Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Software Apprentice?

My son is rapidly approaching the age where we have to make some decisions when it comes to school. He is a sophomore in high school right now, and therefore three years from now, he will be old enough to attend a college or university if he so chooses.

Wait, what do you mean "if he so chooses"?

Because I am having a crisis of conscience here. Part of me is looking at the state of education today and the way that universities are overhyped and oversold, and the resulting debt that goes with it. As we've been talking, the inevitable discussion comes back to my own path… "but dad, you didn't have a college degree when you started working, and you did great!"

This exchange is what's prompting this today. My son has heard the stories about how I got into Cisco Systems in 1991, and how they didn't care that I didn't have a college degree (actually, that's not entirely true; there was originally resistance to hiring me as a full time employee because I didn't have a degree, but they ultimately decided I knew enough to warrant a full time employee slot. It took them 10 months to make that decision, though). My kids also know that, in 2003, when the job prospects for anyone working in tech seemed to be at its lowest ebb, I went back to school to finally finish my bachelors degree. Yes, it opened some doors that wouldn't open before, but part of me really wonders if I did the right thing going back to school. I vacillate on whether it really was money well spent at that stage, and if it really made much of a difference.

I decided to tell my son the following…

"What do you want to do? Do you have a clear idea what you want to be? If you do, and you've decided you want to be a doctor or an attorney or an accountant or a hardware engineer, then you're going to have serious challenges not having an advanced education. If, however, you are interested in developing software, or in testing software (hey, dare to dream :) ), I'm not convinced that getting a university education is essential."

Could it be valuable for other reasons? Yes, I think there's great value to the inductive reasoning and knowledge base that can be developed with a truly Liberal Arts education (and I'm using Liberal Arts in the Classic sense of the word). Do I think that learning how to program at a University and getting a degree in Computer Science is as relevant? Again, I'm on the fence. Also, I'm not a software developer.

What does impress me right now is the idea of software apprenticeships. This approach being taken by the Craftsmanship Academy I find very compelling (heck, *I'm* tempted to sign up for it!). The idea behind this movement is very interesting, and I like what it pledges to deliver to those who complete the program. In many ways, this fits into my very Godinesque "Linchpin" view of developing artists rather than cogs. If you want to be a factory worker (metaphorically speaking) then going to the current model of schools might make sense. If you want to be an artist in your line of work (again, metaphorically speaking), then maybe this apprentice approach makes more sense.

In short, I guess it's time my son starts thinking a bit about what he wants to be when he grows up, and whatever he decides he wants to be, I'll help advise and guide him on the best way to get there.

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