Name: Amy Stephenson

University: University of Sunderland Subject Studied: History and Politics

University: Newcastle University Subject Studied: Computer Science

What undergraduate degree did you do? How is the style of study different now? What sort of work do you do as part of your computing masters?

My undergraduate degree is in History and Politics, subjects that I was very interested in at the time. However, by the end of the course I couldn’t help feeling that my major interests had changed. I think it’s fair to say that studying a science subject feels a lot more focused than studying humanities. In history and politics you are studying entire eras, events and ideologies from a very top down in a very broad sense and glossing over lot of the smaller details. Studying computer science on the other hand is the opposite, studying very specific methods and concepts very thoroughly which can then be linked together to create more complex systems. So far in my course I’ve covered Unix, SQL, Java and I’m in the middle of a software development group project. Most modules consist of lectures followed by practicals in the computer labs and coursework. It can be extremely time consuming learning all of these things at once but it is very rewarding. It is a nice change being able to do practical work.

History & Politics and Computing are wildly different subjects. Have you found that there are any transferable skills from your history degree that you have been able to take forward your computing masters?

Studying history and politics required a lot of time reading and researching very broad topics that needed to be filtered down to understandable, memorable chunks. For example, I studied post-war Europe which is a huge topic and if you wanted to have any hope of understanding it you had to divide it into the main themes and issues of the era and how they interconnected. In many ways this isn’t too different from what is required in Computer Science. We are given a scenario and then we have to come up with a solution to the technical problem it presents. So you have to break the problem down into its components and work out how they relate to each other. The ability to research efficiently has definitely helped, when I encounter a problem I know I can rapidly find a reliable source of information on the topic.

Did you have any prior experience with what you have encountered in your degree so far?

I’ve been a computer nerd from a very young age, I think I dismantled my first PC when I was about 10. So computer science has been an ongoing hobby for most of my life. I had always thought I was better at essay subjects and that I should play to those strengths and start my career that way. However, by the time I finished my degree I realised that my passion was for technology and that I wanted to get involved in that industry as soon as possible. So when I applied for a MSc in Computer Science I had no qualifications in the subject but had years of amateur experience in server management, network management and building PC’s as well as an understanding of programming concepts. That experience gave me a fantastic foundation understanding for my course and has made the transition much smoother than I anticipated.

What has it been like learning such a technical skill-set from scratch?

As I mentioned, I already had some hobbyist experience of the subject so I pretty much knew what I was getting myself in for. However that certainly isn’t to say that it has been easy, doing a masters in a different subject to your undergraduate degree is extremely intense and requires many long days of lectures, practicals and extra work at home. But I can’t stress enough how rewarding it is seeing how much progress you’re making in such short time periods.

What do you plan to do after you finish your post-graduate degree?

My dream would be to get a PhD in Computer Science. I absolutely love the subject and want to learn as much about it as I possibly can. After that though, who knows! Maybe a job doing computer science for a space agency or researching cyber-security issues, I’ll have to see what I’m most passionate about at the time!