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Work, family and study? Yes, it can be done!

Hello, my name is Rene Pilz, I am team leader SAP Basis at the Kantonsspital St. Gallen (Cantonal Hospital), I have a wife and three children. I am 47 years old and a student at the University of Liechtenstein.

I don't know what got into me back then when I registered for the Master's Programme in Information Systems at the University of Liechtenstein. "Who knows if they'll take me," I thought to myself at the time. What can I say, they took me. And now, two years later, I'm almost finished.

I still remember very clearly how I got in line with the freshmen at the beginning of September 2020. Some of them asked me if I was really right here, if I wasn't a professor or something. I was right. Everything was exciting, everything was new, everything was interesting.

220704_Blog_Studieren u Arbeiten Pils_IMG-20220703-WA0000.jpgThey didn't accept the English certificate from my high school diploma in 1994; it was probably a bit too old. So I had to get the Cambridge certificate. If you work in an international company, English is not an issue anyway, so the exam is more of a duty. In my case, my English was a bit rusty, but still doable without any problems. And with that, nothing stood in the way of further studies.

But I didn't really think it through. Study and work. I thought to myself at the time that it would work out somehow. After changing companies shortly before I started my studies, I didn't want to take too much time off at my new job. While the company gave me the necessary time off, the hours had to be worked in again. It will work out somehow, was my motto. I know of other companies that are a little more supportive. If I were to do it again, I would negotiate better in advance.

“What I liked about the University of Liechtenstein was the informal atmosphere. We were a small group, you got to know each other and the professors very quickly. "

The semester started and the first subjects were familiar to me. I had already started studying computer science at the TU Wien (Vienna University of Technology) in 1995. Computer Engineering was on the agenda at that time. Compared to the University of Liechtenstein, however, it was an overcrowded mass event. If you didn't get on: bad luck. And very, very theoretical. It felt like ten subjects of mathematics. Some of them were very abstract, theoretical mathematics or similar. It was all too theoretical and impersonal for me at the time, which is why I dropped out sometime in 2002. Without a degree, although with some new knowledge, but no diploma.

Starting in 2014, I finally completed my bachelor's degree. Also part-time, also with family and a full-time job in Switzerland. It worked out but there was a lot of familiar stuff from my previous education and from the discontinued studies. Therefore, studying part-time was nothing new for me. But it's easier if you can do it right after graduating from high school.

What I liked about the University of Liechtenstein was the informal atmosphere. We were a small group, and you got to know each other and the professors very quickly. That was completely different from my study attempt in Vienna. And I liked that very much. If there was a problem somewhere, everyone immediately tried to solve it. Whether it was the student representatives, the teachers, or the back office team. I always felt comfortable and understood.

Of course, the performance must be ok, nothing is given to you for free. Many thanks again to my fellow students, who always supported me, gave me the notes when I couldn't come to class because of work, or who crammed the material together with me in countless study sessions.

And right after the first few months of campus life, Corona arrived and everything was different. For me as a fulltime employee, it was advantageous: I could watch the recording of the lecture again in the evening at my leisure; I could prepare perfectly for the exams and did not have to rush from St. Gallen - the place of work - to Vaduz - the university. Everything worked perfectly online. Without these options, I would certainly not have been able to complete my studies in the minimum study time.

Working fulltime while studying is certainly possible, but it is very demanding. The university usually schedules lectures, seminars and exams on Thursdays and Fridays, with the occasional Saturday thrown in. An employment level of around 60 percent is certainly ideal here; then you can also make good use of the two or three study days and don't have to be extremely careful with your time. You also need enough time to study at home. But you can manage that yourself. I am a night person. So I used the time after 9 p.m. - when the kids were in bed - for my studies. What was on TV at this time? I don't know. Instead, I watched the Zoom recordings or prepared the exams with colleagues via video conference.

As a working student, it is advisable to start studying right from the beginning of the semester, otherwise not everything will work out in the end. If you are short of time, you can skip an exam and make it up at the beginning of the next semester. That way, you could use the semester break to study. Unfortunately, I had to do that once.

Having always been a technician, I really liked the technical subjects. Machine Learning, Data Science and especially Data and Application Security. When it comes to bits and bytes, I feel at home. But you don't have to dive that deep into technology. There is also a choice of some business subjects as electives, so that students can individually distribute the mix between business and computer science.

Enriching for me were the "Cross-faculty elective subjects". They offer a very good mix of current topics: Ethics, Democracy and Crisis, Argumentation and Media Competence, to name just a few.

Another highlight were the practical exercises. You could realize projects together with well-known companies like Hilti, Kaiser, Thyssen Krupp; however, the university also had a thing for the small companies, like Harry Zech Weinbau, Demmel Kaffee or Wicca's Liqueurs, just to name a small selection.

And today my journey is almost finished. I'm just finishing my master thesis, then this chapter in my life will be closed as well. My topic: "NLP in Action: analyzing and creating possible jokes for a Facebook joke group." - So can a computer system independently create jokes for a Facebook Fungroup? If you want to know, you have to read my master thesis 😉 .

And what after that? Taking a break, for now. Whereby a Ph.D. would be appealing to me ...


Autor: Rene Pilz (team lead SAP, Kantonsspital St. Gallen), student MSc Information Systems at the University of Liechtenstein 


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