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January 24, 2024 - 7 minutes

How to Apply Academic Knowledge to Real Tech Projects

Discover how to make the most of your class time to kickstart your tech career. 

Ironhack - Changing The Future of Tech Education


The age-old question: how can you take what you’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to real life situations? Even if you’ve had the good fortune of having lots of hands-on experience in your classes, real work situations are usually a bit different, with new challenges around every corner. 

And even if you’ve mastered your classwork and think you’re ready for any challenge that your first tech role might throw at you, think again: the professional world is a bit different and you’ll have to be prepared to take a step back and reframe your thinking. 

This might be a bit discouraging, especially after you’ve dedicated lots of time towards your classes, but don’t worry: your academic knowledge is incredibly valuable and will help you in your professional journey. It’s just a matter of learning how to apply it to real tech projects.

The Differences Between Class Projects and Real World Projects 

Before we can get right into our tips and tricks for applying your academic knowledge to real-life work, it’s imperative to define the differences between in-class assignments and the tasks you’ll be facing at your job. Although instructors do their best to imitate the instructions and environment of an office task, they can fall short in a number of areas. 

Let’s explore some of the main differences that you’ll notice when you move from the classroom to your new job: 

  • The lack of clear instructions: when you receive an assignment in class, you’ll probably have a very clear and outlined set of instructions that give you everything you need to know: background information, a due date, where to complete your work, where to go for help, and exactly what you need to do. In an office, on the other hand, you probably won’t have these detailed instructions and instead will be on your own for figuring out what tool to use or who to ask for help if needed. 

  • No true due date: when you’re studying, you submit an assignment by the due date and it’s done–there’s usually no follow-up or continuation of the task after you receive your grade. In the real world, however, you can expect to continually revisit your assignment after it’s first submitted, updating it as necessary or implementing requested changes. 

  • Few projects beginning from zero: unless you’re working for a brand new startup, you can expect to take on projects that have been in existence for a while, meaning you’ll need to catch yourself up on what’s been going on and how the team has been working on it before beginning your work. For some, this can be quite the challenge at first. 

  • You’ll always be part of a team: even if you’re the only designer on your team or the only back-end developer, you’ll always be working as part of a bigger team, running your ideas by other people and working together to deliver the final product. If you’ve been mainly working on your own in class, adjusting to this can take a bit of time. 

  • Your projects need to be universally accepted: you probably won’t have to ensure that your website is accessible if you’re a UX/UI design student; that part will be omitted from the assignment so that you can focus on your area. However, in the real world, you’ll have to make sure these considerations, such as security and privacy, are also included as your design will otherwise be useless. 

After reading this list, you may be thinking ‘but if all that is true, why are classes designed the way they are? Shouldn’t they be more geared towards professional life?’ That’s a completely legitimate question. Let’s go point by point from our above list and explain why school projects are the way they are. 

  • The lack of clear instructions: schools want you to learn and succeed and to do so, you need to fully understand the assignment at hand. Assignments are usually geared towards one or two specific skills and by explaining the other aspects, instructors can focus on the skill at hand. In addition, classes are usually full of students and providing clear and descriptive instructions to students helps free up instructor time to help with the actual completion of the task. 

  • No true due date: most instructors have a large class to correct projects for and provide feedback, meaning that once one assignment is completed, they have to move on to the next skill to teach and make that their priority. While it would be nice to work on the same project throughout an entire semester, that’s not really realistic for many instructors. 

  • Few projects beginning from zero: because instructors are tasked with teaching specific skills in a course, it’s much easier to ask students to begin a project on their own, ensuring they understand the foundational aspects of their assignment. 

  • You’ll always be part of a team: many students despise group work and there’s a reason why: group projects make it easier for some students to either do all the work or just coast along with their team and grading/evaluating the students individually is quite the challenge for instructors. To ensure students both learn on their own and are properly scored, most teachers choose individual projects. 

  • Your projects need to be universally accepted: you can’t expect front-end development students to be cybersecurity experts and since the instructor is focusing on the skill at hand, occupying valuable class time explaining something that the students ultimately will not need to know is not the best use of time. Therefore, instructors tend to focus on just the skill required for that specific role instead of including other areas. 

Now that we understand why academic projects are designed the way they are and how they differ from real tech work, let’s dive into some tips and tricks for applying what you’ve learned in the classroom to the office. 

Applying Academic Knowledge to Real Tech Projects

Your process for solving a problem or completing a task will probably be quite different once you’re in the office; take a look at our tips and tricks for applying your knowledge to the project at hand. 

Practice active learning 

Remember that your learning process will be a bit different once you’re on the job; instead of having things explained to you, you’ll probably have to learn as you go or solicit help as needed. It may be an intimidating change at first, but you’ll soon find you’re learning at practically every moment and rapidly advancing your career. 

When you recognize a concept or tool you used in your classes, remember what you’ve learned and adapt it to the project at hand, in addition to learning from your new surroundings, teammates, and resources. 

Research the role before applying 

We can safely say that landing a job means you meet the general requirements for the role, but that’s not the only important part of making sure it’s the right fit for you and the proper step on your career path. For example, if your classes focus on a certain programming language and you know your future lies in front end development, don’t invest your time and resources into applying for a job that sets you up for a career in the back end. 

It seems like a no-brainer, but a key part of ensuring you use your academic knowledge is picking a role that enables you to take what you’ve learned and put it into practice. 

Embrace teamwork 

As we mentioned above, your projects will probably require the skills and expertise of many different professionals, especially when you’re in the tech industry. Instead of being reluctant to work with others on your project, try to stay open-minded, eager to learn from your colleagues and help them by sharing the knowledge you gained in your classes. 

This can be easier said than done, of course, but remember that practically every single project in your future will be a collaborative effort and the more open you are to working with others, the better the final product will be. 

Continue learning 

Your academic journey doesn’t end when you graduate; to continue being the best professional you can be and providing the most value in your projects, you must commit to a continuous learning journey, always looking for the next skill to master or update to fully understand. 

It may seem like a bit of a rip-off (when are you ever going to be done studying?!) but it will benefit you significantly in the future. 

Your academic journey will never truly be over, but bringing your wisdom and knowledge to your work projects can help you propel your career forward, taking the correct steps towards getting where you want to be in tech. 

If you’re eager to start your academic journey so that you’re capable of landing your dream job in tech, you’re in the right place. Ironhack’s bootcamps in web development, UX/UI design, data analytics, cybersecurity, and data science and machine learning provide you with real-world experience to help you figure out exactly where your future in tech can lead you. 

Ready? We can’t wait to see you in class. 

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