Monday, July 8, 2013

Stop telling me to go to college!

UPDATE 2/21/2014: Ryan Higa made an excellent parody that more or less makes my point.

UPDATE 2/23/2013: This article was published today that covers Google’s perspective. It summarizes my point very well:

Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).

The orignal article:
I don’t have a degree. I started into some college while working full time as a software developer. I was killing myself trying to go to school and work. I didn’t get too far before I started asking myself questions like “What am I doing? Why am I killing myself to get a degree so I can hopefully get a job like what I already have?” It’s not like I would get paid better or have a better position. Despite this, time and time again I’ve had people tell me about how important it is to go to college and get a degree. That said, I think I’ve had more people agree with me overall.

I recently had the college debate again with someone who just graduated in Computer Science. Initially the argument was that you can’t get as good of a job or get paid as well without a degree. This is the typical rhetoric I hear from people who have spent too much money and time being fed this propaganda by the universities and the public school system. It doesn’t add up - at least not in the IT industry and it seems more and more questionable in other fields as well with tuition costs rising and the economy sinking. Programmers are supposed to have a good grasp on logic and reasoning. I’ve debated the necessity of going to college countless times with people but it really bothers me that a Computer Science graduate would so readily ignore reason.

I think the problem we have is that so many people equate college with education. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a HUGE fan of education. When I have free time I often spend it learning new things from reading Hacker News. I’ve been guilty more than a few times of getting stuck hour after hour clicking through links on Wikipedia - it’s a nerd trap! Given the choice between reading a novel or a text book, I’d honestly choose the text book. But college isn’t the only way to get an education and not everyone who goes to college actually gets a great education.

Here’s a little background on myself. I started learning HTML and CSS just before I turned 10. I made lots of crappy websites that (thankfully) never saw the light of day, as well as a couple that did. I’ve used one Linux distro or another for my main desktop OS since I was 12. When I was 14 I spent 3 weeks doing a stage 1 install of Gentoo and it was an incredible learning experience. I ran Gentoo for many years on many computers after that. I used to hang out on IRC on #gentoo. I remember once, when I was still 14, helping someone with some JavaScript he was doing for work. I wasn’t even old enough to have a job yet. By the time I was 16 I had gotten my CompTia Linux+ certification, I had jumped into PHP and C++, I was going to an applied technology center where I covered C# and Java, design patterns and algorithms, etc… By 18 I had spent a lot of time in Python and I had won several programming competitions.

I’m not saying this to brag or be arrogant or whatever, but just to illustrate my point. Despite whatever time I spent in school, I spent far more time at home developing my skills. I was the stereotypical socially inept, acne covered, 4-eyed computer nerd living in my parent’s basement.

The guy I was debating with was telling me about how I could only be qualified enough to make good money with a CompSci degree. As we compared notes, so to speak, I discovered that I know a lot more than him, I have a lot more experience than him (personal and professional), and I make a lot more money than him.

I’m glad companies out there recognize the value of knowledge and experience over degrees. When my company hired me they told me that they’ve had a lot of success with people that don’t have degrees - not that they haven’t also had success with people that have degrees, but it’s not required. I recently interviewed with a company that told me that my interview was the best they’ve had in 3 years (which, actually worried me a bit about the type of people I’d have to work with). They offered me six figures, even without a degree (crazy huh? *sarcasm*). It wasn’t quite a good enough offer to leave the awesome company I work for now, but it illustrates the point I’m making.

I haven’t been out looking for another job, but I get contacted quite frequently. In the past year or so I’ve talked to a lot of companies and only one seemed to care much about a degree, despite most of them listing a degree as a requirement in their job listings. Quite frankly though, I probably wouldn’t accept a job with a company that insisted on a degree, even if I had one. That tells me that they’re more concerned about how you look on paper than how you actually perform. They would turn away good talent over a meaningless qualification. I fear that would mean working with less-intelligent people.

Anyway, let’s get back to the story. This guy ultimately resorted to something like, “I just think college is important. It’s just the way I was raised.” No logic, just insistence. I feel like this is a major problem with the mentality of society today. This is how all the universities out there want you to think and this is how they want you to raise your children. They’ve done a pretty good job of convincing most of American society that you get paid more with a degree and that without a degree you can’t be successful. It feeds the beast and the beast wants to be fed. Anyone who dares to question the notion is a threat to their business.

I recognize there are fields where a degree or license is required. I also recognize that there are people who lack ambition or need the structure or whatever else of a university. More power to ya! I don’t care if anybody wants to go to college, but please, PLEASE stop telling me that it’s the only way to be successful, or that people that go are somehow superior, or that I just need to go. Stop telling me to give up a great job and go rack up lots of debt to effectively learn very little more than I already know or can figure out myself, all just to get a job like the one I’ve already got.

If you are passionate and ambitious, then try Google and Wikipedia and Stack Overflow - the free online universities! There really is very little you can’t find online already. And if you can’t, then ask a question somewhere. The internet is filled with people who know things about stuff!

The Point

If you want to go to college that’s fine; but make sure you know why you’re doing it. If the only reason you have is “because that’s how I was raised/taught” then maybe you should rethink your decision.

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