On the 16th of July, I graduated from the University of Sheffield with a First-Class degree in Software Engineering. Graduation is among the happiest events in every student’s life. However, I feel like there are few reasons why I should be happy and proud of myself for my achievements.
To start with, I am originally from Bulgaria. Bulgaria is known to be the worst in the EU by many criteria, one of which is its education system. While I graduated from a very good high school, which I was very glad to be a student of, the major issue is with the curriculum which is the same for all schools. It is outdated, and in many cases – irrelevant. This is true, especially when it comes to Computer Science. When I started University, I was somehow disadvantaged, compared to most of my mates. I did not have A levels, nor English is my native language. While I have always been interested in programming, I never spent enough time before university practising it. All of this, combined with my ambition to do well, made the first semester of the first year a very disheartening experience. I remember calculating that we had four assessments a week, on average. These included quizzes, coursework and exams. During my first three months at University, I spent almost all my time in the library. I slept two hours a night, however, I was determined to do whatever I can to perform well! I had to catch up with everything English students had done in their 2 years of A-levels, while also learning all the new material. Nevertheless, I managed to finish my first year with a first-class overall grade.
In my second year, while still being hard, I was feeling much more confident. I saw that I can succeed, no matter how hard it seems. I not only improved my performance but also achieved some amazing results – such as 97% on a module, which involved building a complex software system for an external client.
Then I went to do my placement year with GE Aviation. I was given some daunting tasks, such as building automated test frameworks for software systems, which have been developed for years, as well as building a compiler. These, including working with a large codebase, were things out of my comfort zone, however, I managed to deliver working products and help the team.
My final year at university was the strangest! Because of COVID, I did not have access to the library and any of the facilities I was used to use in my first two years. The lockdowns also took a very big toll on my mental health. I fell ill and was unable to work as hard as I wanted for most of the second semester. Despite everything, I managed to improve my performance once more! Some of my submissions were again awarded the highest in the cohort.
I am extremely proud of my dissertation – ClimaFever. I am happy that I came with the idea of the project myself, based on a problem I am suffering from. My supervisor, Dr Mari-Cruz Villa-Uriol, has been lovely all the time, which made me even more eager to present a project of outstanding quality! The dissertation was awarded 96% which is a very rare occurrence. According to the marking scheme, such grade suggest that the work is of publishable quality.
With an overall degree of 83.1%, it is safe to say that I started from zero and graduated as one of England’s best students! It must also be highlighted that Software Engineering / Computer Science are among the hardest degrees with the highest dropout rates.
Finally, I achieved these results while also being very active in the university life. In my second year, I was an Academic and a Faculty Representative. I was also part of the Sheffield Mentors programme and was mentoring a first-year Computer Science student. Due to my willingness to help others, I was awarded an outstanding mentor award. In my final year, I was a Residence Life Mentor, as well as Computer Science Student Demonstrator. All these positions helped me to develop various skills, some of which highly related to my degree.
The big takeaway is that, if you are doing things with love and dedication, you can succeed, no matter what the situation is! The last four years taught me to value and believe in myself more, which, I think, is more important than the degree itself!