2. Investigate what tools are available to you
Traditionally universities get a good deal from companies in regards to tools and software that they will then teach you to use. This is great for in the labs however there are times when you want to install the software on your laptop or home PC, or perhaps you just want to use a different piece of software to do the job. I found in first year when we were learning Java that I kept falling out with the basic editor we were using called BlueJ (designed to teach OO/Java/UML, a glorified text editor and basic UML designer). I had been used to working with an IDE and was taking bad, so I started using Eclipse to build my assessments and then ported the code back to BlueJ before submitting it. Now both of those tools are freely available but what about licensed software?
Companies like students! Why? Student’s are the future and if you can capture their emerging development passion early you can swing them to your technology after they graduate which in turn potentially brings the company more business and profit. While this is not perhaps relevant to open source tools, it can still be a good idea to look around, especially since many open source languages have commercial IDEs that are willing to give cheaper licenses to students. Here are some of the resources I have found. (These are biased towards my work with .NET but may companies offer free or discounted products for students)
Perhaps one of the best parts of being a student that I found was the offering from Microsoft and MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network). Channel 8 is MSDN’s student “channel” (check out Channel 9 and OnTen) and it is full of resources, articles, forums, competitions and more. It is also home to DreamSpark, a programme that is free for students across the world (some restrictions may apply) that enables access to the latest Microsoft development tools and operating systems.
At present the programme includes Visual Studio (2005 & 2008) Professional, Expression Studio 2, Robotics Developer Studio 2008, XNA Games Studio 3.0 with a 12 month Creators Club subscription (free), Windows Server (2003 & 2008) and SQL Server (2005 & 2008). The list continues to grow and no doubt once Visual Studio 2010 hits RTM (late this year or more likely early 2010) it will be added to the list too along with Expression Studio 3 but don’t take my word for that.
DreamSpark is a truly amazing resource for those of you wishing to follow .NET both as part of your university curriculum (although I know .NET in any flavour isn’t very common in universities yet, I was just lucky) and for projects done in your own time. Anyone who knows me is aware I am biased towards .NET but regardless, this is a great way to get some free and legally licensed professional kit.
JetBrains produce a variety of tools for developers across a range of platforms and languages although they are best known for their powerful Java IDE, IntelliJ IDEA and their .NET refactoring /code assistance tool, ReSharper. What I really do like about JetBrains is that their main products have well priced student and teacher licenses which I personally have found makes a difference. For example over a year ago I purchased an academic license for ReSharper since I would be using it with C# in my honours project, a year on and I now have a full license because I enjoy using the product and have decided to continue doing so.
These are just examples that I have encountered however do look out for student resources around the net, especially with commercial companies as you may be able to take advantage of your student status and get a really good discount. (This goes for conferences and events too!)