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Code, collaboration, and culture

Meet Quang Nguyen, a Software Engineering master’s student studying at the University of Melbourne. We spoke to Quang about his transition from Vietnam to Australia and his experience studying computing at the University of Melbourne.

Adjusting to Australia

Originally from Vietnam, Quang moved to Australia at 16 for adventure and new academic opportunities. “I came to Australia in 2017. It was pretty scary initially, but I completed my high school and foundation studies in Melbourne.” From there, Quang had to decide what he wanted to study at an undergraduate level. “In high school, I had some experience with programming, but I didn’t enjoy it. So, I decided to explore the mathematics route as I liked math and knew it was a skill of mine. But after that, I explored my options and wanted to give computer programming another try, and this time, it clicked with me.” Quang experimented with different disciplines and found something he was genuinely interested in. Once that was established, he needed to know where he would study. “One of the main things that influenced me to remain in Australia was my parents, as it's common in Southeast Asian countries for people to study abroad in countries like the U.S., UK, and Australia.” With a small network of people in Australia, Quang knew that Melbourne would be a great place to start his higher education journey. With the adjustment period over, Quang could focus solely on his studies as he already had a pre-established community of people who could help him with any issues he encountered. So Quang completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Melbourne and pursued a master’s in computer software engineering.

Collaboration and code

When asked how Quang would describe his master’s degree, he told us a lot of group work characterizes it. “My program greatly emphasizes collaboration with other class members.” Quang mentioned that you are often left to work with a particular group of people for a long time, “so you get stuck in with your group mates and can bond with the people in your class.” This is one of the things that surprised Quang about his course. Another thing that surprised Quang was that the system demands a lot of self-teaching. “Usually, when people hear that you are studying software engineering, they think you would be taught how to code; however, that’s not necessarily true. Your lecturers or professors will teach you the fundamental knowledge and theory while encouraging you to do more self-study. This reflects the industry as no one will hold your hand and do it for you; you must learn to acquire new skills yourself.”

Lessons learned

Quang told us that during his degree, he learned how to adapt to a new way of learning and take on new approaches. “It’s been a lot of self-study where I’ve had to look for a lot of the material and locate things I can practice using my skills on.” In his master’s studies, Quang has also learned a lot about practices and processes within software development. “The university places a huge emphasis on having processes and documentation and, you know, having very structured methods.” Alongside these technical elements, Quang learned to work in a team and collaborate with his fellow master’s colleagues. “The workload is quite demanding, and the tasks are harder. However, there’s a lot of group work, so you must coordinate with many people. Our group meets at least once a week over Zoom, which is quite a lot for master’s students.”

All things Melbourne

The University of Melbourne has an array of clubs, events, and activities to participate in. “The university gives out a thick pamphlet full of different clubs to choose from. I participated in the chess club that meets every Monday, but other clubs interest most students.” As there are many international students, there is an array of international clubs, “There’s the Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Chinese association at the University of Melbourne.” Quang explained that people from all over the world attend the University of Melbourne, and the atmosphere surrounding the university is one of vibrance and safety. “The city is a melting pot of different cultures. There are so many various events and activities to participate in." Quang recalls one of his best memories about his time in Melbourne: “I think my best memory is probably the first time I got here. Everything was new, and I could just walk outside alone and walk for hours.” Once Quang got acquainted with Melbourne, he managed to reap all the benefits of the city by exploring and fully immersing himself in his university’s atmosphere.

In the near future, Quang is looking to get an internship at a small start-up as a software engineer. “I would be working for a start-up building an app for individuals to book ski and snowboarding vacations worldwide.” Upon graduating, Quang is looking to enter the software engineering industry and will attempt to secure a job in Australia. After explaining his plans, Quang left us with some words of wisdom. “While at university, have fun. You can expect a lot of exploring and exciting things along the way, but make sure you’re having fun with what you’re doing, studying it in your own way and in your own time.