College Projects vs Corporate Projects

College life is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most people given that most people stop their higher education at the bachelor’s level. The statistics from a 2013 study by the University Grants Commission of India seems to suggest that 1,74,56,000 people (86%) had enrolled into bachelor’s degrees that year, but only 24,92,000 people (12%) had enrolled into a master’s, followed by 1% each for Doctoral and Diploma degrees.

When in college, especially in bachelor’s, students do not know about the things that happen in the corporate world. We exist in a bubble that seems to suggest that work-life would just be like college life where you study, do projects and have fun. The reality of the situation comes into picture only when you join a company and understand the processes that go into delivering a project.

I personally worked on some projects as well, few of them were never really complete. That’s the thing right, that most of your college projects tend to be left hanging once that hackathon or that competition is over. This rarely happens with corporate projects, the reason for which I will cover in this blog post, along with other differences between college and corporate projects.

So without further ado, let’s begin.

Everybody wears multiple hats in college projects

Well, I’m not saying that people in college go around wearing multiple hats when they work on projects. What I’m saying is that there is no fixed role assigned to each team member (if it is a team project) as everybody tends to work on different aspects of the project, may it be development, research, planning or presentation.

There are 2 reasons for this. First of all, you simply cannot afford to fix a member to work on a single aspect of the project when your team is small. Secondly, college teams are not corporations where there is a CEO, a set of executives and a set of junior associates who fall in a steep hierarchy. Everybody in college has had the same amount of life experiences, though some might have had a different quality of it based on the path travelled, and so when you say there is a flat hierarchy in a company, you can’t get more flat than 3 dudes in their early 20’s sitting together in one of their homes and coding for hours straight.

College projects don’t have a dedicated testing team

Corporate projects always have a dedicated QA team that is separate from the development team, who autonomously perform automated and manual tests on the application before it is released to the general public. This is impossible in a college project since it doesn’t make sense to spend hours testing something that is complete when you could build a brand new feature or improve an existing one with that time.

That being said there has to be at least some level of testing before it is presented in the final thesis, contest or hackathon. If it is just an experimental project, then it doesn’t matter that much if the project creates any significant impact, or serves to solve the problems of a particular audience. But if it is a project that is specifically targetted towards a particular audience, then some level of UAT (User Acceptance Testing) would be necessary to make sure that an intended user would find the application easy to use.

There are no timesheets to fill in college projects

This is another aspect which gives you a lot more freedom over your time. In any corporation which pays you compensation for the time that you spend working in the company, there is always a process in place by which the company gets to know when and how long their employees are working every day. One such process would be biometric locks for ODC’s (Offshore Development Center) which track the time of when you enter the building and when you leave the building. Another more popular measure is timesheets, which are used to track down the time spent by the employee working for each client and project. This is mainly used by the clients though for billing purposes.

This an example of something that exists in the corporate world which feels so weird when you are in college. There does exist a similar kind of tracking in college, aka the class attendance, which isn’t that favoured by the students as well.

The thing to clarify here is that I’m not saying that tracking is bad. In fact, I am a guy who is a big fan of making a schedule of all the primary things that I do every day, be it going to the gym, learning things, working on side projects, writing blog posts, and most importantly making sure that I don’t overspend or underspend my time in the office. But though I personally am able to make sure I spend enough hours in the job, it is important to note that a big organization has a LOT of people, and amongst those people, not everyone would be coming in with that same mindset and discipline. So the company takes steps to do the tracking for them.

In college though, this is not needed, since the progress of the project completely depends on whether you work on it or not. If it is a team project, then it might still need some personal tracking to make sure you finish your part of the work before the deadline. But even that will not be fixed in the sense that you are the one in control of your time, and have the flexibility of deciding on what part of the day you would be working.

It’s common for college projects to be abandoned

This is an important point that has to be made regarding the seriousness (or the lack thereof) of college projects. Nobody really cares if the application isn’t that user friendly or breaks in certain screen sizes. The whole point of a college project is to learn about a particular technology or domain and implement something which would serve as an experimental proof-of-concept. So once that project has been documented and presented in the hackathon or in that final thesis, it makes sense for it to be abandoned so that you could go start working on the next one.

On the other hand, corporate projects are totally different. Unlike college projects, these projects have a lot of money in the balance. If the plan doesn’t work out and the team is not able to make progress on some parts of the project, it would be a major catastrophe. Not only money, some projects even take years to complete, and if the application breaks on the day of the release, or fails to attract the target audience as much as was expected, it may lead to a major loss. Therefore project planning is one of the main parts of the development cycle and something which cannot be left for later.

Which of these 2 is better?

Both college and corporate projects differ in their attributes because of the differing goals that they have. One of them is mainly focussed towards experimentation, while the other is to create something that has real-life consequences. Though there cannot be a perfect comparison made between the two, an ideal environment would have the good elements of both them, in order to have a balance of both learning and impact in the work that you do.

Until next time!

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