These days you hear every tech startup founder and billion dollar company CEO state that college degrees are so last decade and tech skills are the new bachelors degree. Everyone from Elon Musk to Mark Zuckerberg have been quoted in some form or another stating as such in recent times. Based on current hiring trends and where we find ourselves in technology, this is more true now than it was 10 years ago.
In 2003 I found myself on the crossroads of life as many 18 years olds tend to do. Either go to college and follow the traditional path of graduate, get a job, get a mortgage and retire, or to get a job and pay bills and eat as soon as humanly possible. Because my grades in High School were relatively on the high end and SAT scores adequate, I made the choice to attend university. It made sense for me personally based on many factors. I had scholarships, financial aid packages and several acceptance letters to choose from.
I didn't go to college because of some grand revelation that I had at 17. I went to college because it was financially feasible and also because I was the first in my family to do so. First out of the many different branches of my family tree for decades upon decades. So setting that trend and model was also important in order to ensure that future generations in my current family had a template to go on.
So those were my primary reasons for attending. But having said that and looking back during that time, this was one of the few ways that you could ensure getting a job as software engineer. The internet was still a very young place filled with blinking banners telling users that they won prizes.
Attending and graduating college was one of the most difficult things that I have ever had to do so far in life. Way more difficult than any job that I've taken on and by far from a commitment and dedication standpoint, this was the longest period of my life where I have needed extreme focus and dedication. Add a financial burden on top of that list and you can see why today most people would wonder who would do such a thing.
I used to complain about working 12 hour days at past companies. Until I realized that in university, having a 7am - 12am day was pretty normal. Not only normal, but pretty expected. And not only expected, but actually pretty fun and satisfying to some extent.
Completing a college education has definitely been on my wall of achievements, and not because of some societal stigma associated with it. But more so with the fact that I was able to do it without stopping all the way to completion, even after seeing many friends and classmates get left behind and eventually abandon their field of study.
Even with a college degree, getting my first job wasn't exactly a simple process. There's no form that you fill out with a copy of your diploma and then you get hired. The line is the same for everyone. It might have given me more interviews during the first initial phase of my job search however, mainly because HR departments sometimes have these requirements in place of degrees. So the pool is a bit wider, but the potential for getting a job might end up being the same as someone without the degree.
It's also important to realize that in 2008 when I was driving around Los Angeles going to interview after interview, we didn't have Google Maps out yet. We had printable maps with turn by turn directions. We had to stop and read 10 pages of documentation to get anywhere. And that's if you were a technical person. Things were very manual and having your resume stand out wasn't as straight forward as it is today.
So times have changed since then. We have new ways of learning and there are now more jobs on the market than ever before. Colleges and universities probably can't produce the volume that's required to fill this growing sector. Currently, 2019-2020, it might make way more sense to bypass a formal education, save the money and invest on a few online courses and begin to build your own brand and knowledge base.
But in 2013 when I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Computer Science, there were no regrets. It was a challenge placed before me that I took on and that I completed. It taught me dedication, hard work, teamwork and how to think like a scientist. Things that while I might not formally pay attention to day in and day out, still run in the background of my life.
I am not for or against attending college. I've met fantastic engineers with college degrees during my time. And I've met amazing programmers who never stepped foot through university doors. In this life, we get to choose from many different options. Choices that might not make sense for one person, but that can absolutely work for somebody else. It is all about what you do with the choice once it has been made that really counts.
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