Matt Moran at IT Toolbox started a nice little earner :) by arguing against degree qualifications. Did he really argue against going to university? Yes. If people acted on the basis of “your degree is nearly worthless”, nobody would be spending that money and taking time off their valuable productive capacity by skiving for three years.
There are some who argue that any degree is worthwhile, for a number of reasons: the knowledge learnt, to learn how to learn, for the discipline or the work ethic attained. Then others will argue that there’s nothing there that can’t be learnt on the job – and it’s paid.
There’s an element of truth to both perspectives, although I suggest that the greater formalisation and depth of knowledge purveyed at university are hard to beat.
But my focus here is on Information Technology degrees (how many of those graduates do you see behind the counter at MacDonalds?). There’s the argument that IT degrees provide a more structured, comprehensive body of IT knowledge than could be gained on the job over a far longer period. To counter that, there’s the argument that what’s learnt in an IT degree becomes largely redundant in five to ten years.
There’s an element of truth to both those perspectives. There’s times I feel there’s little in my degree that survives, either in the industry or in my brain. Yet there’s other times I think back to the databasing elements for some general principles; even some of the programming elements, despite the fact that my business is business intelligence (and databasing) and I try to avoid telling people I ever do coding.
I know for a dead fact that it was, and still is, easier to get into the industry with a degree. I would say, too, that your chances of progressing – in the early years at least – are better not only when applying for jobs, but also when applying a more structured body of knowledge to your work than could be simply absorbed on the job.
Matt Moran’s simple point is that degrees count for very little; that what counts is ambition and drive.
Hmm. I guess that makes a big whopping difference. If I had sufficient ambition and drive, I might already have run through half a dozen startups, rather than toiling away in a corporate environment.
Then again, all those startups might have been failures, if I didn’t have a) the business nous; b) the business training (aha!); c) the temperament. And my family would be suffering right now. (I think back to an ancestor of mine who, on available evidence, wasn’t particularly successful despite trying his hand at several things, and finally left his family (with promises), to die in the goldfields.
Ambition and drive certainly count for something. I’d argue, though, that that’s a temperament thing, tempered by one’s upbringing. People have it in varying degrees, to varying effect.
At the start of one’s career, an IT degree does make a difference. Later on, you stand or fall on your merits. Some go back to university to pick up what they missed, some don’t want to and some don’t need to. Those that don’t need to have probably got to a point of diminished returns for what they would now get out of it.
I could say to my kids “the one thing you must have is ambition and drive” – but that might not do the trick of itself. I could also say to them “ambition and drive are important for realising your goals – whatever they may be. Get some education. You will get a lot more from it than you think. And an industry-focused degree can put you ahead of the pack. But if you’re temperamentally unsuited just yet, or you reckon you can go it alone, wait a year or two and you’ll find out.”
To many, ambition and drive is the adjunct: it will – or won’t – come naturally. It won’t be taught at universities (but some learn it there anyway…)