To learn or to earn – my summer 2013

Sometime on February or March I came across a 2009-old blog post / article from Both Sides of the Table about deciding when it’s time to learn or earn. It’s a good post and I recommend reading it but what I actually took with me from the reading was the core – when it’s time to learn and when it’s important to earn. I applied for multiple summer jobs in my hometown, mostly programming companies, some advertising agencies.

In February I had started in a university project Capstone FUTURE (a collaboration with universities of Turku and Fudan) which was guaranteed to take some of time but not so much that I couldn’t have taken the job. I got an interview into one of the companies and after it going quite well, I started pondering about my possibilities. I knew I was also going to have a small project from local hospital but at the time, I was unsure about the length and possible income from that.

So I gambled. I decided, that I’d call the company and tell them that I was going to drop off from the process. After all, it happened to be mutual choice – they didn’t want a part-time (3 days a week) worker at that point and I wanted to spend the summer learning new stuff. Of course I would’ve learned a buckload of new stuff at the company too but from my own projects I believed I’d get more.

So what has happened since?

In the international Capstone FUTURE student project we did some field research in Finnish high schools and travelled to Shanghai for a fortnight to visit local high schools, interview students and teachers and experience the Chinese way. In the summer, I’ve been the main programmer on the project creating a Node.js based online math tutoring platform. As a university student project it didn’t bring me any money home but I learned so much about international, multicultural and interdisciplinary working, product researching and programming – after all, it’s my first Node.js app ever.

The hospital project turned out to be little more than just a weekend hacking thing I first thought. I’ve been busy with it the whole summer and it has been the first do-it-from-scratch-with-client project for me. Getting to know the requirements, deciding the specs, planning the architecture and to implement it has been very educating process and it has given me a lot of valuable experience and self-confidence. I was lucky to get a friend to join me on the project so there’s always been someone to grab a beer with and to crack problems one after another together. It also got me through summer financially so the gamble happened to be very succesfull.

Since I didn’t get a “real” job I was able to work from wherever I wanted whenever I wanted – on a sunny day I could take my laptop to a cafe and work there or go to meet some great people on different events without having to ask anyone permission. And besides the two big projects, I’ve been able to do my own stuff also, some programming challenges from Rosalind (love that place) and Project Euler as well as other stuff like Sudoku solver which is still very in-progress.

Was it worth it?

It was more than worth it. I learned so much, not only programming stuff but other related or unrelated matters as well. The gamble paid off better than I could’ve ever imagined – I got my CV boosted, my skills enhanced, my self-confidence rocketed through the roof and my career opportunities have never looked this good. And the best part of summer? I applied to Codecademy Fellowship and got into interview. The entire process got me much more aware of things I need to do and even though I didn’t get the job, it was the best job related experience I have ever had.

Next fall I’ll try to wrap up my bachelor studies (missing few courses and the thesis), continue applying to exchange studies in US and I will mostly definitely stay curious and ambitious.

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