Dawid meets Campbell: University life and Coding

Our Globe Academy coachee Dawid who is looking into a career in coding caught up with Campbell Morgan, founder of Folissimo and SiteChef, two web development companies, and asked him his ups and downs about university and coding!

Full written transcript below:

Dawid (D): How did you get into coding?

Campbell (C): Addiction to certain computer games! When I was about 11 or 12 and my mum said I couldn’t play computer games any more. So I asked my mum if it’s ok to start learning how to program on a computer, and my mum was a bit confused but in the end she agreed to buy me Visual Basic and then I started programming. I then stopped coding for a couple of years and started making electronic music. The main problem with electronic equipment is that it was really expensive, and so that’s when I started to do website design. This meant that I had to learn a whole different code, and that was when I learnt ASP and PHP later. Years later I then started this business which I run at the moment. Only in the last 3, 4 years have I become a real serious developer. 

D: What did you study at university?

C: I did not study anything related to what I am doing now. When I went to university I studied Spanish and Portuguese literature. It sounds like it is unrelated, but it’s more related then you think. Since coding is another language, you do have to have a specific mindset to understand a specific grammar and structure of another language. During university I was doing freelance coding to pay my way for university and when I left, I was doing a bit here and there. 

D: How challenging was your degree?

C: Very challenging. Especially my final exam at my university, we had eleven 3 hour exams in 2 weeks. You had to write 3 essays, 1 hour each and in advance you had to know 3 or 4 books for each essay. So it was very stressful and it was probably the hardest thing I have done. It is important to play to your strengths, at the time, I really enjoyed speaking Spanish which is why I decided to do it for my degree. For me I feel like it has opened up a lot of doors. 

D: During your time at university, what was your most difficult challenge and how did you overcome it?

C: I guess my most difficult challenge at university was knowing how to write really good essays. Since my A-levels were Maths, further Maths, Economics and Spanish. In Economics you have to write essays, but not in the way you have to do it in literature essays. A lot of other people on my course did English A-level and understood the structure of it. So I think learning what a good essay was to start off with was a real challenge. And I guess the way that I did it, it took me a long time to do because I was writing an essay and then rewriting it and then rewriting it. An important thing was having enough time to be able to edit it and then you begin to understand what good writing looks like. Another point is to read critically other peoples’ essays whether that is someone who is a professional academic or another colleague who is doing really well. Through that, try to work out what is good about their essay and how you can improve yours.

D: What was the best and worst part of university life?

C: The best parts of university life for me was certainly learning about a subject in great detail, from people who are obsessed with their subjects and obsessed with something very specific about their subject. The most interesting thing was hearing from people who have studied their subject for a long time, like 8 years or so, hearing them talk about it. Then eventually you pick up that passion and talk about it. If your teacher is like that then they are very good. On the other hand, if that does not happen then the teacher is probably very bad.

For the worst parts it would have to be growing up, just trying to work out what you want to do, try to work out where you see yourself in the future. Final exams were also very stressful, as 90% of my degree was based on the final 2 weeks of my exams and that was pretty terrifying. 

D: What advice would you give for someone who wants to study coding at university, someone like myself?

C: I can’t answer that from an academic point of view because I didn't study computer science at university but I have good friend who did study it and the funny thing is, some of the best coders that I know and the very best developers often didn't study computing at university.

There are two pathways; one is an intellectual side where that involves thinking about the structure of programming, thinking about new languages, thinking about the best ways of combining stuff together to make very efficient, coherent code. This tends to be more academic as the academics also tend to create new languages.

Whereas to be a developer, in a successful business, that makes really valuable code, for businesses you need to understand the academic side, but more importantly is your ability to communicate clearly with other members of the team, to understand what is a waste of time and what isn’t a waste of time.An academic programmer wouldn’t even think about time wasting as they would just know and do it straight away, but sometimes if you want to work in an industry, that’s counter productive because you spend a lot of time thinking about the most efficient way of writing something which takes you 10 minutes to write. What I would do is just write it and then go back over it a day later and correct it. At the end of the day the most important thing is to make stuff that works that serves customers. You may have really ugly code but if that code works and serves customers then you have the money to correct it later. Whereas if you have beautiful code that does not serve customers, then you don’t have money and you are stuck.

The way I see university in this country is that you do not have to do anything that relates to your career later on in life, whereas in countries like France or Germany you have to do a degree in your career chosen path. The wonderful thing is that here in the UK, you have 3 or 4 years to study for just the interest of it and not to affect your career.

Do what you enjoy at university, and learn coding on the side so when you finish university you can train to become a junior programmer later.