Reflections on Completing a Third Semester of Grad School (December 28, 2011)

Posted: December 28, 2011 by Mike Hubbartt in Academia
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By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

I just started my second year of graduate school at the University of St. Thomas (UST) in St. Paul, MN, and I am working on a MS in Software Engineering degree. In my first year of classes, I enrolled in 2 classes per semester which is a heavy load when working full time. I felt I progressed so much after one year, that I would continue with the same workload, even though it left me with little time for things beyond work and school.

I enrolled in two classes for the Fall: Object Oriented Analysis and Design (OOA/D) and Data Warehousing (DW). Before classes started I re-read The Object Oriented Thought Process and Code Complete to prep for the OOA/D class. I also ordered both required textbooks from Amazon.com at a substantially reduced price compared to the new text prices in the bookstore. For the DW class, I didn’t know what other books would help, so I ordered all three text books listed in the course syllabus. The DW books, also from Amazon.com, were also at a reduced price compared to new books at the bookstore.

I had classes on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, so I dedicated the other 5 days to studying and project work. The Fall really flew by this year. So much to learn, so many interesting and new concepts, and a few new tools to learn too.

Tools

For OOA/D, we had to use MagicDraw to create UML drawings and I found it to be a fairly intuitive tool to use yet still quite powerful. Our OOA/D professor arranged for MagicDraw licenses, so I obtained one, downloaded and installed the software, and ran through a few tutorials that were quite helpful. Having an MSDN account for students to download Microsoft tools is a real blessing, and UST does provide accounts to those that need tools for their classes. My DW class required the MS SQL Server 2008 Management tools, so I used my UST MSDN account to download the software and installed it on a laptop running Windows 7.

Projects

Our OOA/D class had two person team projects, and our DW class had three person team projects. For OOA/D, each team decided what it wanted to do and then proposed it for approval to the professor. We did a website with Struts and Hibernate frameworks – very cool. For DW, the professor gave a five stage project, where he provided clean, valid data at the start of steps 2 – 4, so any mistakes made early in the project did not affect our ability to learn the material and do well on the assignment. This was the first time I’ve had known clean data in a multistage class assignment and I really liked it. At the start of stages 3 and 4, we were able to look back at to what we did and see how we did right and wrong in the earlier stage. This is one approach I really liked and I hope I see more assignments like it in the future.

Some tools that were useful in both projects we communications tools. Twitter and email absolutely rock, but they alone are not enough. In my OOA/D project, we used a free SVN repository hosted by ProjectLocker for keeping our source code in sync. For the DW project, we used Dropbox to do version control.

Tests and Homework

In both classes classes we had a mid-term and a final exam, and the exams were as challenging as last year. Both classes had multiple homework assignments. Not as much homework as I had in the Advanced Web Development course last Spring, but still more than enough, especially compared to undergrad course homework assignments.

Team Building

I worked with three different people on projects in both classes, and decided to be the driver of both projects. Both teams met at my house on different days to work on our projects, and one thing I did for team building was to fix lunch for the team. We all had different backgrounds and experiences, so a meal is a great way to relax and get to know other people. I like to cook (check out my food blog: mikeh2010.wordpress.com) and I like to try new recipes, so my team mates gamely tried the food. I didn’t duplicate the meals one time, and it seemed to work out well for both of us except perhaps one time. Once I served something very spicy (Korean BBQ) and it might have been too spicy for one of my team mates. He said it wasn’t, but he is a real trooper and may have just been polite. In any case, I appreciated the chance to cook and just talk with all three team mates and hope to partner with them again in other classes.

Conclusion

I enjoyed this semester. I learned a lot and enjoyed spending some time working on projects with my three classmates. I plan to generate another article or two on the topics we covered in both classes, as well as improve some of my existing articles. I know I still have another eight classes to complete my degree, but the education is worth the time and effort. Some people have no choice but attend online schools and that is fine – do what you can to improve yourself however you can. If you can attend class in person, it is well worth it. I missed a total of 1 class this semester, even though I had some health issues early in the semester, because I truly enjoyed being on campus.

I’m still excited to be in grad school, and I still believe it to be a good career choice for many professions besides software development. I’m taking a week off, then it is time to start reading again over the holiday break. I will take two classes in the Spring and look forward to what I learn in both courses I’ll take this Spring. Until then, keep on learning.

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Comments
  1. Yomi Gbadegesin says:

    Hello Mike,
    i must say I’m really motivated by this article. I am a prospective student for the MIT program at UST. I’m sure you must have graduated now and i wish you all the best.
    How has the program advanced your career post graduation?

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