Arise, Sir Flance-alot

Berliner crayfish

“This city drives me cray-cray” ……Oh god everyone I’m sorry for that

Alright, first of all let’s get the admin out of the way. There hasn’t been much content on GMB of late, mostly because I’ve been working my guts out on the Glossarama, partly because I’ve been trying my best to write decent chunks of text about funerals and scrap car removal, and most recently because my exciting amazing journey into a whole new vocation hit a brick wall when my course was cancelled. Just called off, sacked off, just as I was hitting my stride, my career trajectory resembling the flight pattern of one of those paper planes you make when you’re 12 years old which flies four feet and then takes an abrupt right angle turn towards the ground and bends its nose on the linoleum. So suddenly I find myself freelancing full-time, patching my days together out of disparate projects and attempts to teach myself the remainder of basic web development.

It’s difficult to know what to say about that, really. One of my vows to myself which I made when starting this blog was that it would never become a journal or a self-pity party, so it would be inappropriate to say much at all. At any rate, just mentioning it risks me erupting into a spluttering outburst of impotent rage. And yes, here it comes, duck and cover everyone!

Trying to find a school where I could learn what I wanted to learn was such an energy-sapping struggle. Topics such as web development or sound production have for some reason been rejected from the lofty circle and stalls of ‘traditional’ vocational subjects where Business Studies, Economics, Finance and Office Management peer lazily downwards through their monocles; these other subjects don’t even get to enjoy the mild discomfort of the back stalls, where the European Computer Driver’s License and Food Hygiene have cheap season tickets. No, techy subjects that have to do with the internet, with the fundamental construction of digital music and graphics and interactivity, count as ‘media’, and so are punted backstage to pull the curtains and prep the props and possibly hope to catch a glimpse of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on the stage.

‘Media’ subjects (and once again, let me emphasise that all tech-heavy subjects seem to have been stuffed into this pigeonhole) aren’t quite proper; they are invalid, a frivolous way of learning a trade which may very well lead to you being some unemployed, tattooed waste of human mass, betting their future on a career in making amateur dubstep or websites with a blurry jpeg of a squirrel which curses when you click on its arse. So The Authorities are loath to support institutions which offer to teach these trades, forcing them to call themselves ‘Media Academies’, sporting websites with lots of neon and dynamic photo galleries and pictures of sizzlingly cool teenagers mixing some hot licks on a set of DJ decks. Click past the groovy fonts and dynamic photo slideshows, however, and you come to the course fees, which interestingly are not accompanied by a picture of a cool teenager sobbing uncontrollably. To get this kind of education you have limited options:

  1. Be filthy stinking rich
  2. Get what is called a ‘Meister-Bafög’, which is like a student loan but slightly less useful and has an application process to rival Britain’s Got Talent
  3. Get a ‘further education voucher’ from the state, which covers your course, but as I have seen, is only ever awarded to people who have already been unemployed for almost a year or more and have proven themselves to be nigh-on unemployable (hence often tending to be people who don’t dive with natural glee and finesse into the deep pool of programming/tech knowhow)
  4. Scrape by on freelancing after the course, evenings and weekends, until the course is cancelled anyway cough cough choke.

Somehow I feel that life would have been a lot easier if I had wanted to do a masters. For some inexplicable reason, the doors are always open for the bright-eyed hopeful who yearns to study an MA, regardless of topic. English Literature or Philosophy can always accommodate those who aren’t yet finished after their initial graduation. Languages and Linguistics welcome masters students with open arms, and in Germany you could even do a whole new degree from start to finish, BA and MA all in the package, for pocket money alone. Heck, I know more PhD students in my social circle than people who own a TV. And though these pursuits are valid, and worthwhile, and certainly nothing short of a challenge, who made that decision that they were worthier than a vocational education in the subjects known as ‘Media’: musical production, 3D design and animation, web development, server management, app creation, database construction, and dozens of other métiers which are a fundamental part of modern life’s dizzying momentum into the future.

Why give such important, useful industries this prissy, diminutive title of ‘Media’ anyway? That’s like calling English Literature, Modern Languages and Linguistics ‘Comms’, or dubbing Fine Arts ‘Non-branded visuals’. ‘Media’ conjures up goonish GCSE students answering textbook questions about how journalism works – web programming, app building and game development are back-breakingly complex sciences which require not only a vast, throbbing brain to contain and comprehend various coding languages, 3D and responsivity issues, technological limitations and the wherewithal to predict and account for imminent innovations which might otherwise render your construction defunct, but also a sharp creative knack for composition, layout, storytelling, character, tone… and perhaps this is the reason why there is a crisis in tech: it’s just bloody difficult.

So why is it relegated to the sidelines of further education and graduate training? Why does one have to sell one’s vital organs to be taught it? And are there any alternative options? Well, to answer that last question, yes: Udacity offer useful and affordable ‘nanodegrees’ in a scant few areas, while Codecademy is an extremely praiseworthy interactive code teaching site providing thorough and entertaining mini-courses in various computing languages; there are a myriad websites explaining various bits and pieces, though these are often written by long-standing tech professionals who do not seem to realise that sentences such as ‘Unlike many other programming languages, JavaScript does not define different types of numbers, like integers, short, long, floating-point etc. JavaScript numbers are always stored as double precision floating point numbers, following the international IEEE 754 standard’ are not particularly accessible to the average beginner. But it’s far too little, and it’s all online, meaning that very few people will want to do it; nothing will look less impressive than putting on your CV ‘4 months unemployment spent at home scrolling through online lessons while sipping on cold grey tea`.

Nonetheless, that’s what I will be doing. The paradox of the world of tech and other ‘media’ is that the true masters of their field are those who have built up a solid knowledge through nothing more than a lot of tinkering, building and watching things go wrong with a view to finding out why. So it is time to start cobbling stuff together and seeing what happens. If governments are not yet ready to make the obvious step towards investing in equipping us with the tools to work in tech, we have to improvise our own tools, like a gardener using old yogurt pots and stubbed pencils in their potting shed. And in the meantime I’ll be freelancing to pay the bills; mooching around coffee shops, meeting up with writerly types, screwing up my taxes, finally a true Berliner.

Rose T