My Neumont Educational History Part II

After the great response I got from my previous post on my Neumont Educational History (http://www.paulrohde.com/my-neumont-educational-history/) Several e-mail, comments, and questions later, I’ve decided it’s time for a batch of Q & A to answer additional questions. I recently received an e-mail from a student that had found my website through the Neumont website, I feel it sums up many of the questions I have been asked since my previous post:

Mr. Rohde,

I am currently a high school senior at [omitted]. I am currently in the process of searching for colleges, and Neumont has presented itself to me as being a very unique school for computer science. Programming has been my passion since a very young age, and I hope to go to a college that has a reputable computer science program. While on the Neumont website, I happened to stumble across your blog. To be completely honest with you, your website blew me away. Your fusion of stylistic art and coding are breathtaking- I hope to one day be able to create the same sort of digital art that you have.

That said, I had a few questions regarding Neumont that can only be answered by an alumni. Neumont strikes me as being almost a technical school due to the nature of its program, and although the 2 year degree is definitely a bonus, I do wonder if they cut out the more “traditional” topics thus harming what would otherwise be a well-rounded education. Do you believe that they sacrificed subjects, or were classes such as literature unnecessary because they did not feed into a science degree? I also read on your blog that you debated between Neumont and Winona; were you considering any other schools at that point? How did you hear about Neumont?

Regarding Neumont’s atmosphere, I read about the classes that you took, but you did not particularly go into detail about the campus life. What did you like about Neumont? Were there any glaring drawbacks? How was the food?
Lastly, the administration and cost. I have read from various sources that the administration was difficult to come in contact with; especially the financial aid officers. I’m not sure as to their accuracy, so I figured a former student would be a prime source of information. Secondly, were you offered much of a financial aid package? Ultimately, my college decision depends largely on a financial aid package, and information surrounding how Neumont goes about choosing how to distribute their money is rather vague. Do you believe that Neumont was affordable? Do you still have any debts? Do they have an unduly high interest rate?

Since Neumont is a fairly new school with a small population, articles regarding Neumont are few and far between. As such, I believe that a former student’s opinion on the matter would be greatly influential in my decision. Any input that you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time,

– Steven

First, many thanks for the awesome comments about the site, its one of those ongoing projects that is continually evolving and changing, so its appreciated when someone does enjoy it.

Neumont is not round.

Ok. Sentimental comments aside, let me do the best I can to answer your questions. Since I am a Neumont Alumni, do keep in mind that the school has been evolving over the past several years and that there have been many alterations to the main program since I started (Cohort 15, July 2007). So take what I say with a grain of salt. Get in touch with one of the Neumont Reps if you haven’t already since they *should* be able to answer more direct questions about the current state of the school and the primary CS degree program.

From my experience, Neumont is a very technical school, it has one degree (There was previously a business masters degree program at the school, but that has been put on hold and may or may not re-emerge), and it is very geared towards graduating high quality and hopefully well rounded CS students. Because the program is so tightly geared toward CS there are some areas and classes that I personally felt were lacking. For instance, I really wish that the mathematics program went further, by the time I started at Neumont I had already completed Calculus II at WSU (Winona State University) and was beyond the current mathematics courses offered at Neumont. In addition, they do lack some of the general classes that form the basis for other fields of study: Chemistry, higher level Mathmatics, Physics, History, Literature, Art(To be fair, they did have an introduction photography class, and the last two quarters when I was leaving they were adding in a digital media concentration with courses that are more artistically bent). Part of my own draw away from Neumont was the fact that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to grow in some of these other areas, I love photography, art, the more classical sciences, and there’s a part of me that really does miss not having more time to explore those other subjects for my own personal interest.

The question about well rounded-ness really boils down to this: Why are you going to school? If your goal is to get a degree, get a full time job in business software development, I honestly cannot recommend a better school. However, if your not sure you want to do business software, if your not sure you want to even DO software, or if your not passionate enough to pursue and devote yourself to it for the two and a half years it’ll take to get through the program, Neumont is probably not the place for you.

Hearing about Neumont

I first heard about Neumont sometime after taking my ACT a year early and getting piles of junk mail from colleges talking about the ‘college decision’ I would be making over the next year.

Right.

After two years of highschool at a private school I returned to being officially ‘home schooled’ after my sophomore year, enrolled in WSU via the PSEO Program (Post Secondary Education Option, basically, if your a good enough student and would like to take classes at the local college the state will pay for the tuition and books), and then spent the following year and a half taking a full load of college classes (plus two side classes at an online school the year I started). Sometime within that college span I began receiving mail from Neumont, glanced and discarded most of it into the large bin of college spam. After receiving several more mailings I did some research, ended up being contacted by a Neumont rep, and was invited to attend their ‘Geek Weekend’ where they flew out potential new students that were interested in the school along with a parent or guardian to visit, meet some of the students, etc… That trip was the turning point in my decision making process. During my time at WSU I was actively taking some CS classes, most of them in Java, most little console algorithm type problems and one cool little robotics project near the end in one of my classes. After a year and a half of WSU, and having had several years of my own personal experience doing web, C++, Visual Basic, Dark Basic, building several of my own small games, and working as a student programmer at WSU doing C#, ASP.NET, and Sharepoint development, I was completely outmatched by students in their second quarter at Neumont (6 months into the program) that I met that weekend. That was cool.

Yes, it was a hard decision, I had a good job for where I was, I could have continued at WSU, graduated with a lot of current job experience (Read: ~4 years if I had graduated from WSU), but it wouldn’t have challenged me as much or pushed me as far as I am today.

The Campus

First of all, Neumont is not a normal school. They are located in an office building that’s been converted into the University as it is today. In fact, there are other companies that have offices in the same building, at least when I was there. Since I’ve been there they’ve made some additions and changes to the building, there’s now a new computer lab complete with iMacs, the common area has a pool table and a large screen TV that students will bring in and hook up their 360, Wii, or PS3 to and play games. The school does have a reasonable catering service during lunch on school days, but nothing like a normal cafeteria. When I was leaving they were experimented with having another place come in on Fridays, so I’m not entirely sure as to the state of the school provided food. From what I’ve experienced however, most students will eventually move away from the catered food and get something nearby (which is what I eventually did), there is a Zupas across the the street and a coffee shop within walking distance, and there’s quite a few additional places a short drive away.

The campus “Housing” is two sets of apartments, one set is at The Falls at Hunters Pointe, the other is Sterling Village in South Jordan, both are about a 20 minute walk from the school (although most people tend take the shuttle or carpool). I was only in student housing for a year, when I first moved in, one of my roommates was also just moving in and the other was close to graduating. During second quarter after the senior in our house moved out we got a new freshman, who ended up moving out without telling any of us before the end of the quarter… Anyhow, after that first ~10 months a friend of mine and two other guy’s rented a 4 bedroom 3 story house for about what we were paying in student housing, so, I ditched Neumont housing and moved. As far as rules and regulations go for student housing (Yes, they are regulated) they aren’t too bad, you do need to keep the apartment clean and they do have inspections. You also can’t bring weapons into the apartment (no paintball guns, swords, non-kitchen-knives, etc…).

As far as ‘life on campus’ goes you have lots and lots of geeked out guys (And about a 50:1 guy to girl ratio) that live life on Mountain Dew, Guitar Hero, WoW, and DotA. They are the stereotype, and you will find them on almost every non Neumont campus you visit, but you’ll find a much higher concentration than you would elsewhere. However, there are many people there that really do take what they’re doing seriously, and are already well rounded individuals. I was never that ‘involved’ in the geek culture. It’s cool, I like parts of it, I’ve rocked my share of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and played my hours of Counter Strike. Still, I spent a lot of my time outside of Neumont towards the end of my time there. Most of who I considered my ‘good’ friends were up at the University of Utah and were not CompSci majors. I was involved in the photographic community, I did several photowalks, met lots of photographers and models, made some good friends there. I was involved in a church (Gateway Community Church), and had several friends through that. The community is out there, but you have to go to it, it’s not going to drop into your lap as much as it would at a “normal” University.

If you make good friends, keep in touch, work hard, help and teach others (not just giving answers), and really strive to be a personable, well rounded individual, you will be fine. The homework can be hard, and there are ALWAYS group projects that you’re in and will be working on. It’ll force you to deal with and work with other people and figure out how to make things work. From personal experience, it’s exactly what you’ll be doing in the real world.

Administration and Cost

I’m probably not the best person to answer a lot of these questions, but I’ll do what I can. Administration from my experience hasn’t been that difficult to get in touch with, I was always able to go to people and figure out what I needed when I needed it. However, I do know that in the past, people have had issues, specifically with tracking graduation credits. There was (or is) a student written program that allows you to track your progress towards graduation that I used, and it worked well. However, I would also go in and talk directly with the student advisers on a regular basis and verify that I was doing things correctly. There have been several occasions where people have been 1-2 credits short because they thought they were taking enough credits but didn’t take the time to go and check with advisers each quarter…

As far as finances go, I was able to get my loans through the Department of Education and Sallie Mae with my parents as co-signers on those loans. With the economy having tanked, and quite possibly still in the tank, I’m not sure how difficult it will be to get financing, it’ll really depend on your situation. I was lucky enough to not have to worry about it much or have deal with the financial aid department at school. I do know that if I had not received loans or financing, I would have had a VERY difficult (if not impossible) time going to Neumont. Again, this is where I would get a Rep, ask very specific, very direct questions. Make sure they give you an answer, that’s what their job is.

Was Neumont affordable? I made it through. I will be able to pay it off with my current job over the next ~3 years, and my interest rate seems rather standard as far as student loans go.

Was it a lot? Yes.

Was it worth it? For the field I’m in, Yes. For the contacts I made, the experience I gained, Yes.

Wrap Up

Neumont is a great school, for business software development. For what the school is and at the time I went through the program, I don’t know of any other degree program that could trump it. It does have a very narrow focus, it’s hard, it’ll make you learn, and you’ll be better for it. Like any school, you only get out of it what you put into it and there will always be people that don’t care, don’t work, fail out, and complain to all ends of the earth about how it’s the university’s fault or how this or that caused them to _____. Fill in the blank.

Work hard, do your best and you’ll be fine wherever you’re at.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to leave a comment, call me, send me an e-mail, I’ll do my best to get back to you when I can.

– Paul Rohde

Note: The opinions presented here are my own and do not in any way represent the opinion or position of my Employer or that of Neumont University.

My Neumont Educational History

Before I get really into this, keep in mind the program has changed a bit since I started, but I’ll try to annotate that as I go along, this particular topic comes from both questions I’ve been asked in the past and from some more recent questions from potential future Neumont students and parents.

My History

My interest in computer science really started before I was even in high school, both my parents were electronic engineers and met and graduated from the same college. One of the best things they ever did for me was to encourage me in my interests and help me as best they could. When I was about 11 or so my parents gave me a Lego Mindstorms robotics system. Its essentially a programmable brick with attachable motors and sensors that came with a rather basic programming system that gave me an introduction to programming. That became my programming staple for many years until I began to play with a language called DarkBasic. DarkBasic itself is a spin off language based off of the Basic programming language, its unique in that it is setup with a host of 2D and 3D direct commands built directly into the language to make it easy to play with. Instead of learning a complicated language like C or C++, it was more fun to tinker with and get immediate results (if any of you have tried to initialize directX directly in C# or C++ as a 14 year old, you know what I’m talking about). That grew into a several year obsession of building and making games, and learning a great deal about programming concepts via the age old ‘fall down and pick yourself up’

My first real classes in computer science began when I entered high school and began taking online classes in addition to my regular ones. My very first introduction one was taught in pascal, which was new to me but my prior experience allowed me to move quickly and fairly easily through. The second level class was taught in java and had a much bigger focus on Java and Object Oriented Programming but was not that difficult. After my sophomore year of high school I took my ACT test over the summer and got a good enough score on it to be able to enter a program through the state of Minnesota called PSEO(Post Secondary Education Option) which allows high scoring high school students to begin taking classes as a ‘pre-freshmen’ at the local college and have all your class expenses and books paid for by the state. More than that your classes could also count for both high school and College credit. So for the next two years I was taking a full college class load at Winona State University and graduated from high school with a home school diploma two years ago. My stint at WSU also landed me my first job as a student software developer in the WSU programming department where I was first introduced to ASP and C#. Over my time there I had completed two or three small projects that I look back at now and wonder how it took me a month to do, and in the educational meantime I had taken ~3 different programming classes to the 250-300 level by the time I left.

Neumont Decision Process

Pending my high school graduation I had a box of college promotional mail about a foot an a half deep where I continually tossed most of the college mail that I got. So how did I personally decide? I got lots of mail from Neumont, about 3-4 pieces before I even began seriously looking at them. Finally went and looked through their website, filled out a form and talked to one of the recruiters on the phone. That itself wasn’t what made my decision for me, it was when Neumont brought me and my parents down to visit the school that finally did it for me. At the time it was called Geek weekend, where they would bring in a bunch of new prospective students, give them a tour of the school, and give a chance for the student and parents to meet with people actually in the program, see the facility, and meet some of the faculty. After listening to the current students describe some of there current classes, the things they were currently being taught and getting a chance to see the current scope and size of the projects they worked on I was pretty much sold.

At that point my decision was between Neumont University and Winona State near where I lived, for me, I could have gotten enough scholarships to pay for most of my tuition there and since I was seriously considering staying with my parents for that time I would have graduated from there with little or no debt in under 4 years, plus I would have graduated with ~3 years of part time development experience from my job in the WSU tech department. On the other hand, Neumont was in Utah, farther away (With no-one I knew), more expensive, shorter, more intense, but I knew Neumont had MUCH more educational value than WSU after comparing the classes I would be taking at WSU vs the ones I would take at Neumont. I chose Neumont, for the following reasons: It’s a full bachelors in two years, it gets me out into the real world on my own, its a challenge, and if I’m careful I should be able to pay off my loans within ~3 years. As you can see, I decided to go with Neumont, and I’ve never doubted that it was the right decision.

My Neumont Experience

I began at Neumont in July of 2007, the summer quarter to be exact, in Cohort 15 (class #15 since the school started). After coming in, getting introduced and shown around, figuring out which apartment I was assigned to, meeting my roommates, moving in and finally figuring out what to do with myself in the interim weekend before school started my experience was pretty standard as far as standard college first days go. That first quarter for me was easy, I probably could have passed out of some of my introduction classes if I had chosen to, but I wanted the review and really wanted to get a good handle on the foundational concepts before I plunged in head first. That first quarter covered most (not all) but most of everything I knew conceptually prior to Neumont including html, css, javascript, basic C# etc… (I believe that the program now begins with java as the introduction language) plus a few general education classes. Even though it was fairly easy for me it moved fast, covering the fundamentals thoroughly from the ground up.

Quarter 2 began with a shift away from C# to Java, and also began to introduce the projects classes. A fundamental principle that Neumont has adopted is the concept of team based project classes, starting at your second quarter you have Development projects in the afternoon that are usually tied to an associated CS class, for me in quarter two our Development projects was tied to Java 1. After a quick review of the concepts we had learned in the C# introduction class we quickly progressed through a large number of topics in Java, introducing interface design, connecting to databases (MySQL for the java class), events, event handlers, MVC design and so on. The associated project class tied to Java 1 followed the java class closely where the class is broken in to teams of 4-5 for the duration of the class, each team is assigned the same project that they are required to design, build, test, and present over the duration of the quarter. During this time your first class in databases is taught in addition to a class knows as Information Modeling which teaches the basics of how to take business requirements, break them into there constituent elements and then to clarify, design, and build systems based on that.

Up through Quarter 6 everything is pretty standard, you will end up taking a variety of core classes including Databases 1 & 2, Information Modeling 1&2, Java 1 – Forms, Java 2 – Java web, Java 3 – Service Oriented Architecture, .NET 1 – Win Forms, .NET 2 – ASP.NET & web, .NET 3 – Windows Communication Foundation, Algorithms. For anyone starting now the last 4 Quarters are reserved for ‘concentrations’ which allow you to specialize you degree toward a particular field, Web technologies, Open Source, .NET, Java, Mobile Development, Mid range platform development… etc… Talk to Neumont if you want to know what the exact concentrations are.

The biggest and best draw to Neumont University however is the enterprise projects, your last several quarters you sign up for a class that’s similar to every other project class, except these projects are not run by teachers and instructors, but are run by actual companies with actual projects. Some are local and you’ll work at the company offices, and some are remote and you have a project room and conference calls on a regular basis. Its a sort of real life, pseudo internship with a company. Many MANY times these companies will hire students off of these projects but even if they don’t, by the time you graduate you will have a list of 2-3 companies that you have worked with on actual projects. You really learn what you want to do, what you don’t want to do and the direction you will want to take your career, more often than not it opens up a wide variety of options, especially if you impress your employer. To put it in perspective, I only really began my job search process at the beginning of this quarter, and as of this writing I’ve interviews with over 10 companies, received 3 VERY good offers, finally choosing to accept an offer with Interknowlogy, the company I’m currently doing my enterprise project with.

Neumont is fast paced, difficult, but well worth the struggle. Like any education you WILL get out of it what you put into it, there’s a lot to learn in this industry and it changes even faster. From what I’ve seen and can compare to both in the industry today and the educational world Neumont is already one of the top universities in the US for computer science and is rapidly gaining recognition.

A rather long winded explanation, but it gives a rough description of where I’ve come educationally over my life, hope it helps explain Neumont and myself a bit better.

Oh, and for anyone that’s still wondering how it’s possible to fit a ‘4 year education’ into 2 years… try this:

5 Years at a normal college taking the normal 2 Semesters per year is 10 Semesters total.

At Neumont, you go year round and cram 4 in a year instead of 2. So 2 1/2 years at 4 quarters per year = 10 Quarters total.

Get it?

No summer break.

*Lights go on*

– Paul Rohde

Neumont Olympics – Day 4

Who would have thought, Neumont, the on of the most premiere computer science schools in existence right now, would have Olympic events?

However unusual, the USG (United Student Government) of Neumont University has begun what will become a yearly, or possibly bi-yearly Olympic games event. Teams of up to four people sign up and compete in a variety of events throughout the week of the Olympic games. This particular time events have included an egg toss, Foosball tournament, rock band tournament, and most recently an obstacle / relay race.

Photos… SWEEEEETT:

[album=3,extend]

Paul

Timesheet App + 3rd Place = $100

For those of you that read this blog… And saw my previous post about peak… I entered a timesheet application that I had written for human computer interface design class and ended up with 3rd place! Even so I was quite surprised at the level of interest in the application by some of the faculty and several students who have part time jobs here at Neumont.

The project started off as solution to a problem: How to get people who are paid on a per hour basis and who have their own development machine, to keep accurate timesheets.

I know that people have trouble remembering to consistently fill out a timesheet every day and for every break, it’s not a problem with the person themselves, but just that people are not perfect and do forget things from time to time. Currently, there are two methods of keeping track of time: One is simply to fill out a form every day (or excel document, or some form of tabular information) listing off the time you came in and the time you left, and then totaling the time on the form to get a total time. The second is a ‘clock in’ and ‘clock out’ program where you will either log in or have some form of clicking ‘start timer’ and ‘stop timer’. Some way’s are combinations of all of the above.

I wanted an application that was so simple to use, so unobtrusive that you would hardly even notice you were using it, and something that would keep a detailed record of my activity. I started out with the basic assumption that when a person was active on their computer that they were ‘working’ and that if they left for more than say, 10 minutes that they were ‘not working’. That being said, I quickly realized that there would always be exceptions to this, an hour long meeting, an extended time discussing or planning out a project on a white board… etc. So at the very beginning of the project I knew I need to have a simple, unobtrusive, way to handle exceptions to the normal workflow during the day.

[ This next section gets technical ]

The base of the application relied on hooking into the global mouse and keyboard events via Win32 DLL’s so that I was able to determine when a user is active on their computer. The application disappears into the system tray and keeps a running variable of the last time an action was performed. When a new action is performed it compares the time the new action was performed the previous action. If the difference is greater than a specified period of time (Which is stored in the application settings) the application pops up a message box to the user and asks them if they were working or not and provided an space to enter an optional comment. It then creates two time period segments, the first is for the time they were active up until the start of the activity gap, the second is from the start of the activity gap to the end of the activity gap. It then saves the timesheet and disappears again.

[ End technical section ]

The essence of this program is that it only asks ‘were you working?’ when you’ve been inactive from your computer during your specified working hours. Otherwise you would never even notice that the application existed. For me it’s perfect because it’s something that’s unobtrusive enough that I could run it on startup and just forget about it. It’s detailed because it asks you about exceptions, and it’s robust and stable.

Something that I was really intrigued by was the verity of ideas and features that people wanted for different things. If I decide to continue working on this (which I may) there are several core features that I still need to add. After that, I am thinking that I’ll add ‘aspects’ to the program; an aspect being not a ‘re-skinning’ but a re-skin plus additional functionality. For instance, one of the big ideas was being able to track application usage and to be able to record which applications were being used for how long and at what time. Another was the ability to categorize their time use. A third was the ability to have multiple users working on the same computer. I’m still going to have to work a lot of these issues out and figure out what’s going to be in the core project and what’s going to be included in the various ‘aspects’ of the program.

It’s an interesting project, and I’ll probably keep playing with it and adding additional functionality and ideas. If you’re interested in it, let me know, get in touch, suggest ideas. Who knows… maybe I’ll let you beta test ;)