As the end of my first term of my final year at University approaches, I find myself thinking about the value of the degree I'll (hopefully) be getting in just a few months time. My feelings on this matter have changed quite a lot since I first started. Towards the end of college, I had absolutely no idea what it was I wanted to do with my life. All I knew was that it was likely to involve computers, and some form of creativity. "Digital Media Technology" sounded right up my street. I applied to NTU, amongst other Universities, with a constant fear that if I couldn't go to University, I'd end up in a dead-end, unfulfilling job with little pay.
The Glory Days
University began, and first year was a lot of fun. The year quickly passed in one long, expensive hangover with a few deadlines and the odd freelance job (it was this year I realised that freelancing was not something I'd find myself doing any time soon. There goes another career choice.) Then, in what seemed like no time at all, second year began, and with it came the difficult and undesirable work. 3D Modelling was incredibly challenging for me. Group work was a pain. The web development module was a piece of cake, and one which required the use of Dreamweaver as a site management tool. In all fairness, I have enjoyed University and I'm glad I chose to go. But not because of the work I've done. It'll all be worth it when I graduate, I told myself.
Second year also marked the start of my hunt for a place to work during my third year. After countless rejections and painfully long application processes from companies such as Xerox, Microsoft, and numerous design agencies dotted around Nottingham and Manchester, I decided to contact my old boss at Star Perfumes to see if they had any placement opportunities for me (let the record state, that site was not designed by myself.)
That year in work turned out to be the best in my life so far. Not only was I working with incredibly friendly, kind, and passionate people, but I was working on stuff I actually enjoyed. I had a lot of creative freedom with the design work I was given, and I had a chance to explore new and exciting technology on real-world, corporate sites and internal tools. Full time work suited me. It suited me so well in fact, that as soon as I got home from work, I'd get back on my computer and work on my own projects. This is the year that Brills, Animate.css, and a whole host of other projects really came about.
This is also the year that I found myself getting recognition from industry peers and personal heroes. It was completely bizarre to me that people like Chris Coyier and Rogie King and Harry Roberts - people I'd admired from the very beginning of my passion for the web - were starting conversations with me on Twitter.
A few things started to sink in. Things that explained and reassured. I realised it was ok for me to suck at something. Everyone does at first. Even the pros. The people you look up to didn't get to where they are as a matter of fate or luck. They worked their asses off to understand their craft and to better themselves. They, too, have stayed up late meeting or missing deadlines. They lose sleep over money. Most importantly, they have people they look up to themselves.
Success can not be measured by the number of qualifications you have, or the clients you've worked with. It can't be measured by the balance of your bank account or the size of your wardrobe. Success is measured only by the smile on your face and the fullness of your heart. Don't settle. You are the only person responsible for your own happiness - and as a result, your own success. At least, after a certain age.
But what does all of this have to do with University? Everything, really. Because I know that there are people who were like me. People who think that without a degree, they're bound to be unsuccessful. That's not the case for this industry, and I can only hope it's not the case for others too. Your passion for your work is monumentally more valuable than a piece of paper that says you met a bunch of deadlines and wrote a lot of words. And in the case of a designer, a solid portfolio does not mean a lot of clients. You are in control of your own destiny. You are.
Work your ass off doing something you love. Succeed.