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Programming education in England/UK

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Hi people. I''m learning C++ and open GL stuff right now, and I''m interested in becoming a profesional programmer of some sort (I''ll try for games), but I''m just wondering about education issues. I''m just about to start my last year of my GCSE course, but I''m not entirely sure where to go from here. Can you start learning programming in college (6th form) or do I have to wait untill university for that? I''m just wondering where people go to learn stuff like c++ and open gl/direct x. I looked at my local colleges web site, but there advanced computer courses did say anything about programming. What are/did you guys do. Sorry if this is in the wrong forum, I''m not sure where this should go other than here. Thanks, -J

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Hi, the course I have applied for is an AVCE in Information and Communication Technology. You need about 3 GCSE''s at C or above to get on it I think, and it involves a little about most aspects of computing: programming, website design, multi-media, etc. Its about the best thing you could do (IMO) to start moving towards a career in programming. After finishing that, I am gonna do a degree in Computer Science or Games Programming. If you really want to do Games Prog. then I would suggest a Games Programming degree after college, but the only problem is that there are only three places (to my knowledge) that do these courses in Britian. One in Middlesborough (Teeside), one in Scotland (Dundee?), and im not sure where the other one is.

PS: You might want to think about an A-Level maths as well, as it will help you to understand the 3D and physics stuff.

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It''ll depend heavily on the college you go to. My first year at college (this was just before they changed the system to the new AS''s) the only computer related courses they did were word processing or an introduction to computing ("Today we''re going to learn what a floppy disk is..."). I avoided these like the plague. Second year they introduced an I.T. AS level but the closest this got to programming was when I heavily overdosed on Excel macros. I had to wait ''til University to do any real programming.

Maths will definately be a strong point for entry to a computer science degree but I can''t really give any advice beyond that.


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The only course my college offered was A level ICT, which us game/programmer types may find quite boring. I did it anyway, and the work was mainly Excel / Word / Access. Occasionally we got to write a few lines of VB but it wasn''t programming it was "hey class, type this from a book - Dim Count as Integer blah blah", and then "whopee it works" but nobody else (apart from me) knew why or how (not even our teacher, who was only qualified in P.E.!) Most annoying was that our AS coursework was lost and only found a year later when they tried to mark our A2 coursework, and so they were marked hurridly and I reckon unfairly (I got an E, not saying I''m a genius but I''m worth more than an E). Some people in my class blatantly cheated by paying a professional to do the coursework for them (some of my friends even confessed this to me, and some who weren''t my friends, I could just tell anyway cos they were idiots with A grades). I''m sorry for this rant I had to let off some steam. Maybe I was just at a bad school, and other peoples experience of ICT is/was/will be better, but for me, it was bad.

Some colleges offer A level Computing. I don''t know if thats any better, I think it might be slightly, but I doubt heavy programming is involved.

I have an unconditional offer to study Computer Games and Internet Science at the Uni of Essex, which I''ll be starting in October. I think that course will be far more enjoyable.

My advice to you is, if you want to eventually do games or programming at uni, take maths and maybe even physics (I did both, and uni''s are interested in those subjects for games/programming courses). Some uni''s were interested in having ICT, so the sad truth is maybe taking ICT is a good idea even if the course isn''t really that good. And most importantly, when you apply for uni, show them something other than qualifications. Show them your enthusiasm and some of your work. The person who interviewed me said that I was in due to the games he''d seen of mine, and he didn''t care if I failed all my exams. Good luck, and happy programming :-)

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The conventional route would be to study A-levels and then go on to read a CompSci or other numerate degree. You might find that you have to study some fairly noddy stuff along the way, and possibly not C++ or OpenGL. It''s important to remember these courses are there to open doors for you - when it comes to getting employment, you will have every chance of getting a programming job if you have the degree (engineering and science degrees should also do the trick).

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My advice would be something like:

A-Levels in:
- Mathematics (essential skill for modern games programming)

- Computer Science (gives you an introduction to traditional algorithms etc, maths for computing etc)

- A.N.Other subject - Physics if you''re feeling really geeky, Art if you want to get in with the trendies etc.

If all your 6th form is offering is "IT" (aka "how to use MS Office") or some sort of "business studies with IT", then do remember to check out local colleges too. Once you''ve done the GCSE''s, what you want to do is your choice - there will be a lot of bad advice out there too.

Although a computer science A-Level may force you to program in say pascal under DOS, it will also teach you some of the more formal parts of programming. Formal stuff pops up a surprising amount, even in games.

After A-Levels, a few ideas and bits of advice (with hindsight - I''m 28 now):

1) take a year out, travel and have as much fun as possible either before or after a degree. It''ll be much harder to do it once you have a full time job or other commitments.

2) definately go to university, and definately get out and meet people. Don''t just go to student bars - get out and see the local places.

3) take a degree in one of:
- Mathematics
- Computing (Sci, Studies etc)
- Business (if you''re more ambitious)
- Games! (Teesside, Salford and others do offer games specific courses or at least games specific modules on top of more traditional courses)

4) Learn the stuff like OpenGL and DirectX in your own time, work on small projects in your own time. Some of these will be useful demos to send along with your CV when applying for jobs. You could even do some game related thing for a final project to combine your studies with your interests.

Points 1 & 2 may seem to have nothing to do with working in the games industry, but they do!. Being able to get on with all kinds of people and being generally a well balanced person yourself is important for working well in a team in highly stressed situations (common in games).

Also beware that a games specific degree might limit your options later on. For example say you did get a job in games and realised it didn''t meet your expectations of what it was like - it''d be much easier to move into business programming with a conventional compsci degree than it would with a games specific one.

Simon O''Connor
Creative Asylum Ltd

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Guest Anonymous Poster
a few points i''d make/reiterate :-

1) a degree will help enormously in getting work as a software engineer. i really recommend aiming for a university education if you are serious about spending some time in this industry.

2) while you''re at uni, get out a lot as mentioned before. but also, go to a hell of a lot of student bars and ENJOY IT big time. it''s unlikely you''ll ever have the time/money/energy to have as good a time, as intensely ever again. also, join a club of some sort, sports or chess or conservation or political debating or whatever, and get involved in running the club/group. this will just distinguish you a little from all the other people who have degrees but didn''t bother to get involved. it shows enthusiasm and ability and responsibility.

3) pick a relevent degree. i''ve worked with many engineers who hold a degree in history or geography or something and who did a masters conversion into computing. they just don''t have the depth of relevent knowledge that a computer science/engineering grad has, although they do tend to aquire this with time in the job.

4) a''levels for a degree in any science/engineering degree should include maths and a relevent science. for games software, physics would not hurt.

5) life is a non stop learning excercise, don''t think once you''ve got your degree you stop learning, you don''t know shit yet!

6) read a national newspaper at least once a week, and not a comic, a big one. find out what''s going on in the world. this will broaden your horizons and you will come to speak from a perspective of greater awareness.

7) play with the technologies, a great way to learn.

8) program in your own time. write games, etc. you''ll teach yourself far faster than anyone else will teach you. BUT, you still need the degree for
a) a piece of paper to open employers doors
b) depth of knowledge.

9) yes, take a year out, before/during/after your degree. and get out a bit, go travel, see the world. trust me, work sucks you in, soon you''ll have a mortgage/wife/kids. you wont be able to just up and go then. i know this is old man talk, but really, work quickly fills up the years once you start.

there, that''ll do for now.

but most of all, never pass up an oppurtunity to have a giggle.


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Guest Anonymous Poster
think also, that it''s never too early to start considering university. all universities have websites.

i studied at UMIST in manchester.

but there are a lot of universities.

people who work at universities are generally very positive towards anyone who is interested in furthering thier education, and will respond if you write to them with questions. each course at a university will have an "admissions tutor" who will be able to answer questions about the course. most universities have open days - usually these are for students who are applying to join in the next academic session. they serve as an introduction to university life and give the university a chance to asses potential applicants before making provissional offers.

i would think though that if you show interest, it should be possible to get yourself onto an open day to get a feel for uni life, and also to fuel the fires for you to help maintain your focus as you work at attaining your imediate qualifications.

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