacks of my Bachelor’s thesis, and I get to do it all over again at Nightmare difficulty. I assume I get to find out about any available research projects during my second trimester, or whether I’ll have to come up with one of my own and find a suitable supervisor.

    Despite all this, I can’t wait to go back. I’ve sworn off a lot of my extracurricular activities and voluntary undertakings that underpined my time as an undergraduate, focusing instead on my studies, and on my part-time teaching job, which basically means even more programming and computer science in my own time. Then the gym and kickboxing, and then even more study, and then chores, and you get the picture.

    Roll on September.

  • My MSc Goals: Part 2/3 – My Obesity

    (If you haven’t read the first chapter of this three-part post, I really encourage you to do so! You can view it here.)

    Content warning: Obesity. Binge eating disorder. Addiction.

    I’ve been a bit hesitant to write this second chapter to this blog trilogy, but here we go. It needs to be put on paper and it needs to finally be acknowledged for what it is and what I aim to do about it. Dare I say, it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room? Haha, sorry.

    If you know me, you know me. As it stands right now, I am grossly overweight. I’ve been quite overweight for the vast majority of my life, with the exclusion of the periods where I was at my peak fitness levels as I was training a lot in the realms of kickboxing and semi-contact fighting. It has however now got to the point where it dramatically affecting my health, my overall wellbeing, and even my social life.

    Photo of me from my graduation ceremony
    Looking kinda pudgy there, Ollie.

    I don’t want to talk too much about publicly (i.e. on the Internet) about what health issues I’ve gone through in the past, nor go into too much detail regarding my eating habits over the past few years, so I’ll keep it simple. My eating habits became inexcusably bad, and it all stems with my relationship with food.

    • Free money? Check.
    • No parents around to scold me? Check.
    • No self-control when it comes to eating? Check.
    • Sedentary lifestyle? Check.
    • Obsession with fast food, particularly takeaways and pizza? Check.

    This has to change. Of course, talk is cheap. There has been plenty of times in life I have talked about losing weight; how I’m going to make such a huge difference and in a few months time I’ll be a new person, whilst secretly eating, or binge eating and ordering takeaway to deal with stress. The binge eating sometimes would get quite bad. Quite frankly, I won’t have the money this year to be spending it on junk food.

    Just earlier today, a friend of mine said he would lend me money to help with my living costs on the condition I’d pay it back – that’s fine. He also stipulated that he wanted to see that it would be spent responsibly, that he would check at random intervals and would demand unaltered copies of my bank statements and/or budgeting spreadsheets to confirm it. For the first time in my life, I felt like a drug addict. A drug addict trying to justify to someone that I’ll “be good”, and that I won’t relapse into eating garbage and wasting money on energy drinks or chocolate. You know, I’ve spent years openly criticising smokers, drug addicts, and alcoholics ignorantly not realising that those in glass houses really shouldn’t throw stones – not realising that I’m in the same basket, struggling with addiction.

    I’ll spend a budgeted amount weekly on food (along with everything else). I’ll make use of my university’s free gym membership. I’ll return to kickboxing to become the fighter I once were. I’ll walk more. I’ll drink more water. I even have a kickass Dragon Ball themed playlist for workouts, because if you didn’t know already, I love Dragon Ball. This blog post acts like a contract, and I’ll be posting updates too on a routine basis as to how I’m getting on. It won’t be easy – nothing is. But things have to change. If you know me in person, please keep messaging me. Hold me accountable. Demand updates. Even if you’re not – drop me an email, or tweet at me. I’m certain great things can happen if I just work at it and make small, incremental changes. I just have to keep going. If Boogie2988 can make drastic change to his life, then damn it so can I.

    You will find updates about my fitness in the Fitness 18-19 category of this website. Bookmark it, if you’re so inclined.

    Tune in next time for the third part of this trilogy, where I’ll discuss the remainder of what I want to achieve throughout this academic year. I really hope to see you there.

    EDIT: Part 3 is now here, give it a read!

  • Crowdfunding

    I’m currently working on the next big part to my MSc trilogy as we speak, but just a quick interim post before that goes live to talk about an idea that a friend proposed to me in order to help me finance my studies, and I figured it would be a good idea to at least share it here.

    I’m currently in a fair amount of debt accrued through the last few years of my undergraduate and any help paying them off would go an awful long way to supporting me whilst I’m doing my MSc. There’s a lot more information on the website itself:

    GoFundMe

    Thank you.

  • What happened to pursuing Psychology?

    Acceptance Email from the University of Essex
    Email of Acceptance to the MSc Psychology conversion course

    I’ve received this question a few times now so I figured it might be time to write a proper answer down, with my thought process and reasoning fully documented.

    Let’s turn back the clocks to January of this year, which was when I initially applied for the University of Essex to study their MSc Psychology conversion course. It was before receiving my results for the first semester of my final academic year and I was feeling very under-confident in my abilities as a software engineer, and whether my ambitions to attain a First in my degree were even remotely achievable; it felt as though all of my peers had pulled substantially ahead of me and despite my best efforts, I felt that I was becoming disheartened with the discipline and this was especially the case with my Ruby on Rails web development module that I was having a hard time in, when web development is typically my forte. You can imagine what kind of number this was doing on my Imposter Syndrome, which is something I have a hard enough time with anyway.

    I’m the kind of person who likes to put safety nets in place, or to have some kind of redundancy plan. Perversely, it goes against my natural inclinations towards spontaneity, but like a dog who learns to slow down after running into a glass door one time too many, I’ve become more methodical in my decision making. My best friend is also very strategic, so it rubs off somewhat on me. To cut a long story short, I had planned to use my expertise and enthusiasm for mental health, Active Listeningand student welfare to springboard myself into a psychology-oriented career path should everything turn sour. Several years of volunteering for a student helpline is nothing to scoff at, along with various volunteer undertakings in the name of student welfare and mental health, and I wanted to use these potentially to my advantage.

    Ollie for Wellbeing Officer 18-19 / Ollie am Swyddog Llesiant 18-19
    Ollie am Swyddog Llesiant 18-19 / Ollie for Wellbeing Officer 18-19

    The cherry on the sundae was my running the Students’ Union student elections for the position of Welfare Officer around March. Sure, it would mean deferring the Master’s by a year, but it would put me in good stead for such a career and be a year of concrete, paid experience. I came third place, which is still really good, but I’ll admit, I was really disappointed. I’ll update this blogpost with a link to an article I’m writing about my experiences running in that, what I learned, and what I took away from my brief stint in student politics.

    Eventually, I got my semester results. I did tremendously, despite all of my doubts, and what this really did was restored a lot of my faith in myself. But of course, there was still one more semester to go, and it would involve the largest software project I ever embarked on – a PHP based tool for extracting data from FGM-3 magnetometers, rendering the data using Chart.js, and also making datasets available via POST request, kind of like a diluted RESTful service. It was a great success, netting 77% for it, with my department planning on using it as the basis for another undergraduate project next year.

    If that was just a big whirlwind of jargon, let me break it down for you. After struggling for a semester and having my confidence really stunted, it made a rapid recovery following my results and then my success with my dissertation. Not to mention my degree overall! It rekindled my desire to learn more, and despite the sleepless nights and the hard work I put into my program (and its mountains of documentation), I look back fondly. It was a lot of fun.

    Ultimately, I decided that mental health activism, Active Listening, and Nightline helpline volunteering would remain as hobbies, and that it would be more fruitful for me to continue pursuing what I set out to pursue in the first place. It was no fluke I achieved what I did, despite the Imposter Syndrome in me trying to persuade me otherwise. I really hope that this year will continue to build my confidence, along with a badass portfolio. More on that tomorrow.

    Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in more posts, including ones that don’t focus on me (I promise!), follow me on Twitter! I always tweet whenever I’ve written anything new, and you won’t want to miss my retweets – they’re great.

  • My MSc Goals: Part 1/3

    He abandons his blog and then comes back with a three-parter?! Like poetry, I once again neglected my online presence as I went about bringing my Bachelor’s degree to a close, thankfully netting first class honours – something that meant a great deal to me, and then moving back home and taking an extended break to finally enjoy some video games and to sleep (a lot of sleep), in preparation for the next big challenge.1

    What’s next then? Well that challenge of course would be my Master’s degree. I was sadly unsuccessful in my attempts to secure scholarship funding for the Advanced Software Engineering and Game Development graduate courses I was eyeing up, that I would otherwise be unable to afford with just the Postgraduate Loan alone, so ultimately I opted to return to my alma mater, Aberystwyth, to do a Computer Science Master’s degree. Admittedly, I’m a lot more excited about this than I was originally – the thought of spending another year on the pleasant Welsh coast, this time fully dedicating myself to software engineering, and not being shredded by the difficulties of a joint-honours degree. No more hours spent slaving over German grammar drills. Nevertheless, the heightened difficulty and intensity of assessed coursework and strong emphasis on structured, independent learning will pose challenging, all whilst attempting to survive on my part-time job earnings – a prospect familiar to the majority of postgraduates in the UK.

    Finished Bachelor's dissertation. The title is 'The Collation and Graphical Representation of Magnetometer Data to Track Solar Activity Using a Web-Based Application.'
    The big book of space that got me over the 70% mark!

    I mentioned at the start of the year that I wanted to write more – well, I certainly did, twenty thousand words in fact, if you’re counting my dissertation. I have set concrete aims for this academic year, and what it is that I want to set my mind to and I want to achieve. I have broken this down into three long-term aims that I’ll be exploring over this blogpost trilogy. My first aim that is the primary focus of this post is as follows:

    By the end of the academic year, have prepared an impressive portfolio of projects ready to impress employers in the web and/or game development industries.

    If you think this sounds a bit vague, or a bit overambitious you’re right. It’s just a high-level aim intended to be broken down into smaller objectives. But first let’s think about what I mean by this.

    First, it’s no secret that I’m enticed by video game development as a career path, and that I continue to be fulfilled by web development also. My programming background from a young age came from web-based technologies and languages, so it makes sense to continue learning and developing as such. Game development is more of a new attraction, having previously vowed not to ever investigate out of fear of spoiling the enjoyment of video games for myself, but after playing with Unity and Unreal Engine 4, I had a change of heart because they are just so much fun.

    Aside from university coursework, my repositories and overall portfolio are looking malnourished. My aim is to expand them with personal projects worked on over the duration of the upcoming academic year, and to revitalise and refactor existing projects (and coursework) to an acceptable standard. Overall, it should look something like this by the time I approach graduation:

    1. My MSc work and dissertation to the best possible standard. Obviously.
    2. A substantial project written in Laravel and Vue.js to demonstrate a substantial understanding of those frameworks. It should also include thorough testing and documentation. I am already working hard to learn them.
    3. A 2D platforming game built in Unity. I have ideas in mind for these already, but ultimately the game should demonstrate working knowledge of the SDK, the C# programming language, and some practical use of sprite artwork and image editing. I’m still yet to figure this all out.
    4. A more basic game written in SFML and C++. This is to show that I can produce something more low-level without the use of an advanced high-level SDK.
    5. A substantial refactoring of my undergraduate dissertation project, written in PHP. This program has academic usage, so touching it up would be beneficial to all.
    6. Optional: Any other refactored coursework, projects, and video games.

    Phew! That’s it for this part! I’m mildly surprised with how therapeutic and helpful it is just to jot your plans down on ‘paper’. I’m really looking forward to learning as much as I can in the course of this year and developing a Swiss army knife of skills and expertise that should hopefully land me in a comfortable career.

    The second part will most probably be a lot more emotional and will discuss aspects of my past and present before proposing what my plans are for the future. Think of it as your typical New Years’ Resolution except I’m aiming to commence it, little-by-little, until I see results, throughout the academic year. You might’ve guessed what it is already. Regardless, I’m sure it will be an interesting insight into my life and I hope you come back to give it your perusal.

    For now, I gotta get back to Laracasts. I’ll catch you again later in the week, and as always, I’d love to read any of your comments below!

    EDIT: Part 2 is now out. Go and give it a read.

    (1) Well, this doesn’t mean I do literally nothing. Whilst home, I continue my volunteer work for the Nightline Association, and for Florida Friends of Hostelling. Something like an internship would’ve been nice, but you know what? I appreciated the downtime.

  • General Update

    Yeah I know I know – my whole New Year’s resolution basically went to crap – I promised that I would do a weekly blog post but I’ve simply been so crazy busy that I just haven’t had the opportunity to do so.

    So what’s new? I’ve been busy with my campaign to become Wellbeing Officer in my Students’ Union annual elections. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful, and came in third place. Nevertheless, I am very happy with where I came. I’ll be writing about that hopefully soon both on LinkedIn as well as the student paper if I can.

    I got my results for last semester! 74% in Agile Methodologies, 72% in Internet Services Administration, and 64% in Developing Internet-Based Applications. I also got a wonderful 79% in my Year Abroad, although this is worth only 0.25 on the degree cascade.

    Other than that, I’ve just been busy with my major project and German work. There’s been a lot of disruption to my teaching due to the recent university strikes, which I totally empathise with, so I am for the most part playing a lot of catch-up and dealing with a near endless barrage of work.

    This week, I need to ensure my major project is demonstration ready by Wednesday, to prepare numerous German translations for Thursday, as well as sit an assessed listening exam on Thursday, and finally present a topic on a random German politics topic for Friday.

    Thankfully, I can go home this weekend for the three week Easter break.