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To college or not to college

By in News
Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:29:40 PM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

I graduated high school last year ('99), and I decided to take a year off and just work. Well now it's coming up to that time again, where I have to choose to go to college or not. My dilemma is this: I want a computer/technology based career (sys admin,coder,webmaster,etc.), but I don't want to *waste* 4 years of my life in school learning things that I don't need (lit,chemistry/bio,etc.) and I know that I can learn faster in a work environment than in college. I've talked to a lot of people, many say that college is not really required for the kind of career I want. So my question for all you of that have a computer job, how did you get there and once you did, do you think that college is necessary or would it be better to start low and just gain experience, working at it like that? For those that never went to college, do you regret it, or were you able to find a good job with just self-taught/experience-taught skills?


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To college or not to college | 88 comments (82 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
A nice reality check is in order (2.00 / 2) (#1)
by Neuromancer on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 12:56:05 PM EST

Ok, sorry bud, I was a real hotshot coming out of HS, and I can sleep through most of my classes, but you will never have the value that a degree gives you without one. There is a LOT to know. Do you understand big-O notation? How much unix do you know? How many languages do you know? Can you read EBNF? Can you write it? Have you ever had to by practice? Have you ever thought you should out of principle? How fluent in ASM are you? The value of a college education is great. My command refuses to hire ANYONE without one. You can test out of classes if you are really all that hot. I know that you think that the you know everything, but college was worth the while for me, if even just for the sheet of paper.

Re: A nice reality check is in order (4.00 / 2) (#7)
by BigZaphod on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:15:53 PM EST

Yikes.. Now I'm *seriously* considering changing schools.. Why? Well, that list of things you just gave shocked me a bit. I go to a small private school. I'll be a junior this coming year, and while I've seen mention of all the things you listed above, and we've gone over them a bit, I couldn't tell you how they work now. I've forgotten it already. And UNIX.. HA! Everything I've learned about UNIX (and it's a lot) was from working at a local ISP since I was 14. My school is 99% Windows. Heck.. We don't even have any Linux boxes! And that's the current rage! (I'm into BeOS myself.. And no one at school (prof or otherwise) would have even heard of it if it wasn't for me)

I was about to suggest that going to college is a waste of time, but maybe it isn't after all. I'm starting to think I just have a really bad example of what college is. So my new bit of advice is this: research a LOT before you go (and you should go). Find the best school. Go there. I stuck with a local school since I had a good job (which I left soon after, go figure) and I didn't want to change.


"We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
[ Parent ]
Re: A nice reality check is in order (5.00 / 2) (#11)
by leshert on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:33:58 PM EST

This is becoming common among schools, I'm afraid. It's not really the choice of operating systems (many people cut their teeth on computing before UNIX existed, and many more will do just fine hacking Windows)--it's the atmosphere of learning. Are people actively exploring and inventing, sometimes reinventing, or are they just sucking up instruction like sponges?

I went to a college in which a healthy plurality of the Computer Science class were just there to pick up the notes and pass the exams, but a more healthy plurality actively probed and explored and picked at systems.

Note that this doesn't have to happen in the classes! One of my roommates was a chem major who discovered MUDs in the Sun labs, then continued by by downloading linux on disks (a LOT of disks!), then became active on discussion groups, then wrote some Emacs packages, then some standards. All of this was outside his regular classes. Now he works with Linus Torvalds at Transmeta, and is heavily involved in Linux standardization. Not to shabby for starting with just plain curiosity, eh?

If this isn't happening at your school, you're at a bad school.

[ Parent ]

Re: A nice reality check is in order (none / 0) (#18)
by BigZaphod on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:51:47 PM EST

"If this isn't happening at your school, you're at a bad school."

Thanks for the advice. That pretty much locks it in then. I need to go someplace else.

I think you hit my problem on the head with bringing up the lack of exploring/inventing. In one class we had to add a third species to a "game of life"-style thing. Most of the (rather simple) program was written in class and was simply a text-based Win32 console app. I dumped the group source and rewrote from the ground up as a graphical BeOS application (complete with cool creature icons). Then I brought BeOS in and installed it on a lab machine just so I could show my prof. Needless to say, he was amazed at this effort and remained impressed with my desire to push the limits and go overboard (compared to everyone else) up until he left at the start of last semester. And during all that time, I kept hoping that someday we would run into something really cool and interesting that I hadn't played with at some point on my own time. We never really did.

Anyway, thanks for the tips. Hopefully these words will help others choose the right path.

"We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
[ Parent ]
Theory (none / 0) (#52)
by Neuromancer on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 04:31:57 PM EST

The most important thing in a CS program is theory. If you don't think that you're getting a healthy dose of "this is how it actually works on the inside, and this is the code for it, and this is why we do it this way" you would do best to seek these things. Understanding the concepts is the most important thing of all. What good is knowing what an ISAM file is, if you don't know how to write a program that makes one, and understand why you are making it?

[ Parent ]
Re: A nice reality check is in order (none / 0) (#31)
by Boojum on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:40:56 PM EST

I have to agree with Neuromancer, here. While I was self-taught and knew a lot about coding coming out of high school, I've learned a ton of things that I wouldn't have otherwise learned.

For example, I had to learn Scheme for the intro computer science. Functional programming seemed rather useless and silly to me since I was coming from a procedural and OO programming perspective. I thought it was just about the most useless language. Then I discovered that I could use it customize Emacs on the school's computer science network. And now with things like Guile, I have an elegant embedded language in my arsenal.

Or as another example, thanks to the Automata and Formal Complexity class that I took my second year, I now know have a much better understanding of how regexp pattern matching works, where before it just seemed sort of magical. And I'll be taking a couple of courses on Compilers and Language theory in a bit, all of which will be usefull should I ever decide to create a new programming language.

It's like the hammer and the nail. If all you have is a hammer, you'll see everything as a nail. On the other hand, with a full complement of tools, you can use the right tool for the job and get it done much more easily and quickly. Sure, some of the things that I've learned I'll probably never use again, and other things I'll use only rarely. But it's a terrific thing to discover an application in the wild for something that you learned in class. The knowledge that I have now makes it much easier to select the proper tool for a given job.

And don't even get me started on the experiences that I've had with courses outside my computer science classes and outside of computer science, such as theater classes. I've been fortunate to meet a lot of people and learn a lot simply from social interaction with a broad group of people. And I've simply had a lot of fun all around.

The trick is finding the right school. In my case that happens to be a small, private, liberal arts college with a very open system for picking courses (I basically have complete freedom of choice in which courses to take and when to take them, other than a few C.S. courses required for the major.) And it's challenging while still leaving me time to do fun stuff and have a life. I'm one very happy customer, and my only regret is that I have but one year left to go. I get depressed just thinking about that.

[ Parent ]
Waste of time?!? (4.30 / 6) (#3)
by _Dante_ on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:03:33 PM EST

Even if you did know all the computer stuff in the world (which you don't). College is about much more than that, its about much more than anything you learn in class too.

At university you will meet more people than at any other point in your life, those who share your interests and those who will cause you to get new ones. Even if you knew everything, and skipped every class, at college you would still learn a lot about yourself and about how to learn.

College/University is about learning and education not training. And that's an important difference.

And take a lit class, it'll do you good.

don't skip college (4.70 / 3) (#5)
by eries on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:05:28 PM EST

Your question is about the opportunity cost of going to college. If you skip school, you could probably land a pretty decent unix admin job, rise through the ranks and be making decent money by the time you would have graduated. But the opportunity cost of not going to college is much higher, in my experience. As another poster as pointed out, your level of technical aptitude in certain areas will never increase outside of an academic setting. Employers will want you to know about big-O notation, complexity theory, etc. But they will seldom be patient enough to wait for you to learn about it - they'll just hire/promote someone else who already knows it.

But the most compelling reasons to go to college have nothing to do with technical skills. I don't think you should make this decision based on your future career. The experience of learning and growing in an academic context is a tremendous opportunity. If you have the opportunity, you are very lucky and you should not turn it down. If it turns out next week that P = NP, electricity switches charges, and the Next Great Internet Worm combine to destroy computers as we know them, you're unix admin skills won't look so hot. But having an education (and I recommend one in the liberal arts) will be invaluable in anything you decide to do. Besides, you might find out that you like Philosophy better than computers. Hey, stranger things have happened

OK, that's my $.02 - sorry to be preachy. I just happen to feel strongly about this. What have others' experiences been with this question? OTOH, I have several friends who are already making way more money than me because they dropped out of school.
Promoting open-source OO code reuse on the web: the Enzyme open-source project

Don't go. I didn't and I'm fine. (2.83 / 6) (#9)
by octos on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:21:07 PM EST

I'm 24 years old and didn't go to college. I make about 50-60k a year and have worked on major sites like Dell and C|Net.

I am a high school dropout with a GED.
I went to an acredited gunsmithing school and graduated. (valuable post-apocolyptic skills!)
I studied photography at community college.
I tried taking graphics courses there too, but was beyond them in skill and anything I could have learned from the teacher (whom I was not better than), I couldn't because all the other people in the advanced Photoshop class were taking up her time trying to figure out how the mouse worked.
I eventually taught myself HTML and got a job doing it.
Three years later, I'm here.

I thought about college. I had a free ride if I wanted it. It appeared to be just more conformist society to deal with that had no real merit in the "real world". Some people go for it-- Others don't.

There are disadvantages to the path. I had to prove myself and it took a little while to break in, but once I was in, my work spoke for itself.
College is the place where people get laid a lot and get to do a lot of drugs. I was a virgin until I was 21. At least I had a pharmacology major as a friend so drugs weren't a problem.

My final advice is to stay far away from the internet business. It sucks like a big dog and is soul-less. I'm currently trying to get out myself.

"Fine" is relative. (4.00 / 2) (#79)
by jabber on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 11:13:56 AM EST

<i>I'm 24 years old and didn't go to college. I make about 50-60k a year and have
worked on major sites like Dell and C|Net. </i>

Cool. You're one of the lucky ones. Where will you be at 30; when you're married, with a kid and a mortgage, and some other 24 year old can work your 60 hour work week while you have to take the day off to take the kid to the doctor?

Now, how about starting your own company, creating the next Netscape, and retiring at 26? Or becoming the research lead at Lucent, and bringing in $300k in three years.

Yeah, sometimes lightning strikes; but it helps to have a lightning rod handy.

The major point that needs to be made about going to college is that you do not loose anything (in the long term) by doing it. What you stand to gain is HUGE. At $60k per year, you can pay off college loans without so much as a twitch; and after a year or two on the job, you can easily DOUBLE that salary - without selling your soul or working overtime.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

its more than just a paper.. (3.00 / 2) (#12)
by mezzo on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:40:57 PM EST

I enjoy my CS classes and all, and getting a degree is nice. But the things that I'll probably remember most about college is all the /fun/ that I had. And the people that you'll meet! What different interests, perspectives they have. Sitting down under a tree in the engineering quad discussing NP-complete problems while watching the Indians play cricket ;)

Another thing that's great is that you get to do research and code things just because. Not because its the 'hot' technology, or because its 'profitable'. Not many jobs allow you to do that.

But then again, I love college. And I know a lot of my friends who have just graduated already misses it a lot.


"The avalanche has started, it is too late for the pebbles to vote."-- Kosh
two sides of the coin (5.00 / 3) (#14)
by boarder on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:45:37 PM EST

I have friends that just can't get through school for various reasons related to their personalities, and all of them will tell you that it sucks sitting there knowing 3x more than the guy next to them and getting paid half as much. The non-college people have a ton of work and real life experience, but they don't know the entire picture (sort of like the difference between an engineering degree and a technology degree).

I know that the first few years of college computing courses SUCK for anyone who has any background in computers, but once you get past that it gets better and A LOT more difficult. In the upper level courses you will learn all the theory and new research and do very low level design so you will be more aware of how doing certain things affects other things (a simple cgi script to calculate interest can end up sending a crap-load of error-log files to the server and a web designer might not know it or how to fix it).

Unfortunately, college doesn't always teach you real life applications. That is where internships/co-ops and side jobs come into play. I know my life and work at my summer job is completely different from school, but I need the background knowledge to do it (I'm an Astronautical Engineer).

Of course, there is something to be said for being 18 and making $45k/year.

The last point is that even if you are making good money for a long time, do you really want to do the exact same job for the rest of your life? College shows a company that you can stick with something for an extended time and will work through many levels of a challenge, where just coding or being an admin will only teach you some aspects. When a company sees this, they will be more likely to promote you and move you around and WANT to keep you after you are 30 years old and "past your prime."

Yes, college can be a drag, but I think it teaches you more than you think. And I have plenty of friends who are just using it as a means to an end even though they don't like it. You should go (and taking the year off was probably a good start because you probably learned valuable stuff to make school even easier) and always have internships and other job stuff lined up.

What I've seen... (4.80 / 5) (#15)
by domesticat on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:47:26 PM EST

Get the degree. True, there are lots of things you can learn on your own. I didn't learn a scrap of what I'm using in my job (web designer) while I was in school. What did I learn? How to work with people - both the ones I liked, and the ones I didn't like. Time management skills - not the "this is how you should manage your time," but "this is how _I_ best manage my time." How to buckle down and get through things that aren't exactly fun because there's a benefit in the end. Those, I've found have been the true differences between people with degrees and without. I've seen skilled coders with and without degrees. I've worked with both, and I'll take the degreed one any day. It's all well and good to be a hotshot kid with great coding skills, but eventually even the hotshot kids have to learn how to play with others. You won't be working in a vacuum. There is much more to geek.working than being the baddest coder on the block. You have to work with other people, and that's where getting a college education will help you the most.
[ boring .sig here ]
I've btdt (4.00 / 3) (#16)
by ctm on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:47:48 PM EST

I didn't go to college but for one year. Came to the same conclusion and dropped out. I had a bunch of non-college related things going on which distracted me from studying. I don't think I was prepared for college. I had a 3.0 average in high school without doing any homework and just acing tests. However, I don't think I was ready to be out on my own just yet. Anyway I found out while I was in college that I liked computers. A lot. I spent more time on the computer than I did in class.

When I dropped out my father told me to get a job. I was going to go to a gas station and just work there. At the time, I had no idea how to get in the computer biz, and this was 1995. Not exactly the hotbed of excitement back then. It was June and Windows 95 was about to come out (even though at the time I didn't know that). My father suggested that I apply at CompUSA. I only knew Macs back then,(used them since 89). Figured at least I had a chance of working there. Back then the people on the floor were supposed to at least be able to answer more than just what's the price of this. We had to carry a phone and run around doing pseudo tech support. I really learned a lot. I read every box that I put on the shelves. I learned what a graphics accelerator was. How printers work.. etc. I quit CompUSA so I could move. Ended up selling computers after that. Then worked as tech support at an ISP. Then I got into Unix as I had to be able to add users etc. I then wanted to become a sysadmin. Now I've been a sysadmin for 4 years. I started at about the lowest job possible in the computer field. I have bought tons of books and am completely self taught.

Do I regret dropping out of college? No.. not really, because I wouldn't be who I am today. If I could go back to college would I? Yes. I have already hit the ceiling of, well you need a degree blah blah blah. So now I have to back track and go to school while I take care of my family and work. Not exactly my idea of fun. Anyway, that was just my experience and your milage may vary.
Which is worse ignorance or apathy?

Who knows? Who cares?

Non-college grad here.. (3.00 / 1) (#17)
by slycer on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:49:22 PM EST

Hell, I don't have my HS - five years of that was enough for me so I just dropped (note, this was a matter of skipping classes - not failing classes).

I am 25 - I have a decent job (between 50 and 60k per year), and hopefully Unix system admin soon. I can't speak on what you'd miss at college/university, but I can say that I haven't run across a situation that the only way to gain knowledge of x was through a degree. Self-teaching is a great way for ME to learn, maybe it is for you too. If so, maybe college is not needed, if not maybe it is.

I can tell you that my wife spent 4 years in university - received her Bachelor of Arts degree, and we are still paying the student loans. I know she enjoyed gaining the knowledge, but there is not much practical use for it.

My $0.02

Hmm...purpose of college? (2.00 / 1) (#19)
by kkeller on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:55:49 PM EST

I've been reading the comments, and it seems that few posts address why I actually went to college. At college, you have the potential to learn things that are totally cool, while at the same time completely useless in real life. (I was a math major, so I know what I'm talking about here.)

I *love* knowing how Goedel proved how mathematics is fundamentally incomplete, and can never be completed. I think it's totally cool that I learned three or four different ways of measuring fractal dimension. And it's wild that I was able to write a sociology paper on the interactions of sports fans, while getting to attend games. (Okay, not everyone can get away with this one; it was a good paper, though!)

I personally use probably 1% of the stuff I actually learned in college. That's a little higher than I wanted, but I guess that's okay.

I also learned firsthand how to recover from many different kinds of hangovers, but that's not in any coursework that I did. Was still an important life skill, though.

Certification? (2.00 / 2) (#20)
by bobbilly on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 01:58:39 PM EST

I'm in about the same situation right now, but I'm thinking more of Certification (cisco/sun/whatever) or college/university? I know college is fun and all but right now I work 40 hours a week, have a very flexible job and it pays *good* for a 19 year old. I've partied probably this month more than my friends party in 3 months in college, so that isn't a problem. My reason for not wanting to go to college is:
Waste of time/money (in HS I missed 100+ days both senior/junior year because I was sick of school (grades were okay though))
First off I dont' want to read shakespeare just to get an IT job (I've read enough of them.....( IB )

In school basically all that happens is that you get information stuffed down your throat, you write a pretty paper and that's about it. How many of you had to sit thru classes being bored because a) everyone is slow b)that class was mind-numbing and you will never remember/use that info anyways.
So for me I think certification is the way to go, because I will be learning what I like (not what others want me to learn), it won't take as long as college, and I'll have fun doing it instead of wasting my day on trying to translate shakespeare :)

..Affirmative action, or The Fairness for Dummies Act..
Re: Certification? (3.00 / 1) (#36)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:09:37 PM EST

In school basically all that happens is that you get information stuffed down your throat, you write a pretty paper and that's about it.
You're taking "school" to mean "classes." This couldn't be further from the truth. During the school year, I spend maybe 25 hours/week in classes, and another 15 doing homework. This leaves a lot of time to enjoy the freedom afforded by what is quite often a parent-free environment. It leaves you wonderful freedom to do what you want, see who you want, and in general, learn to be an independent person.

So sure, the classes, if they're poorly taught, might consist of having "information stuffed down your throat." But much of the learning that occurs in school takes place during conversations with friends, random robotics projects, and on Saturday nights.

I've only spent two years in college so far, and am already convinced that it's the best thing since ... um, those other 14 years of schooling.

chahast at pangaea foo dhs foo org

[ Parent ]

My take on it ... (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by ryry on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:03:11 PM EST

Something in your posting caught my eye ...

I've talked to a lot of people, many say that college is not really required for the kind of career I want

How do you know what kind of career you want if you haven't explored all the options available to you? Going to college is the best way to do just that. Don't be one of those guys who wakes up every morning, looks in the mirror, and wonders just what the hell they did with their life. At college you'll be exposed to new and different opportunities both in your technical field and outside of it. You'll get the chance to learn new ideas and appreciate different perspectives on old ideas and maybe, just maybe, that will lead to a refinement in your beliefs.

I say this because I came into Virginia Tech as a Computer Science major. Second semester I realized I didn't enjoy programming all that much and would prefer to enter the tech industry more on the business side of things. If I hadn't had that realization before going into a career, I might have had it at a time when switching wasn't so easy (not like it is now, but that's Tech's fault :-).

--too lazy for a .sig--
Re: My take on it ... (none / 0) (#23)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:12:24 PM EST

How do you know what kind of career you want if you haven't explored all the options available to you?

I know because, I'm 19, worked at lotsa of different jobs. Did construction, laid tiles, worked in a body shop (frame/painting), painted houses, laid wood floors, right now I'm working as a semi "computer specialist" guy here in the office. I can be making almost twice as much laying tiles/body work (I enjoy cars very much), but this job doesn't even feel like a job, I'm online all the time, I basically set my own schedule, do whatever I want just have to get the job done, my only beef with it is that it's a dead-end (hence, to go further...get new job). I'm not too sure I want to be a coder, but a sys-admin yes, it seems fun, I enjoy helping people also stuff like that. .....Like others said college is fun, but now.....i can party with my friends, no worries (no loans, no homework, i'm free )...........Maybe as someone mentioned, Certification, I've been thinking about that also.

[ Parent ]
Re: My take on it ... (none / 0) (#47)
by the coose on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:44:38 PM EST

Did construction, laid tiles, worked in a body shop (frame/painting), painted houses, laid wood floors, right now I'm working as a semi "computer specialist" guy...
That's just a small sample of what you could do. When I started out in college (14 years ago), I went in with aspirartions of being an English major. Later I took a course in Geology, liked it, and decided maybe that's what I wanted to do. That led me to Physics - which I still like and read up on. This, in turn, led to Math/Computer Science. I ended up getting a BS in Computer Science. It took me 5 years just because I couldn't make up my mind, but I got my piece of paper. Anyway the point is you may realize that, just by taking classes, you have the knack and the interest in something that you never would've thought of had you not gone to college.

[ Parent ]
Go to college (4.50 / 2) (#22)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:11:53 PM EST

My experiences are far from typical. But maybe they can still add to your knowledge base a little. And from my perspective, I can only say, get the degree.

I dropped out of college to run a lab. It seemed like the right thing at the time, I felt like you did about college, and I was much happier spending my time in the lab, getting paid instead of paying. But things don't always work out as planned. I found myself forced to drop out of society, and the job market, for a few years. The last time I worked NT was at 3.51, Novelle has just gone to 4.0, Linux was a toy that was nice for CS majors to play with but no one would think of using for anything serious, and Unix (at least in my neighborhood) was HP/UX in the math department - lovely but horribly expensive machines us lowly PC admins could only dream of getting our hands on. Nothing is worse than an out of date admin without paper qualifications. Yes, if I were in a big city I could probably get some sort of job and eat, but I'd hardly be at the top of the food chain. Stuck out in the boonies without a big city job market to feed on, every attempt at finding employment now is a humiliating exercise in self-degradation.

There are jobs in the area in my chosen field, yes. But not all that many, and there are plenty of clueless dorks without a tenth of my real world experience, but with the paper qualifications, who get them. Guess what? Anytime there are more openings than applicants, folks like me can get a foot in, but anytime that is not true, regardless of experience, people that look good on paper can shut us out.

Don't expect to ever need to leave a major metropolitan area? Well, I didn't either, but I really had no choice. But the point is broader - the market for people with computer skills exploded before the labor pool was available, and this has made a career without the degree a viable alternative, BUT, it would be foolish to think that this will last forever. And when it normalises you'll have the same problem I have now, even in the tech towns. Suits never like to hire people without degrees for responsible positions, when they do it it is only out of necessity.

I have an uncle that learned this the hard way too. Like me, but much earlier, he decided that he liked working better than school. He started with Vic20s and very soon was raking in 6 digit incomes as a systems analysts at a series of major banks. He had it great for over a decade, for the simple reason that computers were new and people with his skills were in very high demand. As time went on, though, more and more CS and IS graduates came into the world, and the attitudes changed. It reached the point where he became unemployable, despite his stellar job history, because there were so many applicants with the paper qualifications that could replace him. He went from pulling in a great income doing what he loved, with constant offers from other companies trying to woo him away from whoever he was working for at the moment, to being practically unemployable overnight. Time after time, the jobs he applied for went to people with degrees, because they had the degrees, and when he finally shed his pride enough to apply for jobs lower on the ladder that didn't pay as well, he was told he was 'overqualified.' It's a horrible situation to find oneself in.

My advice? Go to college, play their stupid little games (and that is what they are, if you get an education in college in anything but sucking up to professors, lying to girls, and drinking or doing drugs it will be in spite of the system, not because of it) and get that stupid piece of paper. Realise that it's a game, don't take it seriously, but do take graduation seriously and make sure you get there.

Get the degree. (none / 0) (#24)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:13:27 PM EST

You should probably go. First off, there's more to life than a career. College is fun; it's a lot different from high school, that's for sure. If it's not, you picked the wrong college.

Second, who knows what you might need to learn? Computers don't exist in a vacuum; if you focus solely on computer skills, you might not be able to apply them very well.

Finally, a degree might not be necessary, but it will increase the choice of jobs. Also, the current computer boom will ramp down someday, or you might decide you want to do something different. For all that it's the kind of thing your mom would tell you, a degree does make a difference that way.

I went to college but did not get my degree. I work in computers, but I know I could get higher-paying and more interesting jobs if I had my scrap of paper. I only took one or two computer courses in school anyway; my math, physics, and EE training has been consistently helpful in my computer career.

Go to the RIGHT college (none / 0) (#25)
by jredburn on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:15:20 PM EST

I was in much the same situation a year ago. I took a year off after high school as I needed to sort a lot of stuff out in my head and get back on track. I traveled to Southeast Asia for four months, living on $2 a day -- best experience of my life. After that, I got a job at a local internet startup which I worked at for eight months, including an IPO. They offered me a position for $80k/year. That's more money than my dad made until last year and it was extremely difficult to say no. But I did, and it was the best decision I've ever made.

The key, though, is finding the right school for you. Try your best not to pick a school based on job potential once you graduate. Go visit, meet people. The people are what makes college the best place in the world. I go to Williams, a highly competitive (to get in to, not among students) liberal arts college in the Berkshires in Massachusetts (far from Boston). The computer science classes are very cool, but the key is that college is not high school. At least my college isn't. The ability to pick each and every class you want to take makes going to class almost seem like a good idea. I've read enough Shakespeare too, so instead I took the first ever Applied Topology class taught *anywhere* even though I didn't satisfy the prequisites. Enormous fun -- I hadn't been challenged in a math class in 6 years but I got my ass kicked and enjoyed it. Don't worry about what these classes mean for a job afterwards.

And join the ultimate frisbee team. No, really. Best people in the world play ultimate. Plus, all these hotshot CIOs play ultimate and are more than happy to tell you about the time they were shrooming and met ESR.

Go to college. For four years of your life, don't worry about work. Or money. Eat pb+j. Eat ramen. Just enjoy yourself. I'm happier than I ever have been when I'm at school. But this summer here I am back at work and the corporate bullshit is getting to me. I need a break.

Go to school...... (none / 0) (#26)
by danimal on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:15:40 PM EST

If there is only one thing I can tell you it is to get your degree. Some places won't even interview you if you don't have a degree. Granted, you may not want to work at that place anyway, but until you have several years of experience under your belt you can't even get a foot in the door to find out.

I have the not so unique experince of working in computers (programmer at a computer animation company) but I didn't take a lick of computer courses in college. I actually have a degree in forestry. While I was going to school I got a part-time job on campus in a UNIX based GIS lab in forestry. I learned from a great teacher and then taught myself everything from there. By the time I realized I really ddin't want to work in forestry I had almost graduated, so I kept on and got the degree to show I could accomplish something.

Even if I never use my forestry knowledge again I did gain several things from going to college:

  • organizational skills
  • team work, especially with people you might not like so much
  • time budgeting
  • financial budgeting

Without going to school I wouldn't be the person I am today. I can choose what I want to do and I can always say &dblquote;My degree may not be in the field I am applying for, but I have already gone from forestry to large scale computer systems programming on my own. If you give me a challenge I will face it and I will succede.&dblquote;

But that is just me. Take my advice as just that, advice. Your experinces will be different and unique, I only hope I can help you pick a direction that is good for you.

<tin> we got hosed, tommy
<toy> clapclapclap
<tin> we got hosed

College (4.00 / 2) (#27)
by cpt kangarooski on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:18:10 PM EST

I think that you're thinking of college as more of a trade school. It's not. I would be suprised if you learned anything that was immediately, directly applicable to work as a sysadmin that you didn't already know in college. (unless you work for the computing services department)

However, the goal of an undergraduate education is basically to make you a well-rounded person. To give you at least some degree of knowledge in fields that are not already experienced in. This might seem useless, but besides the obvious advantage of being able to do more than stare blankly into space when someone asks you about something outside of the narrow world of being an admin, it also lets you further persue those fields independently - it's a starting place.

Who knows - you might find out that you're really interested in some aspect of Biology that you weren't taught in high school. The introduction to the subject is very useful indeed. That colleges also tend to emphasize teaching people how to research subjects effectively is probably the most useful skill you pick up.

Additionally, besides hooking you into a network of other alumni from your college who may treat you more favorably when you're looking for a job or something, just having a degree helps open doors for you. Maybe everything should be based entirely on experience, but it's not in the real world. Again, this is a place where a degree will help you out a lot. You may very well find that your life is impacted - in the way that people respond to you - for decades b/c of your level of formal education.

I'm not a CoSci person, myself. I got an easy BA in English Lit, but it gave me time to persue physics (my other great love), art, politics, philosophy and history, all of which I'm a lot more interested in now than I had been. I know more, and can effectively teach myself better than I could have otherwise.

I did room with a lot of CoSci people though. They all seemed to be very pleased with learning not just C, but how to design OSes and programming languages. And most took a lot of classes outside of their major: physics, electrical engineering, mathematics, Japanese literature....

I'd say that you should go to college. Don't take only classes related to what you plan to do professionally - expand your knowledge. You are likely to enjoy it. You'll have plenty of time for working later - about 40 years or so. Why get into that so quickly?

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
The best answer... It depends. (4.33 / 3) (#28)
by iceyone on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:21:13 PM EST

I think what you're asking for is like 'Where should I live', or 'What kind of music should I listen to'. It's not something that can really be answered by anybody but yourself... You kind of need to try out some college, and try doing some work without a degree, and see how they feel.

I'll say that I went to college for a couple of years - as a Bio-engineering major... However, I got bored, dropped out, and got into the computer industry. I make six figures now (I'm 22), but I've pretty well had to sell my soul over the past 3 years to do it. Working 90 hour weeks, reading a new programming book every week, implementing what I had read within 3 months...

I'll venture to say that you really need to decide what you want to do with yourself. Personally, I want to retire young, and until I do, I'm never going to leave the tech side of things... But if I wanted to get into a management type position, I'd have to have a degree.

So to wrap up - it's a tradeoff... It seems to me that it's easier to get your foot in the door with a degree, but once you've been situated in the industry it doesn't make much difference.

Where do you want to work? -- Get your foot in the (3.00 / 1) (#29)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:29:27 PM EST

You might want to check to see where you want to work. I know that where I work ( A large Telecomunications company ), a degree is <U>required</U> to be even considered for a job.

I took 2 years university, then left on a co-operative education stint at the place I work now. After 16 montsh of work as an intern, I managed to convince the company that they could hire me on at the same time that I got my degree. Best of all , they'll pay for it.

The degree is worth it. A person with a diploma with get paid about 10K more than somebody who doesn't, and the person with the degree will get as much as 5K above that. Also, you will be passed over for promotions or opportunities in management because there will be a person with a degree who is going for the same spot.

You should go (4.00 / 4) (#30)
by scheme on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:32:19 PM EST

Colleges and universities aren't there just to teach you how to work in a specific field and nothing else. They give you the opportunity to learn things and do things that you would not get the chance to do or learn otherwise.

For example, I just graduated with CS and math degrees (but plan to go to grad school in physics) but I've learned a bunch of things that I wouldn't have if I just stuck to reading books. For example, I learned about the different ethical philosophies advanced by philosophers like Plato, Kant, Hume, and Mills. Does this help me in coding? No, but I think it helps me in life since I have a better understanding of ethics and why we should do things or not do things in certain ways. In my organic chem classes, I got the chance to make an antibiotic (sulfanilamide) and pain killers (acetanilide) from scratch in the lab among other things. Again this doesn't help me in coding, but now I can figure whether how credible the latest warning about chemical x is. Having read and discussed writers like Smith, Marx, Weber, Freud, I can see how and why some of the problems we have in society arise and try to help fix them. Although these things may not help me in writing code, I would argue that they help me in understanding the world better and thus improve my life.

Your cs skills and experience will probably also be increased a bit. For example, I learned a lot about functional languages, speech analysis, algorithmic analysis and the theory of computing that I would probably never would have seen if I didn't go to college. On the practical side while I was working with a physics research group, I got the chance to design a parallel port communications protocol for a device, write a c++ program to talk to the device, and build a little hardware debugger to test the c++ program because the electrical engineers I was working with had finished designing and building the real device. Meanwhile, the grad student I was working with wrote a perl program to grab the data that my program got and send it to another computer over the internet.

Incidently if you go to college, look for on campus jobs in the physics department. People there are always building electronics and writing stuff to control the electronics. The groups are almost always willing to hire you and teach you the stuff and you can pick up useful skills. Plus you might end on working on really cool projects: like NASA's mars rover (a friend of mine ended up helping to build and write the code for the APXS instrument on it) or some really high end computers (CERN's accelerator produces a few petabytes of data every year and is expected to start producing exabytes of data in the next several years, other accelerators produce similar amounts of data).

"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity." --Albert Einstein

My advice (2.33 / 3) (#32)
by finkployd on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:42:30 PM EST

You have a lot of conflicting opinions here, some saying to go to school and some saying go straight to work.

I say do both. Get a job that will partially fund your education (or heavily fund it, working some colleges gives you 75%-100% off your tuition). It will take considerably longer to get a degree while working full time and it will be much harder to balance the two, but it's worth it. You get to make some good money right out of school (assuming you know what you are doing) and eventually you get that diploma that will help you later in your career when you want to advance up the management latter.

The trick is getting your foot in the door to begin with. That takes some time and effort on your part. For example, I had to work as a tape jockey (mainframe operator) for a year before I was considered for my current position (systems programmer).

Best of luck to you, and whatever you end up doing, make sure you enjoy it.

Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
Go to College! (4.00 / 2) (#33)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:53:32 PM EST

Particularly if you are in the U.S., the college credential is important in the job market. Many places won't even look at people without a degree. This is particularly important if you ever wish to rise above "mere programmer" serfdom into a more managerial role.

College will give you a more solid background in computers than just working on a job and teaching yourself -- and I don't just mean estoric theory, but rather good coding style, fundamental algorithms and more formal approaches to problem solving -- and perhaps expose you to areas you would like but not be able see in your current job (AI, sophisticated graphics, OS design, computer vision, etc.).

Non-major "liberal arts" courses may be the only chance you ever have to be exposed to these other areas by experts -- while I also felt my non-major courses were a waste of time, they (and not my major courses) are what I remember most from my college coursework, because they exposed me to things I was not already familiar with. Nowadays, when I read a piece of genuine literature, or go to a museum, or read about history or current events, it is these courses that have taught me to appreciate them. I would not want to have to go through life interpreting the non-technical portion of the world only through what I learned in high school or picked up on my own. I attended a very liberal arts oriented school that had large non-major course requirements. If you went to a school that was not oriented so heavily in this fashion (for instance, an engineering school), you may be able to get by with far fewer non-major courses.

College is also (in many cases, primarily) a social event and, while we may scoff at the non-academic portions of the experience, they may be crucial to learning how to deal with coworkers, clients, etc. in a professional context. Very few people can earn more than a mediocre living on intelligence alone and social skills are crucial to being able to leverage one's intelligence. Imagine being involved in a web start-up: while you would probably be the tech guy and not the business guy, you will be better able to help the business guys raise money, make alliances with other companies and do whatever else web start-ups do (which appears to be something other than bringing in revenue!) if you can better present your company and yourself to other people who have been through the college experience -- and additionally, you are more likely to be able to be treated by the business guy on your team as a partner than as a machine if you have these skills.

With Advanced Placement exams and the like, you may be able to get a BS in 3 years. You could also, of course, work part time during this period, enabling you to keep up with the work world and earn enough money to pay for it and have some fun (I myself was painfully poor in college -- if only my present self could beam back in time to my 18-year old self a lousy $10,000!).

Bottom line: go to college, learn things you wouldn't have come across otherwise, make friends and have fun!

My history (4.00 / 1) (#34)
by baka_boy on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:54:31 PM EST

I enrolled at a very expensive, West Coast liberal arts college at 17, straight out of high school. I had a great financial aid package, was right on track for a major in mathematics, had just met a great girl, and was having a great time. At the end of that year, however, I went on an indefinately-long leave of absence to stop and re-evaluate why I was there, and what I wanted to accomplish.

I think that forcing young adults fresh from high school into the open environment of your average four year college, and expecting them to have the most intellectually productive years of their life is rediculous. I've found that, while I've missed school horribly, I am confident that I'll be a better student when I return with several years of work and life experience under my belt.

It sounds like that may be equally important in you case -- if you're not sure you should go to school at all, then feeling obligated will not inspire you to any new academic heights. Much is made of the need to go directly to college in this culture, but I think that many more people should wait, and get their advanced degrees when they have a bigger picture of the world and themselves.

The most important skills... (4.50 / 2) (#35)
by CubeDweller on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 02:57:18 PM EST

I got a 4 year Computer Science degree at a liberal arts school, which means I also got tons of math, physics, biology, philosophy, history and religion. While some would say that all those extraneous topics don't really apply and were a waste of my time, I don't think so. Those classes, especially the philosophy, taught me to think for myself and learn on my own.

To me that's the value of college. It's not the facts or the skills they teach you. All that stuff will change anyway. What you need to get is the ability to learn and evaluate ideas. That doesn't mean just regurgitating what you heard somewhere else. When you work with technology the ability to filter new ideas, put the good ones to use, and avoid the bad ones is your most valuable tool.

High school is all about spoon-feeding you the bare basics. If you have any real skills after high school you probably had to pick them up on your own. A (good) college puts you on a completely different level.

I should note that college is no guarantee that you'll pick up these skills. I know several people who already had them in high school, and I know several more who still didn't have them after college. A higher percentage of college grads pick this stuff up, though.

Attitude is probably the biggest key. You have to work agressively to feed your brain, it will reward you. College won't help those that want to sit back and expect to become smart.

If you're able to teach yourself and keep yourself up with technology, it won't be long before nobody cares what pieces of paper you do or don't have. It's just much easier to get yourself in the good boat with a little college.

I am incredibly happy with my 4 year degree, but I also had 45k worth of debt to wrestle with afterwards. That's a scary number, but you will come out ahead in the long run. For the shameless plug to the alma matter, check out Luther College for a great 4 year CS program.

Advice? (4.80 / 5) (#37)
by jade on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:10:04 PM EST

Well, we can't make up your mind for you. But I'll pass along a couple points (pardon the duplication from other posts on a couple)...

1. College is not supposed to train you for a career. It's to further your education. If you want career training, go to a vocational school.

2. If you do have a degree, it offers more flexibility in the future. Some jobs may require one, some not. In the big cities it usually doesn't matter (because of the tech shortage), but what happens if you don't want to live in the city anymore?

3. The college atmosphere is almost "training wheels" for real life. Most college freshmen have never lived on their own, made their own decisions, or had to deal with so much responsibility.

And those of us who took Psychology 101 in college know that the maturation of the human brain into "adult" phase doesn't occur until 21-22, which is why you often are so much different after 4 years of college than when you started. :)

If you think it's a waste of time, then maybe you shouldn't go. I enjoyed the variety of classes I took, most of them I don't use in my life now, but the knowledge is there, and I think it makes me a more well-rounded person.

Oh, and as for all these posts saying "I didn't go to college and I make $XXX per year"? Seeing that makes my stomach churn.... money isn't everything, it's a shame not enough people think that. As long as I can pay my bills and do work I enjoy then I'll stay happy.

Go to college (2.50 / 2) (#38)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:18:23 PM EST

There will be all the time in the world to "work for the man" The working world does not afford you the opportunity to meet people, and make friends like college does. Yeah, the school aspect sucks, but make the most of the social aspect. The people you meet in College will be more valuable than that piece of paper you get in the end. College is a great time to 1) Meet friends 2) Hone social skills 3) Drink lotsa beer 4) Have lotsa sex 5) Go to parties, lots of parties 6) Oh yeah, and learn Take full advantage, because once you start working, all of these sorts of opportunities fade in the effort to make money. The people you meet at work will never be as close as the friends you make at school. Work is not the place to grow up, college is. Plus, having a degree affords you much more flexibility in the long run. Just my 2 cents worth

Do Both by co-oping! (3.00 / 1) (#39)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:21:46 PM EST

Go to a school that lets you do cooperative education. A good co-op program that is, not one of these 'tack on a term or two of work' programs. An example would be my *cough* alma mater, Kettering University. At KU, we earned decent money, not as good as you're making now possibly, but you walk out with a degree, a thesis, and 2.5 years of work experience.

There were two good things that college did for me in this regard: First, I had experience being part of a large corporation (awful stuff, that can be); second, it helped me see how I wanted to specialize. I like doing embedded work or device driver work far more than application programming; and I get my fill every day now.

Re: Do Both by co-oping! (2.00 / 1) (#53)
by warpeightbot on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 04:40:21 PM EST

Second that emotion. Or at least find somewhere to work in your field while attending. I didn't co-op, though I knew many who did so successfully; I got a job working for the computer center at Georgia Tech, in which it was our job to know (and be able to support users on) CDC NOS, NOS/VE, several flavors of Unix, IBM VM/CMS, VAX/VMS, WinDoze, and Macintosh. We learned the day-to-day care and feeding of mainframes and their input and output devices, the intricacies of NFS and NIS, and eventually beginning system administration (we had a few AT&T 3b2's all to ourselves). By the time I finished three years of that and a few side jobs I picked up on the way, I was ready to turn around and sysadm the Atmospheric Sciences school's brand spanking new (then!) cluster of RS/6000's, and did so quite competently for four years. I've been in the real world pushing another seven after that, and I can honestly say that the best move I ever made at gatech (followed closely by the change in major from EE to (I)CS) was getting that first computer center job.

So, yes, go and get your paper, but make damn sure you know what you're doing when you get out. Find something at least semi-real-world to do for your summers or your off hours, and do your best at it. Nothing spruces up a resume quite like two years' internship with, say, IBM RTP, or Intel, or even two years' head computer lab flunkie in charge of anything more complex than a four-banger calculator...

Best of luck,
warp eight bot
BS-ICS @gatech '90
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
got my paper and I was free....
-- Indigo Girls, "Closer to Fine"

[ Parent ]

absolutely DO go to college (3.00 / 1) (#40)
by legLess on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:24:22 PM EST

A good college education is dependent upon two factors:

  • The quality of the school.
  • Your motivation: this is by far the most important.
But a "good education" is not just getting technical training so that you make lots of money. A good education teaches you how to think, how to use your brain.

I know, you're thinking, "I already know how to use my brain, thank you, and I don't need to be taught."

You say that you don't need to learn literature, chemistry, biology, etc. You're perhaps correct that you don't need those things for your job, but you may need them for your life. Do you know what acid rain is? How it's caused? How it affects, or doesn't affect, your life? I do - I learned that in chemistry.

Do you know how to argue with a pissed off right-wing Creationist on the school board who wants to burn all the Evolution text books and force your kid to learn the Bible as science? Do you know why he's wrong? Can you put it into words without getting flustered, and make other people understand you? I can - I learned that in biology and philosophy.

Can you argue with a client without getting personal? Can you convince him of your point of view without getting him mad? Can you concede to his point of view with an open mind? I can - I learned that in nearly every class.

College broadens your mind. It may give your existing ideas a firmer place to stand, or it may allow you to develop new ideas. It's only a waste of time if you make it so.
FuzzyMan45: Stupidity as a weapon of mass destruction. Great idea, but how would you weaponize it? KWillets: Television
Re: absolutely DO go to college (3.00 / 1) (#51)
by CrayDrygu on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 04:27:48 PM EST

All of those things you mentioned, I learned in High School, or in Real Life experiences. If you didn't learn any of that until getting to college, then I'd like to know what high school you went to, because I want to make sure I never move there.

And as for the open-mindedness you mentioned...that's something that can't be taught in schools. For the most part, you either have it, or you don't. I suppose it could be learned, but I'd think it would have to be through experience.

[ Parent ]

Please Go (2.00 / 1) (#41)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:37:06 PM EST

If you decide to become a programmer please do go. You will learn how to learn. Then it becomes very simple to develop applications and learn new languages and technologies. DFAs and Turing machines will always exist, but Java and XML could be gone tomorrow.

I have worked with the code of people who have no formal training and those that have studied at some of the finest institutions in the world. Believe me, there is a difference.

However, if you are considering something like DeVry, then you probably are wasting your time. A good four-year school will help you in so many ways including programming, social networking, and increasing your written and communication skills.

Also, don't be in a hurry to grow up. College is easy and a lot of fun. You may work hard, but you are probably doing what you like.

One more thing, if it is money that you are after, a degree will help tack on maybe 20-30,000 to your salary.

Rebuttal to college goers (4.30 / 3) (#42)
by octos on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:37:24 PM EST

I'm one of the people that didn't go. My wife was a few credits short of a masters in psychology. She loved college, so I've had this discussion a few times before.

Sure, college will force you to expand your horizons and take courses you don't need. They'll also make you pay for the privilage. You can spend your free time and all the extra disposable income from not having to pay off a student loan on books and education of your choosing. Maybe I'm different, but I like studying all sorts of broad things. I especially like things that you'd never hear about in college except for a footnote that your biased professor tells you to ignore.

A lot of my friends that went to college didn't learn much about living on their own. They don't budget well and have large amounts of debt. I don't know about working with other people. I've never been to a kegger with my CEO.

Management!? The original poster's attitude is of someone who would probobly never want to be a manager.

I make $X a year. I hate money and corpratism, but I used the standard benchmark of success for most people-- $$$. It at least says that I'm more successful than a fry-cook and gives an idea of the lifestyle one can achieve without a degree.

I am very happy with my life outside of work. My wife is wonderful. I am exploring many interesting fields and my own conciousness.

I have never had to work much of any overtime. I've maybe averaged 10 hours a year in overtime. I value life over work.

I'm just trying to give a picture of what a life without a degree is like for one person. Use the info to make your own decision. If you stay as debt-free as possible, you'll have the ability to change course whenever you want/have to. And that includes going to college if working doesn't feel right.

why not work and go to school part time? (2.00 / 1) (#43)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:37:39 PM EST

My experience is that full time college is a waist of time if you want to keep up on technology and make lots of money now. There's no substitute for just going out and doing it for real. However I think there are some good things about going to college. The first is, you are actually tought a lot of things which the public schools system failed to do. College also invites a lot more social interaction which is important for the geek to become less socially retarded.

It's not what you learn... (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by CanSpice on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:41:21 PM EST

I think one thing about college education that is important to remember is that it's not necessarily what you learn, it's how you learn. Some fields train people to think differently than others. Sciences typically train problem-solving skills, whereas arts typically focus on other areas (I wouldn't know, since I wasn't an arts student). For example, I did a degree in physics/astronomy/math. Problem-solving up the ying-yang. The company I work at (database work) only has two people who are remotely close to finished their CS degrees. One guy has a PEng, another nearly finished a physics degree, another has a few years of history, another did fine arts. My boss has routinely said that he'd rather hire physics/chemistry/math students over CS students, simply because they're better at solving problems.
--- I don't have a sig.
Beyond Technology (2.00 / 1) (#45)
by jonkatz on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:43:11 PM EST

It's a personal decision, but it's not just a matter of technology. I've just gone through this with two close friends with strong technology skills. Of course you don't need a degree to get a good job and learn technology. I think the question is whether or not you feel the need for some time, space and other considerations at this point in your life. Work is stressful, and it does keep you from developing in other, non work related areas -- culture, history and writing. I think when it's good, the purpose of an education is more than to provide job skills..You meet different kinds of people, may luck out with a prof that stimulates and challenges you. I got booted out of two schools but many of my friends consider college the most valuable part of their lives. They've made lifelong friends, given themselves a broader exposure to ideas. One personal issue...do you feel you need for your ideas to mature, develop. Do you feel technology is something you'd like to pursue in a structured environment. I don't think it's something anybody has to do, but I do think once you plunge into the workworld, those other kinds of development usually slow or stop, for practical reasons. If you'd like to take this window to develop your mind in a protected environment, I'd think seriously about college. If you have no need of that, you might not need to. Or you can go for one year and see. But as I said, I've just been though this issue thoroughly...I don't think you need it for work. The issue, I think, is whether you need it for other reasons.

GO TO COLLEGE (3.00 / 1) (#46)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:43:57 PM EST

It's amazing what that little piece of paper will do for your carrer. At the large insurance company where I work, the best coder/hacker/copmuter guy we have will *not* make any more than what he is making now (around 34K) because it is policy that to advance you have to have a degree. I am copming up on the end of my college 'expereince' and all I really got from it was learning about myself. Oh, and that I can live on macaroni for a month :) Go, get a B.S. in BS, and have some fun. You have the *rest* of your life to work, and work, and work... -Sam

Re: GO TO COLLEGE (none / 0) (#54)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 04:40:33 PM EST

the best coder/hacker/copmuter guy we have will *not* make any more than what he is making now (around 34K) because it is policy that to advance you have to have a degree.

Wow, that sounds like a great company to quit working for!

Seriously! If they place that much emphasis on a stupid piece of paper that any drunken preppie can earn by having his parents support him for four (or five) years, then they'll never appreciate good programmers.

I thought getting my degree was a huge waste of seven years (But I only went to school for eight semesters so it isn't as bad as it sounds)

I worked through most of my schooling and I learned a million times more on the job than I did in school.

About the only thing that a degree got me is that now when I go to an interview, people don't ask why I don't have a degree

If you are still immature (or still want to be) then college is a great place. You can drink and carouse around every night and nobody gives a damn. There is nothing wrong with this. Drinking too much, having too many women (is that possible!), and doing stupid things that kids do is a natural part of growing up. But once you've grown up a little, college is a waste.

[ Parent ]
Re: GO TO COLLEGE (none / 0) (#57)
by FoodMike on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 04:48:14 PM EST

What you said is entirely true, but, doesn't it piss you off?! It pisses me off. Few days go by when I don't think "why the hell did that cost so much?" I have a BS, it helped me get a job, and now I feel like I got ripped off. Yes I had fun, yes I ate macaroni, and yes, I learned about myself, but so have a lot of people who haven't shelled out $80,000+ (!!!) for an education.

[ Parent ]
Why not both ? (2.00 / 2) (#48)
by antv on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:45:01 PM EST

Well, I'm almost 20, study at public college (Hunter, CUNY) and work as a programmer (C/C++/Perl under Unix), got full-time recently, worked about 6 month as an intern in the same company before that. What could I say ? Both college and work are usefull.
  • In college you could learn a lot - if you know how. If you just sleep through your classes and then get friendly with teachers to get good grade - well, many my friends did this, not they have jobs, and they call me and ask questions. If you listen to what teacher says in class, then read some books on your own, find it on the Net, figure out what you can, and then ask teacher to explain what you didn't understood - you'll learn a lot. <u>That applies to any science, not just CS</u>. And with that knowledge you could get a good job - of course you would need to lie a lot and be nice with your boss, but hey, that's why there's psychology and political science classes.

    What really annoys me:

    • Your grade is very loosely related to your grade. My girlfriend attends another college, and I have friends in many colleges all over US (and also in Russia and Ukraine, my country of birth) - and, while they don't make it official, <u>your haircut and attendance rate are far more important than your knowledge</u>
    • Classes like Woman studies, etc have to be taken wether you like it or not.
    • There is no way you could exam out of courses they consider "advanced" - and in Hunter this includes CSCI 335 (Algorithms and C++, I examed out of 135 and 235, why not 335 ?), "Unix tools" (hey, that's what I do on my job) and many others
    • It took them 2 years to accept my AP credits from school
    • No labs in Human sexuality course - that's why I still hadn't took the course, studying on my own

    Oh, and you'll have to pick a school based mostly on your financial abilities (I also had some issues with language when I came to US, but money was the #1 factor). There is PELL, in NY there's also TAP, etc, etc, but in reality if you don't have money you're screwed /* and if your parents are really rich you'll only need to <u>attend</u> college, instead of <u>studying</u> there)

  • Work is also very useful, but again, it depends only on you. You could write all your programs in VB, and write programs so bad that people would start asking you if you by any chance lived in Redmond, WA. You could, on the other hand, do serious coding, and write efficient algorithms. I, for one, found my college courses to be very helpful.

So again, why don't you do both. Work and study. Take evening classes. Maybe your employer would even pay part of your tuition.

Study something else instead (3.00 / 1) (#49)
by SIGFPE on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 03:46:04 PM EST

Before I went to university I had many years experience with computers and I had spent a year working for IBM. It seemed quite likely that any future career would involve computing. But I didn't do computing at university. If you study computing and work in computing then that doesn't leave much room for anything else. Spend a few years doing another subject and broaden your horizons a bit. I did mathematics (with absolutely zero computing content) and it definietly expanded my mind more than any computing course could have done. And now I work in computing.
What I did/am doing. (4.00 / 1) (#50)
by GoRK on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 04:08:03 PM EST

Like many who have commented here, I too attended the University of Planet Earth directly after graduating high school. I attended a private boarding school in Virginia, and I was the only graduating senior in some ludicrously large number of years *not* to go to college.

One of the advantages I had in not going to college was that my high school basically *was* college for my junior and senior year. I got all the basic requirements for college out of the way. I had plenty cans of beer and plenty girls.

I was suprised that even the college counselor at school couldn't really decide where I "fit in." Nobody seemed to be very astonished that I would not be going to college and nobody ever told me I was stupid for making that decision.

The last couple years have been mighty interesting. I have found some holes in my education, and I occasionally take classes at a local university to plug them. Sometimes I want to try something new so I'll go take a class to learn about it. The registrars get really upset when something isn't in my "degree plan." I just tell them that it isn't in THEIR "degree plan," and they usually stop pestering me.

My tips if you're going to do this:

AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE any company that thinks a degree magically makes you better. I have enough credits accumulated to basically pick a major and graduate. I would -- if that were the reason I went to school. The exception to this would be if some sort of special training or certification might be required. Any cool company would pay for such a thing if you have the knowledge to attain it. Avoid the ones that won't. Another exception to this rule might be if you wanted to teach a major subject to high-school level or higher students. Remember that all companies are going to be baised to you without a degree anyway, so make sure you can prove yourself first. If the company has some sort of rule that you have to have a degree... well they're probably not forward-thinking enough for you to even bother with.

KEEP UP YOUR EDUCATION - This is mainly something you do on your own time, but it can certainly include taking classes or even going to college for an extended period at some point. Keep yourself rounded.

College...without a doubt. (3.00 / 1) (#55)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 04:41:23 PM EST

Find yourself a decent liberal arts college and take all of those courses that you think are a "waste". Each of them will impact your life in hundreds of little ways that you cannot imagine now. This sounds arrogent but take the bet, it's worth it. A liberal arts school teaches you how to think, a technical school teaches you how to do. I have done and would recommend both.

There is substance to the cliam that college provides "depth" and "substance". Abbey Hoffman once described his activies during his youth as "nothing"; then qualified it with "...well, it passes for a public American education". There are pieces of information & cultural knowledge that comes in a college envrionment that will be missing from your life if you do not go. There is a culture that comes with a college eduction, one that is valued very highly in the US, at least.

If money matter to you, look at the Infoworld salary surveys. You will find a big difference for those with higher education. It pays, just check the numbers.

Another activity to demonstrate the importance of college is to check out the want ads. Cross out each job that requires a degree, there will be lots of them. Think about it, do you want to limit your options? Look at the "sexy" coding projects, most of the corporate stuff requires a degree. Why close an opportunity? Why struggle?

College is fun; parties, greeks, geeks and goofing off. Don't miss out on the fun.

The sad truth is most wash out when attempting to go to college. Take the challenge, push for it, want it, and succeed. It is one of the most vital choices that you have right now, don't put it off. Statisticly you are more likely to fail the longer you put it off.

An old frat motto:

Dare to Dream
Aim to Acheive
Strive to Succeed


Short Term vs. Long Term (4.00 / 1) (#56)
by LaNMaN2000 on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 04:44:20 PM EST

I am currently 18 and begin my Freshman year of college this fall; the question of whether or not to attend college was never an issue for me; simple economics and an evaluation of the quality of life that you can expect upon graduation are what brought me to this conclusion. Even if you do not believe that the seemingly irrelevant information that you acquire will make you a better person, taking a long-term perspective will almost always result in a decision to attend college.

In the process of determining the immediate opportunity cost of a college education, you need to multiply the salary that you are likely to earn during the four years that you would otherwise be in school (let's use $40k as a very liberal estimate) by four and adding the total cost of a college education (assume $130k, about what it will cost me). Assume that you will need to take out loans to pay for school (let's say 50% of the total tuition) at a 10% interest rate compounded on the unpaid balance over 5 years (a high estimate, considering salaries after graduation) that it will cost to pay them off. In this example, the cost of a college education is $307,863.47 (assuming $1,381.06 monthly payment on loan, with $17,863.47 total interest (calculation by http://www.autosite.com/new/loanlse/calc.asp ).

Now, consider the benefits of a college education. At the school I will be attending, the average salars of a CS grad is close to $50k with some students earning $65k+, depending on experience. In addition to being able to obtain management positions in the future and have your salary adjusted accordingly, you will be able to work for organizations that would not even consider people without a degree. One of my friends, entering his senior year, will be offered a job upon graduation, for the company he is now interning with, with a starting salary above $65k. The company he is working for will not hire anybody for IT without a college degree. Assume you could earn $50k after graduation with a 100% salary increase gradually over 20 years as you gain experience (it is easier to get promotions with a degree), while you would only get a 50% salary increase on your $40k without a college degree. In this example, you would earn $400k more with a degree over the 20 year period, more than enough to justify your initial opportunity cost.

There are also quality of life issues to be considered. Aside from the fact that you might actually enjoy college, you would be able to more easily switch jobs with a degree, to find work that always interests you. You may meet a future spouse at college.

Granted, there is a higher opportunity cost involved for some people. If you have developed an interesting concept that you could develop into a company, perhaps. In fact, many of the Fortune 500 CEOs never finished college (Fortune mag had an article on the opportunity cost of college about a year ago). You should at least attend college while you develop your idea, so that you will at least have a degree to fall back on if you fail. Also, at college, you will be provided for, for four years, and you will have a lot of free time wherever you go. So, you could have time to develop your idea with relative security, without wondering where your next meal will come from. Some colleges have rules against this practice, but, in interviews, some of the universities' admissions representatives even went so far as to encourage me to break them (without telling anyone, though). Many schools are revising their policies to allow students to start companies on campus and those that are not will probably be open to reconsider their policies.

In short, if you are on track to be the next Richard Branson, then maybe college is not for you, but if the alternative is working in IT and being a <i>virgin</i> instead of starting the company, then attending college makes dollars and sense.


Lenny Grover -- link-spamming to make Google give me my name back!
Re: Short Term vs. Long Term (4.00 / 1) (#64)
by tzanger on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 10:48:55 PM EST

In addition to being able to obtain management positions in the future and have your salary adjusted accordingly

This has been brought up before and I still haven't had anyone give me proof.

Why the hell do you need a university/college degree to be in management? You pay your dues by working the shit grunt work and do a good job (good enough to teach others how you're doing it so well) and you're in management. Your degree means nothing there.

Also your comments about pay are out of whack in my opinion. Entry level jobs are entry level jobs. You may get an extra $5k - $10k if you've got a degree, but take the grad and the non-grad 5 years down the road. It's skill, desire and drive which gets you noticed and promoted, not your degree.

Let's take the grad and non-grad and have them both quit and move to another job in the same industry. Will the next employer care about the degree? No. I've personally experienced this and seen it in a dozen other companies. The hiring staff want to know what you did in your last job and how it applies to the one you are trying to get.

Repeat after me. Degrees get you in the door, but motivation, skill and personality get your forward.

[ Parent ]
YAGTCP (3.00 / 1) (#58)
by bsletten on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 05:33:29 PM EST

(That's Yet Another Go-To-College-Post)

Yes, you can get a job not going to college. Sometimes, even a good one. But most of the really interesting computer jobs will require theory and a background that will be much more difficult to pick up on your own (unless you are a tremendously-disciplined person).

Even still, college isn't just about learning a "thing", it is about learning to "think". Two of the most important classes I took to improve my critical thinking skills (because of the professor) were "Death" and "Medicine and Ethics", hardly career-propelling content.

Not everyone needs to go to college. Not everyone *SHOULD* go to college. But, for the people who *WILL* benefit from the experience, you will come away a much better, more well-rounded individual.

Two words: Ars Digita (2.00 / 2) (#59)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 06:23:40 PM EST

Many of the benefits of computer *science* (i.e. _theory_ and practice, not just unix sysadmin skills) can be had via Ars Digita University, which is a one year post-university program in Cambridge, Mass. If you have over a 1400 sat (which they require anyway) they might let you in right after high school. http://arsdigita.org/university/ That said, you could also just get your cisco certification, and immediately get a six figure income as a cisco sysadmin.

Re: Two words: Ars Digita (4.00 / 2) (#61)
by baka_boy on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 08:34:05 PM EST

They will not take you directly after high school. You are required to have a bachelor's degree and good four-year college transcript to even apply.

[ Parent ]
To go? No? (3.00 / 1) (#60)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 08:07:44 PM EST

I thought I could be a programmer. My dad wanted me to be a programmer. I entered computer-related stuff on my 'intent' card....

And now I'm a political science major.

Look, I know you think you know what you want to do. And maybe you're sick of high school, of all school, and think that you know what you need to know to do your job. But, to chorus with many others who have responded here (and on "Ask Slashdot" articles), college may not give you the most technical training for the dollar, but it gives you other stuff that you might regret not having, later. And I'm not talking about whether or not companies will hire or promote you. I'm talking about the atmosphere and easy socialization and broadening field of wisdom. It may not be necessary for your job -- heck, I'm a tech writer -- but it might help you as a citizen (political science), as a life-form (bio/chem/physics), as a consumer and investor (economics), as a writer of love poems and/or as a person with feelings (psychology, sociology, literature)... If you have seen these as useless, you have not had good teachers in those subjects.

The other day, I was explaining to a friend of mine Plato's theory of forms, which is that every object in our physical world is but an imperfect copy of its "form," its ideal model, in heaven. As we walked through campus, a random person came up to us and said, "Plato's theory of forms, right?" See, even if you learn about this stuff on your own, reading books, college is deliberately set up to get lots of people thinking about these things and arguing and expanding consciousnessess, like an open-source kind of thing, debugging each others' beliefs and arguments. That might not be so easy to find, later.

If you choose to go to college, go to the right college. Somewhere where the students seem alive and active and interested in LEARNING, not just getting through the four years. Visit the campus -- this is a must! Check to see that they have MORE THAN ONE "good department." That way you'll have SOME variety in your intellectual diet. And remember, "things that you don't need" could be things that you enjoy -- kinda like sci-fi, good movies, and explosions -- aka literature, film, and chem. <-;

college is way more fun then work. (2.00 / 1) (#62)
by Nyarlathotep on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 08:37:14 PM EST

Shure, you can get a coding job without going to collage, but collage is a hell of a lot more fun the work. You will just end up doing the same shit day after day at work. College gives you the chance to learn new and interesting things (functional programming, combanitorics, complexity theory). That's way more fun then a stupid web job. Plus, there are a lotm ore girls you age at college then at a computer company.
Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
What should a math challenged person do going into (none / 0) (#63)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 09:00:44 PM EST

I am going to be junior in High school, and Math is not one of my major strongholds. I really like working in networking and building computers, but am bad at programming, and most math past Alg II.
I have looked at various colleges for comp programs and tipically all that they have are MIS or Comp Sci programs that do not get all that much into networks. There are very good technical colleges here in Wisconsin, but It just seems like that I probly wouldn't get such a good job with just a two year degree. Are there any colleges in the US or Canada that would have good computer networking programs? Right now My favorite subjects are history, and Chemistry, and I really can't apply that easily to a computer related job. (The chem that uses computers is too math intensive)
Are there any jobs such as a library science that would have a good tie in with computer networking? I really don't want to end up spending 4 years learning programming that I won't use, or having to drop out because of too much math. If you have any answers reply to this comment, or feel free to email me at bornslippy@mindspring.com

I used to be horrible at math (none / 0) (#69)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 12:51:39 AM EST

It sounds like what you want to do is computer engineering. You may be able to get the networking training you want at a tech school or in some certification program but, as many others in this thread have advised, it's better to learn how to think about this stuff, not just learn how to do some specific (soon-to-be obsolete) tasks.

Don't be discouraged by accademic programs just because the math is hard. Yes, some of the math and physics classes you would take are very hard. But anyone can learn math. God knows I struggled my way through it. Always remember: your professors ARE PAYED TO HELP YOU PASS.

[ Parent ]

Re: What should a math challenged person do going (none / 0) (#81)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 01:10:41 PM EST

if you're bad at math now... you'll either be good at math after finishing your CS degree, or you won't have one at all.

[ Parent ]
Go to college! (longish) (3.00 / 1) (#65)
by dpotter on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 10:52:15 PM EST

I didn't graduate from college. I do quite well financially. I feel that (in my case) a degree probably wouldn't have enabled a higher salary. Who cares? Higher salaries are not what's important about higher education.

At 32, my feelings regarding higher education differ markedly from what they did when I was 17: At that time, I felt that a college education would probably be of value to my career and could enable a higher overall quality of life due to the increased salary potential available to the degreed.

I attended college while working full-time in a growing tech company. After a few years in the job force, I discovered that (in my unique situation) I was able to achieve a comfortable living without a degree. I dropped out. Guess what? I was right. I continued to do well.

So, I guess I realized around 19 that advanced education wasn't (necessarily) about getting a better job. It probably took another 10 years before I realized what it was about: self-improvement.

Trust me: At 17/18/19, you have the potential to be successful beyond your furthest imagining in any field you desire. You can achieve anything you set out to achieve. Ultimately, you will set your own limits.

You're making the decision today regarding where those limitations will be. The more you can improve yourself now, the less you'll feel those limitations in the years to come.

Do I wish I had made the decision complete my higher education and get my degree?
Do I think I would be making more money today?
Probably not.
Do I judge my own self-worth in terms of salary?
Do I judge my own self-worth in terms of knowledge?
Do I judge my self-worth by my ability to improve myself?

And if all that doesn't convince you, then just consider that you can choose between a small cube with a noisy fluorescent light, or spending four years at beer busts surrounded by young coeds who are away from home for the first time, and just now old enough to drink.


Re: Go to college! (longish) (none / 0) (#68)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 12:49:18 AM EST

Awesome post.


[ Parent ]
go to college (3.00 / 1) (#66)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 11:10:06 PM EST

and you will get laid better and more often than any other time or place in your life. Is there really any question?

Go to a good school! (2.00 / 1) (#67)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jul 20, 2000 at 11:53:44 PM EST

I was in your predicament about two years ago. I was attending a BigTen University at the time and hated my liberal arts classes. I didn't see the purpose in them. I thought that they were a waste of time and not applicable to technology. I then left the university to attend DeVry. One of my good friends, who knew better, told me not to do it. He was right, what a mistake! A school like DeVry, or even teaching yourself, will just teach you processes. They don't teach you how to think about the big picture and they can't teach you how to be creative and imaginative. Currently I work with a person who recieved a 4 year BS degree from a DeVry school. He has taken and passed classes like VB, C, C++, and Java and he still doesn't know how to program. I mean he can't even do a hello world in any of them. Does that tell you something?

On the other hand you have the University experience. Man was I a naive boy! I did go back to my University after one trimester at DeVry. Coming back to a "real" school was one of the best decisions of my life. When you are young you tend to be a little stupid. A good university will open your mind and expand your thought processes. You will begin to think critically and abstractly. Something very few people experience without higher learning. I hope you get the picture. Anything other than a real university is a HUGE WASTE OF TIME! If you ever want to do anything remotely cool in your professional career then go to the best school you can get into and if you can't afford it then take out loans!!!! Either go to a real school or don't go at all! (!!!flamebait!!!)

Re: Go to a good school! (none / 0) (#82)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 06:53:44 PM EST

I currently go to a "good school" and have found it to be a complete waste of time. I have had several classes in which I have come out knowing less than when I entered -- I mean literally. I knew all about Gibbs free energy in HS chemistry but after intro chem in college I couldn't even pass the exam (well, not well anyway).

As you'll no doubt be told millions of times, any education (any experience, for that matter) is only what you make of it. I regret to this day going to the school that I go to despite the supposed prestige of its name. While you may have a better chance at getting an "education" at a four-year school, that doesn't mean you won't learn anything at a trade school. I'm thinking of going to a DeVry-esque school after graduation if I can't get a job. That ought to look good on the old resume -- "1997 to 2001: <ivy league school>. 2001 to 2002: DeVry."

In the words of a great man, don't let school get in the way of a good education.

[ Parent ]
Re: Go to a good school! (Learning less??) (none / 0) (#84)
by Anonymous Hero on Sun Jul 23, 2000 at 10:14:55 AM EST

Grief... I think I've heard this before...

If you think you are "understanding less", there's obviously something wrong in the ego department. As someone who's been on the other side of the fence (teaching physics) you have to get students through the hurdle that what they learned in high school was often a simplification of the real world.

College is the time to learn and deal with complexity. It's tough, but the reward is ultimately worth it.

[ Parent ]
(3.00 / 1) (#70)
by ameoba on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 01:26:57 AM EST

Of course, you can get a great job, and make loads of money without a college degree. I know lots of guys making more money than my parents, and they never even finished highschool. But they're doing stuff like admin and web design. Which, if its your bag, is fine. Hell, one can even learn to program pretty well without a formal education.
However there are a lot of things you pick up at college, both technical and not.
The big difference between somebody who's gone to Enormous State University and a graduate of the Hard Knox Accademy isn't their level of proficiency. A lot of it comes down to what else you know. Yeah, all those history, lit and social science classes may suck while you're taking them, and while they may not directly change the way you see the world, there's somethign to be said about understanding the world outside of computers. If it doesn't make you money, it still helps out when dealing with people. How many times have you had to talk to somebody and noticed their lack of education? Education isn't just about getting yourself a job. Really.
On the technical side of things, without a solid grounding in math, your horizons are somewhat limited. All the nice little abstract things, algorithms, whatever, are just not comming along. And it's the abstract ideas that are behind new technology. Understanding the ideas makes figuring out implimentations trivial.

So, if you're concerned about money, go to tech school or teach yourself. However if understanding things outside of computers, and being a more interesting human being, by all means go to school.
There is more to life than money. For one thing, it's really difficult to impress chicks with your knowledge of computers... But, that French Literature class I took...

Go to the biggest research university you can get (3.00 / 1) (#71)
by yuri on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 01:48:28 AM EST

First a college degree can be many very different things. It dosen't even matter what subject you take (if you are self taught and proficient coder/admin you can always get a high paying job, just keep your skills fairly polished), just pick a subject you find interesting. If you get bored with it pick another.

Types of colleges:
small liberal arts with good professors

   -great if you want to be spoon fed your courses and good for learning subjects that are not easily learned on your own (non math/science/eng)

large research universities with professors who care little about teaching and focus on research and large graduate programs

   -great for people who can learn on their own especially in math/science/technology fields. These schools have potentially unlimited opportunities for learning anything you want and meeting/interacting with the broadest range of people.

University is a not just a chance for you to sample possible careers and become proficient in a field but a chance to meet and understand people from all walks of life with a multitude of opinions and attitudes. Its not what you learn in your signals and systems course that matters but the wild conversations you have with people you randomly interact with and who become your lifelong friends that matters. The girl (or boy) you meet who changes your definition of your self. The experience of cramming an entire course of material into your head the night before an exam, aceing the course and deciding that your future career will be in that subject now that you understand it. The university experience teaches you about the diversity of thoughts that are whirling around this world and the type of people who have those thoughts.

I suggest that you choose the largest/highest caliber research university you can find, the first year you will feel like an outsider, if you are bright and motivated, by your 3rd year you will have likely found a field and research group that suits you, met thousands of people, and have a much better appreciation of the possibilities in this world.

If need be, this is worth going into debt for.....you are one of the lucky ones, you can always get a computer related job to pay those debts if no other career grabs you more. Don't miss out on the opportunity it only comes once in life for most people.


Narrow horizons (3.00 / 1) (#72)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 02:59:31 AM EST

Most of the people posting here are posting from a typically American viewpoint. There's something else to consider, though: working internationally.

Quite simply, it is far, far easier to work in a foreign country if you have a degree. If you want to do volunteer work in a developing country, a degree is almost mandatory. To work in Japan, where I am now, likewise.

Companies may be flexible when it comes to evaluating job skills vs. qualifications, but government bureaucrats aren't. You may well be refused a great assignment in an exotic (or just interesting) country, because it is difficult or impossible to get you a visa.


Re: Narrow horizons (4.00 / 1) (#73)
by wozz on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 03:38:14 AM EST

I spent 2-3 years working all over Europe without a college degree. Never had a problem getting a visa. Very few of the folks i was working with had degrees either, and none of them had problems getting visa's. Just as with everything, it depends on your skillset. If the company you are working for needs you bad enough, they will do everything they can to get you one.
OpenBSD - A Better Solution
[ Parent ]
You've answered your own question (3.00 / 1) (#74)
by hubie on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 09:18:49 AM EST

If you think you'd be wasting your time "learning things you don't need," then you shouldn't consider college. I think a large number of people in college shouldn't have attended in the first place because they only care about putting in the minimum effort and finding all the "gut courses" and sliding out with a passing grade and the sheepskin. If you think learning about anything else than what you are currently interested in is a waste of time, you would be better off in a trade school learning what it is you want to learn. Otherwise you would be wasting your time as well as your professor's and classmate's.

College Considered Harmful (4.50 / 2) (#75)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 09:54:55 AM EST

I never bothered with college. Now I'm a senior project manager at $20 billion global e-commerce corporation, running $1 - $10 million engagements. I make a very nice six-figure salary, with excellent benefits and an amazing amount of freedom in the way I run my projects.

Lots of Ph.D.s get in airplanes and fly thousands of miles when I tell them to.

Re: College Considered Harmful (3.33 / 3) (#80)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 01:00:47 PM EST

If you were as smart as you claim you are, you'd realize that you're the exception, not the rule.

[ Parent ]
Longer term perspective (2.00 / 1) (#76)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 09:55:56 AM EST

Do the college thing. Long term you will no doubt wish you had. Most large organizations, even technical ones, hire and promote people who have a college background. At some point you may want to grow professionally beyond a technical role, and a college degree will be invaluable in making that happen. Besides, there is far more to learn in college than you will find in the classrooms.

Colleges Are Not All The Same, So It Depends (4.50 / 2) (#77)
by Carnage4Life on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 09:57:01 AM EST

It is interesting that I keep bumping into people who feel that simply because they learned how to program (which anyone can learn on their own) outside of school, then school is somehow useless.

Computer science programs vary widely across the board. At my girlfriend's college half of the junior and senior curriculum is stuff like Intro to C++ and Creating Applications in Visual Basic. While at my school the sophomore classes are Compilers & Translators (last semester we implemented the Unix utility "make" and wrote a Lisp to C translator and they were both due the same week) and Systems & Networks (create your own RPC program and protocol). Also before graduation each student has to work on a senior project which involves shipping a live product to a company. Now with this education I am currently pulling down a decent amount while interning which by current reckoning is as much as most people in industry are making now after a few years of real world experience.

Most of the actual programming syntax I have learned has been on my own time (I know C, C++, Java, Perl, Javascript, VBScript, SmallTalk and VisualBasic). There are various aspects of software engineering and database design I would not have learned without school, either because I would never have come across them while simply hacking or because they would have been too much work and not enough fun to learn on my own. Things like how and why a database should be normalized, how to design and implement grammars, using lex and yacc, how to create a requirements document from informal specifications and then converting the requirements document to a design document with data models and UML diagrams, compiler design and implementation details, various methods of dynamic memory allocation, proper object oriented design and implementation of neural networks. All these things I have learned in school and I still have over a year to go. Before I graduate I plan to take classes in AI (I'm interested in creating Internet Agents), advanced software engineering and next generation database technology (such as OO databases). The things I will learn in these classes are things that I would probably never have come across if I was simply hacking at code and buying O'reilly books to learn what I needed about CS.

Some kids at my school like reminding the freshman students who make comments like yours that our graduates don't use tools but instead make the tools that others use. The language designers, compiler writers and internet architects of this world are college educated. If all you want to do is go out and hack code a college degree is perhaps overkill (then again it widens your marketability - I have been offered positions working on compilers for strongARM chips using C/assembly as well as doing server side integration using Java, XML, Perl, & SQL) but realize this, what seperates usually seperates a Software Engineer from Code Monkey is usually a college degree.

What kind of Flame Warrior are you?

Re: Colleges Are Not All The Same, So It Depends (4.00 / 1) (#88)
by sporty on Wed Sep 20, 2000 at 10:25:53 AM EST

Great response, but you answered the wrong question. As you point out, you learned something from your school. Other people learn other things. Regardless of the degree of difficulty, you are at ground zero without going to school. No proof that you know anything or can learn anything.

[ Parent ]
Go now! Run! (4.50 / 2) (#78)
by jabber on Fri Jul 21, 2000 at 10:52:56 AM EST

You've said something worrisome in your question.
"You do not want to *waste* 4 years by learning biology and other subjects. "

This is a very dangerous approach - IMO of course.

The point of college/University education is to (in order):
1. teach you to think in broad directions.
2. expose you to a wide variety of fields, among which you can choose a career
3. give you skills applicable to the world at large.

If you want to take on a career as a coder, that's fine, but it's a narrow view of your opportunities. It's very much like choosing to be a plumber. There will always be work for you, but at the age of 45, you'll find yourself very limited in your options. Building skills is crucial, but climbing that mountain to get a broader perspective is just as important. Learning only 'trade-skills' in the technology sector will pigeon-box you into always having to follow someone elses instructions.

Incredible things can be done by applying knowledge from one field into practical use in another, and if you consider learning Biology to be a *waste* of your time, you're shutting the door on a lot of opportunities.

Consider: If you go to college, you may fall in love with a non-computer related field (as if there was such a thing). You may find it more rewarding than coding, and it will improve your life. Consider further: If you find that you enjoy a non-computer field, but also continue to love computers, you will be in a position to greatly benefit that field; or the field of computing.

Hypothetically: You take a few courses in CS and Linguistics, and these two fields click for you, and you go on to develop break-thru speach recognition software or speach synthesis software. Or you really take to Biology after all, and pursue cybernetics. Or you minor in Graphic Design, and turn out to be the best Web-designer that ever lived.

The point is that college forces you (through required curricula) to open your mind to other fields, and it makes them accessible to you in a structured and organized way. It 'primes the pump' if you will, for you to continue learning in an intelligent, effective way. It will/should convince you that there is no field of study that is a *waste*; they're all relevant, and they all are there to serve you. There will, of course, be classes you absolutely hate. Those you only have to pass. But there will also be classes that will suddenly fill in some gap in your mind, that you didn't even know was there. And as a result, you'll have a unique understanding of seemingly unrelated problems.

You will meet people from all over the world, and all over the spectrum of experience, who will compound the education you receive. You will be changed by the process. Many people who choose not to go to College claim that it is not worthwhile. Very few people who do go agree with that statement.

Go! Go now! Man, I wish I had the money to give you, so you'd not have to worry about that aspect of it. I think that it is THAT valuable, that if I had the money to spare, I would hand it over to you, if it would make the choice easier. All I CAN give you is that I completely believe in the value of higher education. I have no way to pay your way because I am already paying for my girlfriend's degree. It's that important.

Even if you do not find it useful in the practical sense; and I very much doubt that; you will see the world with different eyes afterwards. You may miss some short-term earning potential, but you'll make up for it in spades afterwards.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Not for everyone... (4.00 / 1) (#83)
by frood on Sat Jul 22, 2000 at 10:58:48 AM EST

OK, here's a story, take it as one purely subjective opinion: I did not finish college. I am currently 21, and have been employed for over 3 years in an extremely well paying position as a Solaris Sysadmin at a very large corporation. This position has also led me to being a regular contributor to SysAdmin, and a co-author on a recent Solaris book. However, before telling you that life is wonderful without college, I'd like you to consider the following. I spent my entire childhood and adolescence training to do this. My life was lived in books, not out being a kid or having what might objectively be considered fun. I enjoyed it. I certainly learned a lot, though, as I had decided at an early age that school-based teaching was not something I was capable of learning from. I have been hacking UNIX since age 11 or so, but beyond that I put myself through rigorous courses (and took mentorship wherever I could get it) on such 'useless' topics as creative writing, physics, and logic. I was also an intern for years at a Planetarium where I learned gobs of science and math in an informal setting. I can't stress the importance of having a broad base from which to draw. College can provide that for you, but don't let anyone tell you that you cannot find it yourself with a modicum of self-discipline. Being intellectually well-rounded is far more important than being a geek-stud.

The one important caveat I would have for you is that it is extremely difficult to re-integrate yourself with people your own age after leaving college. Most of my friends are older than I (as young as 25, but as old as 31) and you will generally find that unless your business of choice is a .com, you will not be working with people at your stage in life. The other important thing I've learned is that money is not everything -- a lucrative career may look phenomenal from your vantage point, but in retrospect I'd say that I've missed a lot of qualatative experiences which I cannot return to. Going to a college party now, I'm even more of an outcast than I used to be! Not based on personality, but simply perspective.

So, take this information as you will. I do not regret my choices, as they have led me down many thrilling and interesting paths. I definitely realize that this direction is not for everyone, though, and would urge you to carefully weigh the intellectual foundation on which you base your ambition before proceeding.

Good luck to you!

if you don't go to college when you're young... (3.00 / 1) (#85)
by anonymous cowerd on Sun Jul 23, 2000 at 01:44:21 PM EST

...you won't ever in the rest of your life have the time and opportunity to do it later. Yeah, sure, you read in the newspaper about so-and-so who went back and got his degree at age 50 - why do you think that story made it into the newspaper? Because it was so freakishly rare, that's why!

You'll miss too much good stuff if you pass up your chance to go to college. If you you're lucky enough to have a shot at a college degree, do it.

Yours WDK - Wkiernan@concentric.net

"This calm way of flying will suit Japan well," said Zeppelin's granddaughter, Elisabeth Veil.

to each his own (1.00 / 1) (#86)
by orcslicer on Tue Sep 19, 2000 at 05:25:18 AM EST

It's really a decision you have to make for yourself.

My crappy little story:

I kinda got forced to going where I went to school (applied to 5 schools, after i got 5 acceptances, my mother tells me we can only afford 2. Why didn't you fill out a FAFSA? "Because it looks like we have money, and we don't." "WHAT?!?!?"), and it is an engineering school in NYC. There was no real social life. It was pretty hardcore for doing engineering stuff, and from the start I planned to do sysadmin when I graduated, but I eventually couldn't take the environment. It wasn't social, it was hell.

I had an internship from my 2nd month in school, and I got more absorbed in that. Went full time after the end of my 4th semester (shitty time schoolwise, painful family problems, the whole mess), and then I quit that after 6 months full time. However, I have more friends from that job (drugs and rock 'n' roll was something I got there. remember, nerd school), and I considered working there a much more social event than the school I went to. I got a new job about 6 months ago, which I'm fed up with, but this would a be a growing pains step through it all anyway, with or without the degree.

If you are asking the question, and not bullish enough to say,"This is what I want, and I KNOW the other way is pointless," you should go to a nicely rounded college. I've seen guys who's Unix background can be summed up as "Used pine" turn into pretty servicable admins in a few months (not easy stuff either, website with an 8 figure user count), but that's because they are generally intelligent guys who's liberal arts background helped them.

I haven't looked back, but I am in NYC, where the market is pretty damn good, and I think my decisions are working for me. And knowing people is so much more important when finding a job than anything else, except for general intelligence.


-- Like anyone is going to read this, posted a few days after the original post.
I vill break you.
Re: to each his own (none / 0) (#87)
by sporty on Tue Sep 19, 2000 at 05:15:15 PM EST

Talking about poly technic university, eh? =)

[ Parent ]
To college or not to college | 88 comments (82 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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