College is a place meant to prepare you for the real world, provide skills, and teach valuable life lessons. No matter what your major is, the goal is to graduate ready to take on the world. Sadly, that doesn't always happen.
For the past few months, I have been an apprentice at Sparkbox learning all things code. In the short time that I have been here, I have not only gained more technical knowledge but have had the opportunity to pair with other developers with various backgrounds, attend meetups and workshops, and be part of a group of people who are passionate about the web and teaching others. This is the experience I had hoped for in college and has made apparent to me the things I wish I would have learned, but didn’t.
How to Work on a Team
Some of my core classes had at least one team project, but the classes that applied to my Web Design major didn’t have a single team project. It would have been nice to have some experience working with a team because I have been part of a team for the majority of my career so far.
Everyone should have practice working in a group setting. You need to know in advance how to delegate responsibilities, handle someone who isn’t pulling his or her own weight, and take on a chance to be in a leadership position.
What you can do if you aren’t getting this: First, just ask if you can work on a group project if there isn’t one already worked into the class’ syllabus. Then, if it just isn’t possible to fit a team project into your class, get a group together and work on separate projects, but as a group. Take turns talking about your ideas and getting feedback from your teammates, and be there to help each other as problems come up. In the working world, it isn’t uncommon to work on solo projects but still get together as a team.
How to Work with Clients
Many of my projects in college were either of my own choosing or outlined by a textbook. The problem with this is clients don’t follow a textbook. Every project and every client is different. While I always had fun working on my own projects and designing for me, designing for someone else and accepting criticism can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience as a novice.
What you can do if you aren’t getting this: While you are still in school, it can be difficult to work a real client’s deadlines into your class schedule. If you can, great, but if you can’t, try pairing up with a classmate—just ask someone to be your client and you be theirs. Take time to have a consultation, present your work to them, and accept feedback and apply it to your project. Having experience with both roles can give great insight on how to work with clients.
How to Not Get Overwhelmed
What you can do if you aren’t getting this: For starters, know you will be bombarded with information. Even after a few years of working in the industry I still get bouts of information overload—which is normal. The trick is not to let it overwhelm you. If you feel flustered, ask for help. Reach out to teachers, peers, and online communities for advice. Usually people will be happy to share the pros and cons of a language or framework. This will help you decide which is right for you.
How to Keep Learning After Graduation
This is the big one, the most important thing everyone should learn from college, yet is rarely learned: how to keep learning after you graduate. I didn’t leave college knowing everything I needed to know, and neither will you—even if you do try the tips I’ve already shared above. The web industry is constantly changing and evolving, sometimes overnight, and you have to keep up. This means you are never going to stop learning, and it can be frustrating trying to figure out how to keep learning.
What you can do if you haven’t learned this: Once you’re finished being overwhelmed and have figured out your focus, you want to get online and start looking for the people and blogs that are talking about what you want to learn. I assure you that no matter what path you choose, they are out there. Make Google your new best friend and keep a list of all the resources you find the most helpful for when you have questions. And don’t forget to ask your instructors (or any professionals you meet) about how they stay up-to-date with the industry.
I’m Still Learning
I went to a community college, so I got the short-but-sweet version of a Web Design degree. I wasn’t fully prepared for my first job, but I don’t think my lack of a four-year degree is to blame for my feeling unprepared. Luckily, I was able to learn all these skills on the job, but it’s never too early—or too late—to start learning them. Even though I had a few years of experience working in the web industry, I’ve been excited to “go back to school” and learn with the Sparkbox team as an apprentice. So try to seek out these skills as soon as you can, and if you’re still feeling like you want an extra boost, consider applying for next year’s apprenticeship program.