Freshman bravado takes a holiday

During college orientation, a professor of mine told the latest crop of eager programming students that only two out of approximately 250 people enrolled in last year’s course were able to stay on track. All others found they had to modify their schedules in order to make up for failed or dropped classes.

Looking around the room to survey my competition, I saw quite a few frightened faces. I remained undaunted and scoffed at the very idea of such a low success rate. Besides, even if history were to repeat itself, I was filled with classic freshman bravado and counted on myself and the high school buddy sitting next to me to be those two successful ones.

However, halfway through the first semester, those seemingly-ridiculous numbers are now understandable. It is not for lack of ability or intellect, nor for lack of ambition. I attend school with an extraordinary group of people, many of whom could rival the professors with their IT knowledge. Look for their names on the list of failures.

One might ask why the same students who spend their spare periods discussing the ins and outs of processors, operating systems and networking protocols can’t seem to pass “Fundamentals of Java.” Perhaps it is because they, being of sound and logical mind, cannot bear to resign themselves to the task of doing seven pages of documentation for a single-page program.

Certainly no programmer who has had to make sense of someone else’s uncommented source will doubt the value of documentation. However, I have yet to encounter any real-world programmer who plans screen layouts in an Excel spreadsheet with each single character appearing in a separate field. Reflecting on such wasted hours is enough to nauseate me.

Excessive regulation of post-secondary learning has led to program inflexibility that only frustrate students who already have a solid technology background. It is an inherent flaw of the system that such students seem more likely to be discouraged than cultivated into IT professionals.

Also, last-minute schedule changes, ridiculously rigid grading systems and teachers who never seem to have enough time are all by-products of overcrowded classrooms in general these days, regardless of the program of study or institution in question. My classmates and I are finding our experiences to be no exception.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a cynical student who fails to appreciate the opportunity with which I’ve been presented. I’m not looking to point fingers at any individual faculty members, as they are clearly just doing their job. Neither do I wish to single out my school as being any worse than the others. The education system as a whole is to blame, rather than the microcosm of any single college.

Two out of 250. There’s something seriously wrong with that. There are times when my friends and I question why we opted to attend college in the first place when industry would welcome us with open arms, diploma or no diploma. My own answer is this: all complaints aside, I’m having a great time.

Interaction with my peers has proven to be the greatest possible learning resource, and there are several professors who conduct intriguing lectures. College is about a lot more than hands-on learning. It’s a life experience irreplaceable by anything else, but, in a sense, the education system is perfectly reflective of the workforce. A college mimics a large corporation in its gross inefficiency and the most important lesson we will learn as students is how to cope with the ensuing frustration.

Cooney is a Toronto-based programmer and a freelance Internet developer. He is currently enrolled as a student of Humber College’s Computer Programmer/Analyst program. He can be reached at