Without an Education, Will Techies Go Far Enough?

For this article, I am standing firmly on a soap box.

The Associated Press reported, today, on a few information technologist that are doing well in their young careers, so well, in fact, that they each hope to retire before reaching middle age, and they attained their success without a formal higher education. This article struck a raw chord with me, because I emphasize the value of formal education to all of the students whom I teach, including those seeking a B.S. in information technology (IT) and those pursuing a M.B.A. with a further concentration in IT.

The true, lasting, value of their education (and degrees) is not so much to gain their first few promotions, those elevations will come based on technical certifications and demonstrated technical acumen. The lasting value is in the cognitive polish that is developed from rigorous, guided scholastic work and mentored critical thinking, both of which are required during the pursuit of a formal academic degree. The two IT workers described in the article, which I read on CNN.com, are reportedly earning significant salaries; however, their success is fallaciously related to their lack of formal academic training. Both of the interviewees are successful because of their hard work and a generous helping of good luck: one is an entrepreneur, the other is rewarded with stock options. Along with Bill Gates and Michael Dell, these two bring to four the total number of successful IT folk without at least one college degree that I’ve read about in the last two decades.

Yes, good work is rewarded; however, good work, coupled with a well-earned college education is much more likely to result in significant professional success. The ability to critically analyze data, perform algebraic and geometric computations (such as calculating the linear feet of cable required to wire a building) and persuasively argue (or actively listen) are all skills best learned in the combination of classroom and office. These are skills that, along with those taught in a liberal arts curriculum, are valued in business leaders.

Not all IT workers will have a series of fortunate events, as did the two men described in the news report. For the vast majority of us, we must take all advantages, and a solid education is one personal advantage that I earnestly hope will be valued by all IT professionals.

Call for Comments
What do you think? Leave your comments below.

Some Techies Find Success Without a College Degree

About Todd Cochrane

Todd Cochrane is the Founder of Geek News Central and host of the Geek News Central Podcast. He is a Podcast Hall of Fame Inductee and was one of the very first podcasters in 2004. He wrote the first book on podcasting, and did many of the early Podcast Advertising deals in the podcasting space. He does two other podcasts in addition to Geek News Central. The New Media Show and Podcast Legends.

2 thoughts on “Without an Education, Will Techies Go Far Enough?

  1. I have to disagree with this viewpoint to some degree. I don’t think a college degree is necessary for a person to be successful. I’m one of the ‘uneducated’, and have generally had a salary above the norm. This hasn’t been due to luck. It has been the result of a strong work ethic, and the ability to educate myself on an as-needed basis, both on the job and independent of the job. For myself, learning in a structured classroom environment wasn’t a good fit. As a result, the knowledge I have gained is directly applicable to the performance of my field. I’ve had a great number of jobs that involved fixing the problems caused by those who spent years in education and money in certifications. The education and certifications typically have no meaning in the real world. I work in software development, and I realize that these conditions may be specific to this section of the IT world. Despite this, I think that a person’s work ethic is a larger factor in their success than their education. A strong commitment to ‘getting the job done’ with a high level of quality seems to be missing from most of the developers I personnally have encountered. They may have had a degree or two, and a few certifications to hang on the wall, but I wouldn’t have wanted to leave the health of an enterprise’s software in their hands.

  2. For me, getting the degree was a task I had set for myself long before I got into technology. I actually found programming after taking BASIC programming as an elective and then changed my major. When I was finishing school we were still programming COBOL and C. These days I’m sure the latest and greatest languages are there and couple that specific training with what is available online, etc.. will only help leap them ahead when they finish school. I think too it says something about a person if they stick with it and finish even if their degree has nothing to do with their career. It says they can complete a difficult task they’ve started – even when they really don’t want to.

    If all they are looking for is money then they will still start out with more money initially, in most circumstances. And at the end of the day they get the respect they deserve because they stuck it out and finished.

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