Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Higher Education

If you didn't see the post below, you should read that first since I haven't posted in forever. The first part of this post is historical stuff. The second part is the meat.


School. I wanted to talk about school. I went to college with everyone else. Hell, I went with everyone to Frostburg. I think I was the second to leave, or third. Third, it was Kris, then Jamie, then me I believe. I started college thinking I would do the music thing. I quickly decided to do the computer thing instead. The computer program at Frostburg SUCKED. They were still using a VMS and teaching Pascal. But, most importantly, I couldn't get anything to eat after 10 o'clock. Seriously, that was the motivating factor for me to jump schools. Stop laughing. Serious. I left because of my stomach.

So I went to Univeristy of Maryland - College Park. My Dad went to UMCP as well, also spent two years in Germany at their campus out there. I stayed in a dorm at College Park. At Frostburg I was in the trial run of the Generating Opportunities for Leadership Development (GOLD) program. As a result, I was able to get a dorm room all to myself, big one too. Now the GOLD program is fricken impossible to get into, but then...wasn't so hard. I should talk about Freedom sometime. Anyway, I was on the forth floor of Ellicot on the high speed access floor and I had a roommate. Hooked up Linux and away I went.

I'm getting away from my point here. I didn't really want to go back through everything, let me see if I can get on track. So at Frostburg my grades were pretty good. At College Park they started out ok, but things changed. Specifically, College Park offered ALOT of additional opportunities that weren't there at Frostburg. I wasn't really a sports fan until my Dad dragged me to a Terp football game. Now I live and die Maryland Football and Baseketball (yes, I was a fan of both before they were good) and I'm into the pro's as well with Football. So there is one distraction.

Oh, and you could get something to eat at College Park 24 hours a day. A 24 hour McDonald's, how cool is that? And a 24-hour computer lab in a Parking Garage!

Ahh, and thus the seeds of my downfall. A 24 hour computer lab in a parking garage a five minute walk from my dorm. Oh, and let's not forget the release of Doom. There was a period of time that I didn't see daylight for two weeks because of that game.

So here comes the dirty little secret. I failed out of college. Yup, three times. The third time I just decided to get my career going. Actually, part of the reason for the third time was because my career had started to go. I started to work with a defense contractor called Aera. Wow, did that ever turn into a good relationship when I went out on my own.


So, my thoughts on higher education. In a nutshell, it has it's place but it isn't the only way to do it anymore. I've been held back sometimes because I didn't have a degree, but I learned how to adapt and to get around it. In particular, forget about going anywhere in a government position without a degree. However, as I've progressed I've learned that experience trumps a formal education in the private sector. I've run across people that were highly educated but couldn't get the job done. In fact, while working for Aera I worked with a professor on the UMCP campus on a project for the F-22. The guy had a ton of master's and whatever else but all he was was theortical. The conversations these guys had at lunch drove it home for me. There is a place for theory, and it is important, but there is a place for practicality as well.

Have I regretted not getting my degree? From time to time I do, I even think about going back to get it. But then I think about why? It's not going to help me with where I'm at in my career now. I have a pretty good reputation that takes care of that. And when I need some of that theoritical knowledge I just call one of my Comp Sci friends and have it out with them. There is some knowledge that I could have picked up from having a degree that would have made my job easier, but the majority of what I know and have done isn't taught in college. Well, maybe it is, but how would I know, I only have people I've met with degrees that didn't know what they were doing to base it on. I think it provides a firm foundation, it provides the knowledge, but not the understanding. You need both.

Ok, this is turning long but this whole education thing has always kinda bothered me. I'm the CIO of a dot com that made it and it poised to break it wide open. I had a successfull consulting career for several years and the outlook looks good for TADOnline. And I failed out of college.


Ben said...

My dad always told me: Never let education stand in the way of learning something. Solid advice from someone who has a drgee in one field but does just about everything else.

I have a Master's Degree and I freely tell people that the only useful thing that I learned in grad school was how to drink tequila. I needed a degree to get my current job, but everything you need to know they teach you here.

It's kinda like the SATs. If you don't take them or do badly on them, people assume that you're stupid. While it could mean that you're stupid, it usually just means that you're not well motivated or don't take tests well (or at all).

Ryan said...

SATs. I stunk. But with the ACTs, I kicked ass. I think it measures two different types of intellegence. SATs measures retained knowledge - facts and figures, that kinda thing. The ACTs measure applied knowledge. I've always been better at applying concepts then memorizing details. It shows very clearly in my work.

JMc said...

First, welcome back! As with many ambitions, the blogging momentum has died down considerably in recent weeks, but I think if we all commit to something realistic, like updating once a week, we'll still accomplish the original goal of keeping in touch better than we had before. Second, a minor correction to your post: you were the second to leave FSU, I was the third. Part of my departure was related to you and Kris having left and Telemeco having joined a fraternity and thus becoming too cool to hang out with me. Plus, I had a girlfriend in Baltimore and, as you point out, their computer science program wasn't very good (although I was only minoring in CS at the time, but that's a whole other can of worms).

Anyway, I believe the key ingredients to a successful career are education and experience. Education need not be a formal college one, but it surely helps and opens a lot of doors. In a more structured work environment, it can shave years off of the requirements to be promoted to the next level. But, having a degree on paper is worthless if you don't know what you're doing. We've all encountered the types of people you mention, those that have multiple degrees but no clue. You've been pretty lucky without a college degree, and I think it suits you. After all, you've always been more of a risk-taker and adventurer. I prefer more structure, so I've invested a lot in formal education, but I also make sure I'm in touch with the practical, not just the theoretical. School helps you to learn the basics, but in the programming world, there is no substitute for hands-on experience!

Dave said...

> So, my thoughts on higher education. In
> a nutshell, it has it's place but it
> isn't the only way to do it anymore.

I'm not sure it ever really was the only way ;). I think the academia/industry dichotomy has pretty much always existed, and some folks fall on one side, some fall on the other, and some straddle it. I'm inclined to agree with the above (Jamie). I've never been much of a theorist, but I don't regret my education in the least. Occasionally, while I'm working out a problem, I do find that it helps me out.

You have this uncany knack of picking up complex ideas -- or at least enough to get you by -- by picking peoples' brains for a little while, and by asking the right questions. I don't have that (you bastard), or at least it doesn't come as easily to me, so when I'm in a situation like that I often fall back on my "formal" education.

I, too, have worked with plenty of people with an M.S. in computer science who couldn't produce a working product if their lives depended on it. I think there are a couple of different reasons for it, but you seem to be tackling one in particular (w/re: F-22 project). For some people, that's just not their focus. They exist in the world of academic research where you're paid by grants which are awarded because you publish interesting research (which need not yield a marketable product). There's nothing wrong with that. It's just a different universe than that of industry. Different incentives. Different economics. The problems come in when you're trying to produce a real product and someone from that universe is blocking you from doing so -- usually because he's been given some authority that he shouldn't have or because the person directly above both of you succumbs to the mental masturbation. That pisses me off to no end, and as much as I want to hate this other individual, he's not the one I hold responsibe. It's the manager's job to focus and see the big picture, and s/he has dropped the ball.