Had an excellent meeting yesterday with a tech superstar (let us call him Dave). Dave has worked in (and sold) many companies, designed a real time operating system, developed a programming language currently in use, designed uber cool software components still being used by a big name ERP software provider. When I asked him about his educational background, Dave casually mentioned that he didn’t have much. Really, no big surprise there – some very big names in software have come from all kinds of schools, and some very big names have been dropouts etc, and some never stepped inside school to begin with. The value of school of life is well understood.
Also well understood is that there are many aspects of formal education which helps many people have a better grasp of their work. Some concepts are easier learnt in a structured program (at least for many people), than in a work environment.
In a certain respect, direct high school -> college -> graduate school -> job route can be considered to be a bottom up approach. Students have a structured path of learning, and they learn all the base steps and continue to build on those blocks, and are then ready for a super job. (Does this approach look similar to Dynamic Programming to you?) Along the path, students may question the relevance of certain classes, and can get a bit frustrated if neither the professor’s lucid explanations and war stories, nor the associate dean’s topological sort dependency diagram of classes are readily available.
The alternate route, high school -> job -> undergraduate -> job -> graduate route can be considered to be a top down, or greedy approach. Students start by learning what they can at their job, figure out what more they need to learn, go back to school to get their undergrad. Some go for masters after they have been working for a while, and benefit from what they learn. They have learnt the processes at work, are aware (somewhat) of the gaps that they have in their knowledge, and are now interested in filling those gaps.
[Umm, and there is also the slight issue of expectations. A person with the title of a senior developer with a graduate degree under his belt walks into his new job and everyone is aghast to find out that he doesn't even know how to use subversion - "Holy BSD!!" There aren't many graduate schools in the world that are going to teach someone how to use version control, and that is also not something that hard to learn, but you do have to learn it. A kid out of high school walks in, and everyone is happy to help him check it out.]
The alternate route is the part where I have picked some of my own arguments with the rest of the academic community. Everyone learns differently, and thus either of these routes may be the right path for someone. The kids shouldn’t just go to college by default when they finish the high school. In my opinion, the freshmen are generally thinking along these lines:
I could be flipping burgers at the King
Touring the Amazon, the pyramids and the sphinx
Working a bit, saving a bit
Climbing the mountains and walking along the Ganges.
Instead, I am in this classroom
The professor knows nothing, the college feels like a hoax
The PhD Dude can’t even remember my name
But at least I am four hours away from my folks.
Currently, “living by yourself” has become a very significant portion of the college life, so much so, that everyone says - “Of course, that is a part of the college experience.” That may be the case, but if we can change a situation a bit, the kids can learn to live on their own, as well as, use the college for the kind of education experience that it was meant to provide. Kids can work a bit after high school, travel a bit, study a bit. Maybe go for an Associates degree. Then, when they are 21 or so, maybe then they feel like extending that Associates into a complete Baccalaureate, perhaps graduating when they are 23/24. That is 2 years behind the norm now, but by that time, they would have gotten some work experience, have smaller student loans and have wider perspectives on life and the world – what’s not to like about that?
Do you have an opinion on this matter?