Several years ago now, I started on a journey that I found to be intimidating and humbling. After being out of school for the past 12 or so years, I decided to return and complete something that I had begun those many years ago - my undergrad degree. While I’m not yet done, as the finish line draws ever closer, I am now able to start looking back on this experience and understand how important this journey has been.
There were many times throughout the past year and a half that I really felt that what I was doing was basically insane. Here I was, a 33 (now 34) year old man with a wife, two kids, a great full-time job and over 12 years of experience as a professional software developer. What benefit could an undergrad degree ever serve at this point in my life?
The journey to return back to school began several years ago during a period of dissatisfaction with my career as a software developer. I found myself starting to ask the question: can I really see myself doing this for the rest of my life? Sure it had been a fantastic ride so far, and I really did enjoy writing code, but I had a hard time seeing myself still doing this in my 40s and beyond. It was this time of personal re-evaluation that I began to think about some other options for myself in the future.
In my early 20’s I had completed close to three years of a bachelors degree but then one summer I got a job working in downtown Vancouver as a software developer and had way too much fun to return back to classes the following fall semester. For a time, finishing school was always at the back of my mind but then as the years went on and life progressed, I basically gave up on ever going back. I got better as a software developer, met my wife, got married and had kids and all was well with the world. That is until my early-30s as I entered into this period of rethinking my future and desiring to change my course in life.
As events unfolded, it took me a while to actually make the jump to go back and there were several key incidents (which I won’t go into here) that were part of moving me to that point. But jump I did, and so in the summer of 2010 I applied to re-enter the Bachelor of Technology degree program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. I was accepted and I could have started that fall but I held back at the last moment. Some difficult questions still loomed large in my mind: was this really the best path forward for me? I knew that starting this would entail a difficult season of working full-time then going to classes at night and studying on any free evenings and weekends. I basically had to give up my life for about 2 years and of course this would not only affect me but also my wife and kids. There was much to consider.
When I think of all the reasons to finish the degree verses all the reasons not to, what ultimately tipped the scales in the direction of going back was the deep understanding in the value of finishing what you begin. If there was no other reason and no other benefit to be gained from this experience, finishing what I began those 14+ years ago would be cause enough to do it. And so, that fall I registered in 2 classes for the January 2011 semester with fear and trepidation. To say that the last year and a half has been a completely exhausting blur would be an understatement, but somehow I’ve made it through some very difficult and trying months and have emerged for the better.
At this point where I now find myself, I have completed the majority of the degree requirements. After this current summer semester I only have 2 final courses to complete in the fall and then I will be done in time for Christmas. From this vantage point I can say with confidence that I am very thankful for the journey but also very thankful it will be coming to an end.
Not only is the benefit of finishing what you began becoming very real and tangible for me, but there has been an incredible amount of other benefits throughout this experience. For one, it has reinvigorated my love for software development and technology in general, and I think this has percolated back into my job as I have sought to hone my craft and do ever better work with ever better programming practices. Additionally, it has helped me to appreciate the value in being stretched and pushed outside my own comfort zone. I admit that prior to this, my life was pretty comfortable and safe. This has shook me up and I think I will now be more ready to take other risks in the future.
That said, I think possibly the most important benefit to be gained from finishing what you begin, is the practice of actually finishing. It’s so easy to start new things but to actually finish something significant, that takes real hard work and dedication. I hope to take this lesson with me throughout the rest of my life.