Tuesday, August 29, 2017

My Experience with Specialist Diplomas (Part 1)

I have wanted to blog about this topic for quite some time already. In a few of my previous posts, I have shared that I have been taking 1-year academic programmes. I have been quite cryptic about it, alluding to it but never revealing what exactly am I studying. Well, I wanted to finish two of these Specialist Diplomas (shall refer to them as SD for the remainder of this post) first before writing a detailed post on them.

As the two SDs I took are quite "hot", I would not be providing you readers with the names of the courses, lest you find out my real identity. The two SDs I took are offered by the School of IT and the School of Engineering, respectively, from two different polytechnics.

Rationale for taking SDs
I hail from a social science background and have zero programming/IT knowledge. Out of curiosity and interest, I began taking up programming courses through Coursera during my free time. Wanting more opportunities to improve my new-found programming skills and finding out that there are interesting tech courses offered by the local polytechnics, I signed up for it!

Furthermore, as a Singapore citizen, SDs offered by the local polytechnics are heavily subsidized. You pay around $1000 for 1-year worth of classes. Not a bad deal, right?

I was also certain that the polytechnics should have a certain standard and rigour in the syllabus. So, why not?

I managed to get in, even though I'm neither from IT nor Engineering? For the IT SD, I had to undergo an interview though.

Application is free. Yes, you can apply for more than 1 SD at a given academic intake, ranking them in order of your preference.

I have met plenty of interesting people from the two SDs I attended. The majority of them are working within the given SD's field. Initially, I was quite unnerved by this fact. This would mean that I am the noob-iest in class! Well, not quite. There were others who intended to use SDs to make a career change. And then there's people who take them for entertainment (*cough*soundslikeme*cough*). I have met one person who used it as a networking tool. Just come to class to look-see, look-see, make friends, and hand out his name card to promote his business. Then there's the interesting founder-CEO chap as well. A month or two back, various financial bloggers were sharing about the fintech solution he has recently launched.

As group projects are commonplace in SDs, you will get to know your group mates well. Normally, the people within each group will stick together throughout that 1 year (which comprised of 2 semesters). But ya know right? Singaporean students are competitive and do not take too kindly to dead weights on their teams. I have seen a group split up across semesters, since there is no binding commitment to remain on the same team.

Do note that there is attrition as well. By the end of the first semester (first half of the course), 1/4 to 1/3 of the class would have dropped out for various reasons. They may do so out of a change in their work commitments, the course not meeting their prior expectations, etc. So, you may like to work with your teammates but find that they will be leaving the course after the first semester. Time to find new group mates then!

The age range in class is generally quite wide. From mid 20s onwards to 50s. No, you won't be the odd one out. No need to be pai seh.

Course Content
As I am a total noob in IT and Engineering, I can say that I learn a lot from the two courses. For those who are already in the field, a fair bit of the course content for each individual module would serve as a refresher. The remaining portion of the module would drill deeper into the subject.

There are recommended textbooks for each module. I found that the information contained within the textbooks are okay to know, but not necessary. Reading the lecture notes and doing tutorials should suffice. If you require additional assistance, you could ask/email the lecturer your queries. If you still want to refer to the textbooks, better head down to the school library early, preferably before the first day of class. People will still borrow the textbooks, and you may find yourself without those resources.

There are, of course, bo liao aspects in each module. In the IT SD, a fair bit of time was allocated to class discussion. No, not the productive kind. The ones where the lecturer tried too hard to think of a generic topic to get people to talk and discuss. Of course it fell flat. Then there's fluff that could totally be removed from the syllabus. Anyone who joins "hot" courses do so because they hear exciting stuff about the potential of the course's topic. We do not need to be shown youtube videos introducing the hotness of a hot topic. Furthermore, we could do that at home or wherever else.

Since this is becoming a wall of text, I will continue sharing my experience in part 2. Until then, stay tuned!

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