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Reflecting on a Master's Degree in CSE without a High School Diploma

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Reflecting on a Master's Degree in CSE without a High School Diploma

t. vaisanen's photo
t. vaisanen
·Jul 25, 2022·

5 min read

After almost eight years of hard work and struggles, I finally graduated with a master's in CSE. This is something that I could not have imagined happening 10 years ago. Not even after being enrolled in a computer science study program for a year back in 2009 after getting a degree in software development from a vocational school. Then, the university didn't feel like the right place for me. So I decided to follow my interest at that time and move on to study music technology.

In 2014, I decided to push my limits and apply to the master's program in CSE. The programs assumed that people who enter the program have the skills taught in the high school math and physics syllabus. This was already super discouraging since I had never gone to high school, let alone done any math since elementary school.

Still, I decided to take a stab at it. I started learning math on my own at Khan academy. After proving to myself that I was up for the challenge, I asked my grandfather to help me with the material. He had dedicated his entire career to mathematics, so there was no better mentor for me.

With his help, I powered through all the high school mathematics and a big part of the physics curriculum in seven months. We studied together on average twice a week before the entrance exams. I don't remember ever being that frustrated in my life as during this period. At the time of the exams, I felt that there was no way that I was ready or capable of getting into the program, but somehow I managed to pull it through.

The first year of my studies was not easy. Before entering the program, everything I did was on my terms, but now there were exams. Right off the bat, I was met with calculus one. I can still remember being disappointed in myself after getting only three out of five after less than a year of studying mathematics. In retrospect, this sounds unreasonable, but this fueled me to do better and study harder. This resulted in scoring five out of five in calculus two right after. With this, I felt that I had proven to myself that I belonged in the program and wasn't a fraud.

After the first year, I got my first unpaid internship in a small local game company and did a few months of C# with Unity. In the second year, I found my first paid gig as a research assistant where I started working on my bachelor's thesis. After this, I spent a year in Barcelona doing an Erasmus exchange. I spent most of my time playing guitar at open mics and earning a few credits from the local university while enjoying my time abroad. Throughout this, I was still planning on doing my master's thesis by continuing the bachelor's thesis topic.

A year later, after returning to Finland, I had my master's thesis finished already before completing my bachelor's degree. I felt that it was time to enter the industry. I still had some coursework left before getting the diploma which I was planning on finishing while working full time.

I had the opportunity to join Codemate, a local software consultancy. I spent the next two years working on various client projects as a full-stack web developer in Typescript. After the first year at Codemate, I finally finished the coursework for the bachelor's and continued on to the master's coursework specializing in AI and ML.

At some point, I got interested in functional programming and started learning more about it. I dabbled in languages such as Erlang and Haskell. I knew that the job market for these languages was pretty narrow. I had heard that a few companies were doing Clojure in my area. This led me to learn more about this peculiar language. Less than a year later, I was sold and wanted to be able to learn more and work in this particular lispy way. I was faced with a decision to continue with my current job or find a job in Clojure.

After reaching out to some companies, I received a few job offers. From those, I chose the one from Metosin, a small software consultancy specialized in Clojure development known for its open-source work. Now I had my first fully remote job. A year into writing Clojure professionally, I had the opportunity to give a speech at a meetup with my colleague. It was about serverless Clojure development and natural language processing on AWS that we have been working on for the past year.

In conclusion, after three years of working full-time as a software consultant and three-quarters of a master's degree later. I finally reached the point where all the coursework was completed, and I was officially done with my studies. I finally have the diploma in my hands feeling emotional, relieved, and also somewhat surprised to have actually completed the degree.

When starting I had no idea what I was getting into. I ended up learning a lot about myself, what motivates me and where I want to be and do later in life. After all this, I'm enrolling in a master's program in mathematics specializing in data science, which is also something that I never imagined doing. Only the future will tell how I feel about this coming journey.

It is possible to reach seemingly impossible goals as long as you give yourself a fair chance and work deliberately towards your goals. Just be patient and tackle the obstacles one at a time.

 
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