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Should I keep doing it? A levels and programming


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#1 Mafioso   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 182

Posted 01 October 2012 - 04:22 PM

Hello,

I've just started my A-levels this September in UK that take up most of my time (usually all) and therefore I stopped programming, which I was doing quite intensively before :( . I am sure that after the end of my A levels, I will forget most of what I have learnt during the past three years (which is quite a lot :( )

I really need advice or any guidance on this, is it more important getting a better grade at A levels, or keep improving at programming?
(Since there are around 365 days in a year, every day – a new concept/technique = 365 new concepts/techniques :D )

Would be grateful for any advice or personal experience :) Thanks.

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#2 szecs   Members   -  Reputation: 2185

Posted 01 October 2012 - 10:09 PM

It takes up all weekends and holidays too?

I don' think you can forget most of what you learnt unless you have learnt stuff from a textbook by heart.

#3 Bacterius   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 9293

Posted 02 October 2012 - 12:44 AM

I really need advice or any guidance on this, is it more important getting a better grade at A levels, or keep improving at programming?

If you really want my absolutely honest long-term experience, if and only if programming is really a passion of yours you wish to build a career upon later on, don't try and get the best grades possible. Aim for a satisfactory grade and spend the rest of the time you would have spent studying, improving your programming. Basic cost vs effort/path of least resistance, really, it's up to you to weigh everything according to your own learning skills.

Again, I do not recommend blindly following the above advice, and I only gave it because you asked for personal experience. It's worked out well for me but I cannot guarantee it'll work for you. Really, if you are not sure, go for the grades. You can always learn programming later on, but it can be quite difficult to retake national qualifications (at least in the countries I've studied in, don't know about UK). I agree with szecs, you won't forget what you learned, it'll just take you a couple weeks to get back up to speed.

The slowsort algorithm is a perfect illustration of the multiply and surrender paradigm, which is perhaps the single most important paradigm in the development of reluctant algorithms. The basic multiply and surrender strategy consists in replacing the problem at hand by two or more subproblems, each slightly simpler than the original, and continue multiplying subproblems and subsubproblems recursively in this fashion as long as possible. At some point the subproblems will all become so simple that their solution can no longer be postponed, and we will have to surrender. Experience shows that, in most cases, by the time this point is reached the total work will be substantially higher than what could have been wasted by a more direct approach.

 

- Pessimal Algorithms and Simplexity Analysis


#4 way2lazy2care   Members   -  Reputation: 782

Posted 02 October 2012 - 07:38 AM

Preface:
My understanding is that A levels are pretty much like your junior/senior year of high school in the north american system, as you are only compelled to stay in school till you are 16 in most of the UK. If I understand correctly, your A levels are a determining factor in getting into university/which university you get into.

IF MY UNDERSTANDING IS INCORRECT IGNORE EVERYTHING I HAVE TO SAY.

Post:
In my experience, worrying about the later years of high school in north america was unnecessary stress. You shouldn't slack off, but as long as you are doing well (read: not perfect, but more than acceptable) you should be fine. Unless you have a goal of going to a very specific university, and you know that that university requires higher marks than you are getting it's really not something you should be terribly fussed about. What you miss out on by stressing is worth more than what you gain from the extra work.

It's generally understood that interpersonal skills can be just as important for success as technical knowledge, so it's a really good idea to make sure you're developing those as much as your technical knowledge in either regard.

Another thing worth noting is that if you plan on going to University, one thing that gets terribly overlooked by students is that it's more about developing the skills you need to teach yourself rather than being taught. As long as you aren't sacrificing your foundation or learning how to teach yourself, learning new skills/knowledge isn't that difficult in the majority of situations. It is, however, very difficult to take advantage of all the things you won't be so keen to do once your body starts feeling old and you aren't in an environment where social opportunities are popping up constantly.

tldr; Don't sacrifice the opportunities unique to the temporary environment around you in order to gain something you could gain simply in an environment with less opportunities.

#5 mdwh   Members   -  Reputation: 901

Posted 02 October 2012 - 10:00 AM

I don't see why it isn't possible to do both...

I wouldn't sacrifice A Levels. I mean, there's obviously the whole question of work/life balance (no one spends 100% of their time on education), but I wouldn't deem them as something that can be dropped. If you view them as that unimportant, why are you taking them?

A Levels determine what University you can get in. They'll also be used by your first job interviews if you're applying before you've taken your final exams, as well as perhaps influencing starting salary - and perhaps be used as an indicator after that. Even if you do forget the work, they're still an indication of your capability and potential.

I'm not sure saying "Well I could have done better, I just slacked off because I preferred to work on something else" is a great interview answer...
http://erebusrpg.sourceforge.net/ - Erebus, Open Source RPG for Windows/Linux/Android
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/mark.harman/conquests.html - Conquests, Open Source Civ-like Game for Windows/Linux

#6 Mafioso   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 182

Posted 02 October 2012 - 11:49 AM

Preface:
My understanding is that A levels are pretty much like your junior/senior year of high school in the north american system, as you are only compelled to stay in school till you are 16 in most of the UK. If I understand correctly, your A levels are a determining factor in getting into university/which university you get into.

IF MY UNDERSTANDING IS INCORRECT IGNORE EVERYTHING I HAVE TO SAY.

Post:
In my experience, worrying about the later years of high school in north america was unnecessary stress. You shouldn't slack off, but as long as you are doing well (read: not perfect, but more than acceptable) you should be fine. Unless you have a goal of going to a very specific university, and you know that that university requires higher marks than you are getting it's really not something you should be terribly fussed about. What you miss out on by stressing is worth more than what you gain from the extra work.

It's generally understood that interpersonal skills can be just as important for success as technical knowledge, so it's a really good idea to make sure you're developing those as much as your technical knowledge in either regard.

Another thing worth noting is that if you plan on going to University, one thing that gets terribly overlooked by students is that it's more about developing the skills you need to teach yourself rather than being taught. As long as you aren't sacrificing your foundation or learning how to teach yourself, learning new skills/knowledge isn't that difficult in the majority of situations. It is, however, very difficult to take advantage of all the things you won't be so keen to do once your body starts feeling old and you aren't in an environment where social opportunities are popping up constantly.

tldr; Don't sacrifice the opportunities unique to the temporary environment around you in order to gain something you could gain simply in an environment with less opportunitie


So you mean that I should try to gain the best I can from the environment I'm in at the moment, or in other words, drop programming? What did you mean by developing interpersonal skills and social opportunities?

I don't see why it isn't possible to do both...

I wouldn't sacrifice A Levels. I mean, there's obviously the whole question of work/life balance (no one spends 100% of their time on education), but I wouldn't deem them as something that can be dropped. If you view them as that unimportant, why are you taking them?

A Levels determine what University you can get in. They'll also be used by your first job interviews if you're applying before you've taken your final exams, as well as perhaps influencing starting salary - and perhaps be used as an indicator after that. Even if you do forget the work, they're still an indication of your capability and potential.

I'm not sure saying "Well I could have done better, I just slacked off because I preferred to work on something else" is a great interview answer...


Don't get me wrong, I consider A levels very important, however I've heard that even after university people don't have enought programming experience or knowledge to get a job.

#7 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 22783

Posted 02 October 2012 - 12:45 PM

I've never heard any game programmer say "I had too much schooling".

I have heard many game programmers say "I wish I had taken a class in ..."


I recommend you take full advantage of the academic environment while you have it. You won't have it for very long.

Check out my book, Game Development with Unity, aimed at beginners who want to build fun games fast.

Also check out my personal website at bryanwagstaff.com, where I write about assorted stuff.


#8 way2lazy2care   Members   -  Reputation: 782

Posted 02 October 2012 - 01:33 PM

So you mean that I should try to gain the best I can from the environment I'm in at the moment, or in other words, drop programming?

Not drop programming so much as take advantage of your A-levels. At the same time, don't over-stress over your grades and miss other opportunities that are unique to high-school/university.

Generally you should be very careful giving up opportunities now for the possibility of opportunities later. A bird in the hand and all that.

What did you mean by developing interpersonal skills and social opportunities?


In the words of Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Mostly I was saying that it's a lot harder to find social situations after you're done with school. Interpersonal skills are valued nearly as much as technical ability for most companies, so it's important that you don't miss opportunities for developing those in addition to your technical learning.

Schools are pretty much a giant excuse for being social, so take advantage of it while you're there.

#9 Mafioso   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 182

Posted 02 October 2012 - 01:42 PM

I've never heard any game programmer say "I had too much schooling".

I have heard many game programmers say "I wish I had taken a class in ..."


I recommend you take full advantage of the academic environment while you have it. You won't have it for very long.


Where is the agree/like button gone? Posted Image Thank you for a reassuring opinion.

However, it's really sad to drop programming for so long time Posted Image I could learn so much during this time Posted Image which is the main reason while I'm thinking about this

Edited by Mafioso, 02 October 2012 - 01:46 PM.


#10 mdwh   Members   -  Reputation: 901

Posted 02 October 2012 - 01:48 PM

My personal experience and impression is that academic record will trump spare time hobby programming knowledge. Part of the idea is that someone with a good record can be taught to program, plus the grades are a better guarantee and objective test.

That's before we consider that good A Levels give you a better chance if you want to ever work in other areas.

Spare time programming knowledge is always helpful to put you above the others, all other things being equal, but I wouldn't let it sacrifice academic results.

What do you plan to study at university? If you're dead set on programming, I assume something computer related, in which case, you'd be learning that there anyway. Unless you're talking about what looks good to a university, in which case, you need A Levels.
http://erebusrpg.sourceforge.net/ - Erebus, Open Source RPG for Windows/Linux/Android
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/mark.harman/conquests.html - Conquests, Open Source Civ-like Game for Windows/Linux

#11 noisecrime   Members   -  Reputation: 738

Posted 02 October 2012 - 10:12 PM

The obvious question is what A-levels are you studying and if programming is your passion, why does it sound like none of your A-levels are geared towards it? Surely in this day and age there must be some decent computer/programming A-levels? Clearly some courses such as Maths and Physics will be beneficial, so I would expect you'd be doing at least Maths A level too?

However even if none of your A levels are geared towards programming I still don't see why you have to drop it. Plenty of spare time to keep development of your programming skills up.

As to what is more relevant it depends as to what field of programming employment you want to get into. For the more creative side (games etc) I still believe that you can get much further pushing yourself, creating demo's , showing off your abilities, than any current education can do. However for more commercial side (say banking) then I would guess grades and qualifications are more important.

One thing though, whilst this is an important time in your life and getting good grades can open opportunists further down the line, don't feel that your life is dependant upon what you do now. You can always go back to education, or gain certifications later in life. Indeed myself and many people I know didn't really have a clue at 18 yrs what they wanted to do or indeed where they'd end up. So self-education, further education and putting yourself through certifications is common place later in life. As long as you have drive you'll be fine.

I will state though I have personally be massively disappointed in terms of the education I was provided. Granted at the time programming and computing wasn't see as valid or important as it is nowadays, but even so, O-levels and A-levels seemed geared to learning to pass the exams, whilst University was better, I still feel much if not all of the benefits I got from it was due to putting in the extra work to learn stuff on my own. I'd say in terms of my skills, knowledge and experience in programming, that has all be self- taught and hugely benefited from the internet. It has done me well, though that is partly also due to the 'work ethic' and drive I have, which I think also goes to show that its not simply about grades.

Edited by noisecrime, 02 October 2012 - 10:18 PM.


#12 Mafioso   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 182

Posted 03 October 2012 - 02:08 PM

My personal experience and impression is that academic record will trump spare time hobby programming knowledge. Part of the idea is that someone with a good record can be taught to program, plus the grades are a better guarantee and objective test.

That's before we consider that good A Levels give you a better chance if you want to ever work in other areas.

Spare time programming knowledge is always helpful to put you above the others, all other things being equal, but I wouldn't let it sacrifice academic results.

What do you plan to study at university? If you're dead set on programming, I assume something computer related, in which case, you'd be learning that there anyway. Unless you're talking about what looks good to a university, in which case, you need A Levels.


I'm planning to do a computer science degree at university. Yes, I definitely need A levels in any case and I'm not going to sacrifice my results, however many people say I should have plenty of spare time for programming, but I don't get the point where learning or practising for my A levels finish and my spare time for programming starts, since the more I work on A levels, the better my grade will be and I can't be sure that working 2 hours a day at A levels will guarantee me the best grade

The obvious question is what A-levels are you studying and if programming is your passion, why does it sound like none of your A-levels are geared towards it? Surely in this day and age there must be some decent computer/programming A-levels? Clearly some courses such as Maths and Physics will be beneficial, so I would expect you'd be doing at least Maths A level too?

However even if none of your A levels are geared towards programming I still don't see why you have to drop it. Plenty of spare time to keep development of your programming skills up.

As to what is more relevant it depends as to what field of programming employment you want to get into. For the more creative side (games etc) I still believe that you can get much further pushing yourself, creating demo's , showing off your abilities, than any current education can do. However for more commercial side (say banking) then I would guess grades and qualifications are more important.

One thing though, whilst this is an important time in your life and getting good grades can open opportunists further down the line, don't feel that your life is dependant upon what you do now. You can always go back to education, or gain certifications later in life. Indeed myself and many people I know didn't really have a clue at 18 yrs what they wanted to do or indeed where they'd end up. So self-education, further education and putting yourself through certifications is common place later in life. As long as you have drive you'll be fine.

I will state though I have personally be massively disappointed in terms of the education I was provided. Granted at the time programming and computing wasn't see as valid or important as it is nowadays, but even so, O-levels and A-levels seemed geared to learning to pass the exams, whilst University was better, I still feel much if not all of the benefits I got from it was due to putting in the extra work to learn stuff on my own. I'd say in terms of my skills, knowledge and experience in programming, that has all be self- taught and hugely benefited from the internet. It has done me well, though that is partly also due to the 'work ethic' and drive I have, which I think also goes to show that its not simply about grades.


I'm doing Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Computing. Computing is the only subject that should be targeted towards programming, however I already know all the programming taught on the course and it's just the theory that I need to memorise... And again, when does the work towards a better grade at A levels finish and my spare time starts? (I've mentioned it in the above reply) Yes, programming on my own is the only way to learn programming or show my skills/work/passion that is why I'm thinking whether I should keep programming. And I agree that I can get certifications later in the life, but I want to create the best situation for me to get into programming at this stage, since I already certain what I want to do.

It's not only about grades, that is for sure, but there are two ways to go: either with the system, or against it. Where with the system, means going to the best university and getting the best grades that would put me at the top of the list at a job interview, wouldn't it?

And against the system would be putting my programming work to a personal statement that I will have to send to the universities I will apply to, however that will mean nothing if I will get a bad grade in my A levels...

So the safe and the best way would be getting the best grades from my A levels as possible as many people have said before, but it's really disappointing being stuck for 2 years perfecting some letters on a sheet of paper, when I could be improving at programming, but if the grades are really important, then I can definitely put that effort and wait that time, but I have no idea which way is right :(

#13 way2lazy2care   Members   -  Reputation: 782

Posted 03 October 2012 - 05:16 PM

I'm doing Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Computing. Computing is the only subject that should be targeted towards programming, however I already know all the programming taught on the course and it's just the theory that I need to memorise... And again, when does the work towards a better grade at A levels finish and my spare time starts? (I've mentioned it in the above reply) Yes, programming on my own is the only way to learn programming or show my skills/work/passion that is why I'm thinking whether I should keep programming. And I agree that I can get certifications later in the life, but I want to create the best situation for me to get into programming at this stage, since I already certain what I want to do.

Why don't you tell the teacher for your computer course that you know a bunch of stuff and ask if there's anything above and beyond what's required you could do. It shouldn't be as complicated as you are making it.

#14 noisecrime   Members   -  Reputation: 738

Posted 04 October 2012 - 11:46 PM

So the safe and the best way would be getting the best grades from my A levels as possible as many people have said before, but it's really disappointing being stuck for 2 years perfecting some letters on a sheet of paper, when I could be improving at programming, but if the grades are really important, then I can definitely put that effort and wait that time, but I have no idea which way is right Posted Image


Well to be honest its difficult to say, only because the route I went was pretty much the complete opposite of this, though it was 15 years ago and even then I had been employed in other fields for many years. It is from my experience that ones own ambition and drive is what will get you the 'good' jobs in life, not your grades and that further more it doesn't matter too much when you do it, 16 yrs, 18 yrs, 25 yrs etc, opportunities are never closed down assuming you can find the time to invest and learn.

However my experience is in the creative side of programming, multi-media, games etc. So apart from the fact that my own experience may not tie into todays requirements, it would definitely not tie into someone who wanted to get a more 'programming science' type of job (e.g something in banking where I would expect grades are the first thing looked at). I still suspect though in the 'creative' side of the industry an impressive portfolio and these days a strong internet presence showig off your skills will get you noticed far more than grades ever would.

It's not only about grades, that is for sure, but there are two ways to go: either with the system, or against it. Where with the system, means going to the best university and getting the best grades that would put me at the top of the list at a job interview, wouldn't it?


These days I suspect not as so many other people have the same grades. Which is where 'way2lazy2care' advice about asking your computer course teacher for going beyond the course is very good advice.

From my own experience I'd have to disagree too. I did Maths, Physics and Art A -levels, pretty much failed all three. Eventually went to Uni to do graphics and business, got 2:1 (I think was damn close to a first) but I felt it was quite an easy course, spent most of the last year skipping the courses and teaching myself programming & multi-media. Did some basic promotion, sending in a cgi video short I did for the course to 'Creative Review' magazine, to be featured on their first CD-Rom issue. Went to London got first job I walked into on the basis of that video and my own programming demo's and never looked back.

Again this is not to say its the best way to go about it, maybe i've just been very lucky and I know i've been very fortunate. I just wanted to illustrate that there are alternatives.

Ultimately you have to make the choice and yes it is difficult, but as I've pointed out its not the end of the world if you get it wrong now, you have still have decades to sort out what you want to do in life. My own issue with what you are saying is that if programming is as important to you as you say, if you have a burning desire that this is what you want to do, then I wouldn't necessarily think that getting all round good grades and dropping the fun, spare-time programming that you do now is the best thing.

I guess more succinctly my advise is follow your heart not your head ;)

That is not to say don't do A-levels, they are important, just you might be able to balance out formal education with personal education better than you think. Also use these two years as an opportunity to make contacts within the field you want to work, as well as networking with fellow students. Start self-promoting your skills, set up a youTube channel, create a business with other like minded students etc. You may think you don't have time for all this, but believe me, time is something that you'll find you have less and less of as the years go by. However ultimately it all depends on what your overall aim is. If its just to enter the corporate side of programming the, these things aren't as important as getting those tick box grades and University degrees. If you want to get into the creative side, perhaps set up your own business, discover new algorithms and present them at conferences etc, then these things are probably more important. - At least that's my 'opinion'.

Regardless of what you decide, just remember to try and have fun ;)

Edited by noisecrime, 05 October 2012 - 12:01 AM.





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