Technical Positions and School -- Is School needed?

Hey guys,

So let me start off by saying that I was never good in school, in fact I never made it out of High school. That was about 10 years back, right now I make close to 6 figures a year with no education outside of the internet.

This question applies closely to the computer/technical related positions out in the world, so Databases, Programming and other related jobs. I have always relied on computers, from more recent things such as and long long time favs such as

I have never found an issue that I could not solve with a bit of creative thinking and those tools. Lots of technology changes in 4 years, I would be scared that if I went to a 4 year school most of what I learned would be obsolete by the time I got out.

I know its a knee jerk reaction to say that school is required, and most positions will need a 4 year degree to even be accepted. But let me be honest, the position that I work for now (Biotech in Seattle,WA) wanted a masters, I don’t have anything close to that but they still hired me. Hell, just about every job I have had required at least a GED, and I don’t have that.

What are your thoughts on this subject? I am interested in what people think about persons like me, where we never “put the time in” for a proper education.

Do you think school is still needed, with all the information that we have on the internet?

This should probably be in IMHO or GD.

It’s certainly possible to get a really good technical job if you’re self taught, just don’t expect it to be easy. My Girlfriend’s dad is a College drop out, and is self taught in computer engineering making a very good living.

It’s mostly about applying to just the right business or meeting the right guy at the right time. It’s doable to great success, you’re evidence of it, but it’s a huge gamble – it’s like becoming a rich leading man in Hollywood. Sure, without might become the next Brad Pitt, but what are the odds? Just so with this, you MIGHT become a 500k a year engineer, but there are probably quite a lot of other perfectly motivated, smart individuals that figured they didn’t need school (or couldn’t afford it, couldn’t attend for family reasons, etc) and are homeless or juggling three fast food jobs right now (maybe the more lucky ones became managers).

I don’t think you’re dumb, or anything like that if that’s what you’re insinuating people think about you. I also don’t think you figured out the magic secret to society where if you’re motivated enough you’ll buck all those silly education requirements. I also don’t doubt that you worked very hard to get where you are. However, that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of your success can probably be attributed to being in the right place, talking to the right person, at the right time (not that college grads are immune to needing this either, it’s just more important for someone without formal education).

ETA: Though computer jobs have always been a bit funny. It’s not necessarily common, but certainly not rare to see a well paid guy who is a basement hacker rather than a Comp Sci grad.

Sorry if this was placed in the incorrect section, if a mod would like to move it that’s fine! :slight_smile:

I agree with you, I got into my position by talking to the correct people and also not being scared that I did not know enough to do the job.

I do feel that it takes a certain personality to make it without the paperwork. I know lots of my friends that will not apply to any positions where it requires a cert or degree that they don’t have. I myself never let that limit me, I will apply and go in person to the location, follow up a week later and follow up some more lol.

With that said, I HAVE been turned down because of not having the needed school, and I can accept that. Lots of people get mad because I never spent the money to go to school, some feel like I “cheated”.

As far as being offended, this is the internet I never let anything get to me. I do value your thoughts, good or bad. :slight_smile:

That is one of the biggest differences in a Computer Science degree today and 20 years ago.

I got my degree in 84. Our core was PL1, Adv Pl1, COBOL, Adv COBOL, Business applications programming, Accounting, Business math, and a few theoretical “Computer Science” classes our Senior year. We came out of school ready to get jobs at banks, schools, or businesses as programmers. We had the training to understand payroll, accounting, finance systems that we were expected to support.

I work at the same college. Todays Computer Science students get very little programming classes. They learn C because it’s the language the professors want assignments in. The core classes are nearly all theory. Learning to design & engineer these huge Systems. They are forced to minor in Math. Great for a job at Microsoft designing the next version of Windows. Except, real world these kids won’t find jobs like that. They’ll wind up working at some business or school just like I did in 85. Only they won’t have the skill set I had.

FWIW the last I heard, my school’s computer shop rarely hires new grads anymore. They don’t want to waste valuable time teaching these kids what they should already know.

I have always done well without a high school diploma or college but I would have done a lot better had I attended college. I know that my vocabulary and writing skills are weak and on many occassions throughout my life this has held me back. I would say yes, in the great majority of cases college is needed. I put my son though college and he passed me up in earnings by his 30th birthday.

My experience (with large corporations, mostly) has been that a college/university degree is required unless there is significant reason to believe that you kick ass. It’s worth noting, though, that most of the C-level folks I’ve worked for and with have degrees unrelated to the tech (mostly liberal arts).

Education is not just, or even mostly, about preparing you for work, it is about making you a better, well-rounded human being, and a better citizen. (It is especially important in a democracy that citizens are able to think well, and are well informed, but even non-democratic systems need a supply of intelligent, well informed functionaries.) Some people may achieve that on their own (or, rather, just with the help provided by their family), but most will not. Of course, schooling does not always work to these ends either, but over the millennia of human history, it is still the best method we have been able to come up with.

Computer science has always been about theory, not programming. It refers specifically to the kinds of things you claim are irrelevant to the “real world”. Software engineering is the discipline to which you refer, and computer science is much more valuable, because its concepts are applicable no matter what language or environment you’re working in. How valuable is your knowledge of COBOL in today’s job market?

Any person or organization who expects a fresh college graduate to know anything but theory—in any discipline—is being completely unrealistic. University classes are supposed to teach the timeless theory that you then use as a foundation for the rest of your life, not double as vocational training.

Was your degree literally “Computer Science” or something else, since by your list you only did a few computer science courses in your senior year?

The problem is that Computer Science is actually the weird theoretical stuff, but most people going into those programs these days are hoping to learn the vocational skill of “programming” or “software design” instead. And they often get some inkling of that skill through their CS degrees, but that’s not meant to be the point. And it’s not like CS departments really want to turn these people away, either: They really help pay the bills.

Essentially it’s the “university is not job training” issue in microcosm.

My company has a fairly strong internship program. It’s not unusual for us to get fresh-outs who did an internship with us or someone else, and hit the ground running when they get hired for the real job.

Then again, we also get our share of fresh outs who clearly will be good employees, but need to see what the real world is like.


Vapid2323 could you give a little more detail on your position?

It’s extremely rare in biotech to find people who don’t have at least an undergraduate degree. Unless it’s in manufacturing.

Not that biotech is particularly hard, but because just being smart generally isn’t good enough. you need a specific and shared body of knowledge upon which to leverage your smarts and to communicate with.

This of course gets less true the farther you get from early discovery/research.

My current position is in research. No Way in hell I could be here without specific education. Although a significant portion of my skills are self-taught outside of school. I can’t replace the context that school gave me.

In my experience, there are three things that have to be true for someone to be successful in a technical field without a degree/much college:

First, they have to happen to be interested in something that happens to be profitable. Very few people will sit down and teach themselves to program or whatever if they don’t enjoy it. The people I know like the OP all spent several years fucking around on computers for hours and hours in and right after high school. That kind of self-immersion requires enthusiasm for the task itself. People that were just as obsessive about Star Wars or playing their drum set needed to go to college to learn a marketable skill.

Second, they need to be motivated, either intrinsically or extrinsically, to make a living. I knew plenty of computer-astute types who didn’t see themselves as “adults”, who really just wanted pizza and dope money, and so never looked beyond a job that could pay for that. People like that need to go to college to learn to think of themselves and their work in a different way, to come to believe they are adults.

Third, it’s got to be the right time. The early-to-mid 90s were a great time for non-college grads to go into technology. Local mom-and-pop ISPs provided a perfect training ground: they weren’t willing or able to pay for college grads, they tended to promote quickly as they expanded, and since so much was in flux, there was no pool of veteran workers to compete with: the memory and stamina of a young person were assets, and the lack of experience irrelevant. Furthermore, they were small enough that over 2-3 years a young enthusiast could learn everything about the business and have a real chance of seeing their own ideas and innovations put into practice. Furthermore, for the slightly more experienced, the tech boom created such a demand for technical workers that a lack of degree wasn’t an issue at all. And, finally, the internet tied all these technical people together (at a time when plenty of people didn’t have email) and made professional networking much easier for the first time. People graduating in the middle of a recession and without a booming new industry where no one is an expert may need to go to college.

The smartest computer programming guy I know dropped out of high school - in a school full of underachievers, and questionable teachers, he was bored. Of course, he’d been playing with computers since his dad bought him a TRS-80 at age 6, and even helped his dad’s computer business. What he did not get from that, I helped him with.

In a discussion once at work about this, my point was - a year college is probably worth about 2 years of real-world experience in the field. In college they make an effort to teach you everything (usually?) and give you a variety of exposure; it may be years before you learn that lesson working in the real world. College will teach you 10 different search algoriths and 10 different indexing methods in 1 class - the real wolrd, you may not have time to learn. (OTOH yes, there are some real-world situations college can’t teach).

However, the other observation - a college is a filter, not a guarantee. If you got a degree, you are more likely to be smart, but I have seen smart fools from college, and smart self-taught people.

As of the OP’s question about formal credentials, it’s a good way to weed out the ones with a good patter and interview skills but zero understanding of the topics needed to do the job. If you’ve been there for years and they see that you can do the job, they don’t need to demand the paperwork to promote you - provided HR with their rigid rules allows that. It may even be a bonus - they don’t need to pay someone so much if they don;t have the specialist masters’.

Also, college isn’t just about picking up technical knowledge. It’s also about becoming an educated person who knows a little about history, who can discuss the theme of a novel, who can test a scentific theory, and who can write a concise paper illustrating a point.

There are different kinds of tech.

There are some kinds of tech jobs that you can teach yourself, and some that you can’t. Computer geeks can start playing with electronics at age 11, and end up knowing more than a college grad.

Auto mechanics , back in say 1950, were almost exclusively self-taught. Today, things are more complicated, but you can still learn almost all you need from tinkering at home.

But Bio-technology, for example, isnt quite as easy to do in your living room at age 11.
Or, say, designing the concrete foundations of small residential buildings. It doesnt require a full civil engineering degree,( and if you really wanted to, you could read the text books at home in your living room and learn enough)—but it’s not likely that you’ll get a job if you dont have a formal certificate from a college.