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Schools Out, Forever (avandamiri.com)
40 points by avand on Feb 17, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments

Yet another helpful individual mistaking university for some kind of career training centre...

Universities are not there to get you a career, a high paying job, etc. I'll grant you that they've been mis-represented to many people, often by greedy people who wanted to boost the ranks of students to make money (another good reason why universities shouldn't be for-profit).

There are many purposes served by universities, and one of them may occasionally, as an added bonus, to help you in landing a great job. But the primary purposes of universities, and degrees, are:

- Research/Academic study

- To train the next generation of researchers/academics

- To give people who want to study a subject in a formal setting the opportunity to do so

- Allow 18-ish teenagers to mature into quasi-adults in an environment, surrounded by smart people, that will expand their minds and make them better people.

"Getting you a job" is not, and should not be, an objective of university. Most jobs should not require a degree, either. The fact that unrelated degrees are being used as a front-line filtering system is tragic. If universities themselves are to blame for this failure of perception management, it is doubly tragic - it may destroy their primary reasons for existence in the end.

Universities are there to get you a job. In fact, it's part of their marketing strategy. In technical curricula, nearly every decision they make is based around predictions of future job growth.

It is a very real problem right now, because technical jobs are changing so fast. The universities don't know what to teach kids. Corporations aren't hiring people to write Fortran or C++. They hire them to write .NET and Java, so students are going to universities who are teaching them those languages instead of the universities who concentrate on the primary purposes you state.

It's very hard to sell students on the principles you describe. They'll get that at ANY university, so what distinguishes programs among different universities, essentially comes down to ROI for the tuition.

This is true, otherwise why would the first thing taught be Java? (what happens at my uni). The ordering that follows seems to much more promote churning out a Java/C++ programmer who knows how to use and create detailed UML documentation.

You don't do any assembly or VHDL type close to the metal stuff unless your doing a 4 year degree that incorporates EE classes. There is a class called computer systems architecture that's in 3rd year I think. I've seen people in this class just not get it, so in a sense they have been learning to program for years in an abstract way and don't have a clue what the computer does with their program.

Thankfully there isn't to much .NET which I feel would be even more of a specialization than java, especially if it were VB.NET

Not all unis are like that. We start with functional programming and programming essentials in general with Scheme (lisp derivative), and then do some object oriented stuff with java, and then some systems programming with C. None of the classes are related to the specific language, the language is a tool to illustrate the concepts. These are all in the first and second years. After that, there are more advanced classes in each topic. Maybe some schools are just doing it wrong?

I'd say so, we get a bit of lisp in AI and some C systems programming later which are done right, with more focus on the concept than the language. It's just the initial Java classes which place a lot of emphasis on the language rather than the concepts.

I'd say universities are to blame. My alma mater's main selling point is its co-op program. Instead of 4 years of straight classes, you have 5 years total split up as follows:

- freshman year as normal

- the next 3 years are spent with 6 month classes/6 months co-op with some local company

- senior year as normal

My alma mater is not alone in this kind of marketing though. How many commercials do you see (especially during noon and in the late evening) about going back to school so you can make more money/land a better job?

My university does a similar thing, however while they sell the co-op pretty hard, they don't advertise on afternoon TV. I look at the co-op as an opportunity to get out, enjoy a break from classes while making money and gaining experience. I've spent 9 months of my co-op time at a national lab, doing research. As of now, it looks like I could go back there as soon as I've graduated. However, while it's very nice to have a job waiting, I'd say it's equally important that I had the opportunity to get out and do real research, get paid, and get published.

And a lot of those commercials are for trade schools teaching welding, health care instrument management (mri, phlebotomy, nuclear)... Not traditional universities, so the unis, which are much more expensive than those schools, are really hurting right now. People are going to the University of Phoenix online to learn vb.net instead of Harvard to learn "computer science".

I really doubt Harvard or any of the other top schools are hurting for applicants. When I was entering school, Harvard and MIT were taking <15% of their applicants, which leaves quite a bit of wiggle room.

Havard, in this case, is a metaphor for "traditional universities"

I realize, could you point to an article about university admissions dropping? I haven't happened across anything saying that universities are in trouble, for any reason other than their endowments getting decimated due to the financial crisis.

You know what you can do as a university student in a technical discipline which can't really be done for free searching the internet? Participate in real research, guided and mentored by real-life scientists. Do lab-based classes. Ask questions of your professors. Have deep conversations with your fellow students and with your lecturers during office hours.

Yeah, if you only want to try to absorb the material in a totally passive way, and if you would never speak up in class, then you might as well just watch video lectures on-line and read the books and do stuff on your own. But if you choose to really take advantage of the university environment, you get a lot more than just the facts presented in the courses. I'm sure it's possible to have a career with just your own experiences and self-study. But I don't think you should be so sure you're better off than a peer who got their degree and all the various experiences that can come with it.

By the way, I'm not sure whether you think it's the norm for engineers to not have formal training. Of the seven engineers on my team, all have at least an undergrad degree in CS or a related field, 3 have PhDs and 1 has a Masters.

Provided you don't go to a crap school. If you go to a crap school... well... you're on your own.

What I did as an CS Undergraduate is teach CS classes to other undergraduates.

When I first did it as a sophomore I got credit for developing the labwork & teaching it for 10 weeks, and got paid as a TA to grade what I assigned. My ~25 students were my classmates in the other sections of the full-time course.

My Junior year I got credit for teaching a 10-week FPGA tutorial to a group of 5 students that were doing it as the 'project' portion of their CS course. My Senior year I informally helped my professor/coworker develop the robotics portion of a non-CS class I was taking, and tutored the other students.

^copy and pasted from resume

"""Ask questions of your professors. Have deep conversations with your fellow students and with your lecturers during office hours."""

You can do that on the internet, on sites like this and a million others, and probably in a better way - you have hundreds of people poring over and finding obvious flaws in your thinking rather than the handful you can have in a physical space.

"""Participate in real research, guided and mentored by real-life scientists. Do lab-based classes."""

That can easily be done outside of a university, at an industrial or government lab, the entire "non-research" infrastructure built around university labs is unnecessary for that.

Thank's Avand, your article is really hip and all. I'd really like to agree with it, and then go about back behind the school yard and smoke a cigarette and tell The Man go to hell.

However, I really can't do that.

Let's start with your high school experience. Going to a prep school in Boston means you (most likely, not assuredly) come from a privileged background. I went to a high school prep school too, and like you, I wanted to have the "too cool for school" attitude.

That didn't really happen though, instead of being bored, I got something that was challenging (athletics, which I sucked at). Yea, it was way cool at the time to pretend that all those classes I was acing (well almost, shouldn't have slept through AP Chem as much as I did), didn't matter and that I knew what I wanted to do as a jock 17 year old. Looking back, I was damned lucky to have such good classes and not be in some (unfortunately) underfunded public school. And also, it turns out now that I'm glad someone forced me to take French, I'm heading to France next month to work with a client. Didn't see that one coming as a 17 year old either.

Avand, likewise your take on college is quaint. I understand now that you've been successful with no college degree it's cool to keep rolling with the same theme of "skoolz lame!" It's actually kinda shame you're so biased though that you think college is just about increasing the number of facts you know, otherwise I'd bet you'd do well at the real point of college- giving you the tools to think about difficult problems in a number of different ways.

But that's cool, I've met plenty of intelligent/motivated/successful people who didn't go to or complete college (or went all the way and got a PhD). However, if you really were the intelligent person, motivated person you claim to be, I don't think you'd be half-assing it just taking night classes and then writing with such supposed authority on how college is worthless.

Here's what it really comes down to- you seem to be doing well marching to your own song, Avand, and that's great, keep it up! However, don't confuse your half-finished experiences as showing that school is worthless and expensive. You simply don't have any real authority to talk on the subject.

> Thank's Avand, your article is really hip and all. I'd really like to agree with it, and then go about back behind the school yard and smoke a cigarette and tell The Man go to hell.

I almost didn't read the post because you made it sound like mindless rebellion. The tone of discussion was a bit higher than you made it out to be.

> Here's what it really comes down to- you seem to be doing well marching to your own song, Avand, and that's great, keep it up!

In all seriousness - can you cut this out? You've got valid and good points, but adding snark/sarcasm doesn't help them. I've seen more of this lately here on HN, and I don't think it's a good trend. There's a lot of valid critique/counterexamples of the author's post, and I'd really enjoy hearing more of your perspective and others who disagree, but the sarcasm/snark takes away from the point more than adds.

> In all seriousness - can you cut this out? You've got valid and good points, but adding snark/sarcasm doesn't help them.

Maybe I have a tin-ear, but the "keep it up" seemed genuine.

> In all seriousness - can you cut this out? You've got valid and good points, but adding snark/sarcasm doesn't help them.

No sarcasm intended, he seems pretty happy with how he's done things. :-)

I went to a school that taught me, among other things, how to use apostrophes, how to make web sites with readable text, how to avoid phrases like "kitchen of education", and how to make a poll that shows results when I vote instead of thanking me for voting.

If you're some sort of mindless soulless fuck who equates everything in life to "will this help me get a job?", then skip school. It won't teach you what you want to know, and I don't want to be bothered dealing with you.

The questions you ought to be asking:

- What don't I know yet? What do I not even realize I don't know?

- Who are the sorts of people I want to spend the rest of my life with? Where do I feel comfortable?

- Given the ideas I have, what can I do? How can I combine these with other ideas to make something extraordinary?

Here's what school gives you that the Internet doesn't. Faces. Instinctive responses. Chemistry. Nobody knows better than I how easy it is to build a brand for yourself online. In person, you don't get a brand. You get a person. You can judge people more accurately, both people who're good at public image and people who suck at it and would look like shit if you found them completely at random.

Frankly, Avand, you don't have the credentials to get away with saying shit like this. Not as confidently as you're saying it. Looking at your resume, I'm not seeing anything that would stand out particularly if I saw it from an undergraduate resume. You're not a good writer and you haven't got a good grip on aesthetics. Do something smart before you start bashing my education.

This is the type of post that is contributing to the decline of HN. It's mean spirited and inflamatory, veiled by a thin layer of actual argument. You critize the author for a lack of credentials, yet claim that no one knows better than you how to create a brand online? Let's see your credentials then, because apparently you are God's gift to earth.

Quite frankly no one had the credentials to write a post like yours. It doesn't matter if you are right about the article. What a joke.

I also don't agree with the tone of the reply; however, I sympathize with his irritation. I share it. I agree with you that the reply should be re-thought: one shouldn't post on HN with anger, but with a contribution to the conversation that is likely to generate intelligent discussion.

Edit: "re-through" to "re-thought"

The post from Avand was largely hyperbole and headline-grabbing, and your reponse here is little better either. Calling-out other posters as "a joke" does nothing to foster rational debate.

The worst part is the novelty name.

I would love to do this, but in my country it is impossible to get a (decent) job without a degree. How do you get at least an internship as, say, a high school graduate with mediocre grades and nothing to your name? You show them your open-source projects? I think HR is technically illiterate and will be more impressed by any degrees you have.

Exactly. How do you get that internship as a high school dropout? Thinking back to high school, I couldn't even get a job at McDonalds (probably deemed too nerdy for customer service). My parents aren't computer programmers, and did not know anyone in the field.

I also had a similar attitude for the first half of my university studies. I figured I could already program quite well, thank you very much, and classes were a waste of time. So, after failing a bunch of classes, I decided to go work for a year. Got a job hacking on an awful mess of PHP code.

Then I actually got interested in school. It turns out just because something is hard doesn't mean it's a waste of time. Hardware is actually interesting, as is theoretical CS. Now that I want to learn more, I can't get into grad school because of my too cool for school attitude earlier.

Hmm, I had the same problem with those fast food/ supermarket customer service jobs in my teens. Got to the point where I was like well I wouldn't want one of these jobs even if they came after me.

I kinda find it funny now that I probably still wouldn't be able to get one of these lowly paid casual service positions.

I have a mate who takes uni the same way, clearly smart enough to pass programing classes easy judging by what he's done programming for fun, but just doesn't seem to care or apply himself enough assuming it will be really easy.

School's Out, Forever. "School is out" contracts to "School's out", with an apostrophe to indicate the contraction.

I could not bring myself to read an article about education being pointless that has a grammatical mistake in the title, no less. If you make that mistake while slagging on education, I simply cannot give your opinions any weight.

Your response illustrates an all too common failure of formal education: holding formalities in greater regard than practical matters.

Language is usage is language. Not only was clarity not hurt, the point of the title I took away was a reference to the Alice Cooper song lyric, which as spoken (sung) language, contains no apostrophe.

I disagree. Clarity was hurt. This title suggests multiple schools "out", which doesn't make a lot of sense (did the schools band together to out their gay friend? Or a corrupt politician?). Yes, obviously I can figure out what he meant. But there's a jarring half-second of confusion that disrupts my thinking, slows down my reading, and distracts me from what is being communicated.

I'm not rabid about grammar - the rules should be a bit malleable, depending on context. But most grammar exists so that we can understand each other. If you have poor grammar, I will have a harder time understanding you and we will have a harder time working together. In fact, I will be less likely to want to talk to you, because I could instead be talking to people with good grammar, and when I talk to them I don't have to pause for those cognitive potholes where I have to puzzle out what they're trying to say.

But there's a jarring half-second of confusion that disrupts my thinking, slows down my reading, and distracts me from what is being communicated.

I would suggest that it's your literalism (or, perhaps, if not grammar rabies, then at least excessive focus on it) that's the issue here, not the presence or absence of a punctuation mark in a transliteration of a song lyric.

The author may be guilty of not being conservative in what he sends, but your guilt, in not being liberal in what you accept, is, to me, much clearer.

the point of the title I took away was a reference to the Alice Cooper song lyric, which as spoken (sung) language, contains no apostrophe.

The title of the Alice Cooper song absolutely contains an apostrophe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schools_Out_(song)

.. and yet your link doesnt [sic].

That is apparently due to a HN bug which strips single quotes from links. The WP article has an apostrophe in the title; the HN-modified link loses the apostrophe, and is broken.

A broken link seems, to me, to be far more jarring than omitting the apostrophe entirely.

Incidentally, I doubt it's a bug in HN, merely a lack of feature:


If you're an incredibly self-motivated and intelligent person when your 17 or 18 and you are passionate about learning and excelling, then sure, skip university if that's what you want.

I'd venture to say it's more rare than not to find someone who could successfully utilize 4 years and $150,000 in an unstructured environment. It's unfortunate that this is the case, but I just don't think it happens very often given the emotional maturity of many high school students.

I "did well" in high school because it wasn't difficult to do well by grading standards. College was when it all clicked and I developed a passion for learning. Obviously this is my experience, but I see this sort of thing in those around me (and many that still, even after college, wouldn't know how to use that money in a truly beneficial manner). University often puts you in the company of some intelligent individuals in a learning environment, as well as the opportunity to meet some great mentors that help mature.

My experience: I'm a college dropout. I have 96 credit hour and am one class shy of my associates degree. I feel like I did get a lot of value from the liberal arts portion of my education. I was exposed to a lot of different ideas and disciplines that I may never have studied in any other setting.

My major was computer science, and that was the rub. I came to college already somewhat accomplished as a developer. I had published a small shareware game on one of those value-ware CD's you would pick up at the register at WalMart. I knew the basics and had already learned some very hard lessons. I suffered through the introductory course material largely doing independent study projects (thanks Dr. Forbes!).

My moment of crisis came in a computer org. class. I was really looking forward to taking this particular class. It was supposed to give me some more detailed exposure to the hardware side of things. Instead we spent literally half of the semester counting in different number systems. At that point I had enough. I wanted to actually solve real problems and do real things.

Thankfully I had my opportunity. I took a job with the local behemoth tech. company. I was given the opportunity to write a book on basic game programming (I didn't execute on this very well... I just wasn't responsible enough at 21 to do it properly). That book opened the door to my first real job at a very small startup. Quickoffice was my first chance to shine, and over the 6 years I was there I feel like I took full advantage of it. Now I'm an entrepreneur, and things have gone well so far.

The point being: I never completed my degree, but I do feel like I got what I needed out of college. I learned how to learn. I learned to appreciate classic literature and to more completely examine the culture of the world around me. I became a scientist with a deep understanding of the scientific method. Those are all invaluable assets to me today.

However, my lack of a degree has not proven to be much of hindrance thus far. I hope it never is:)

I homeschooled my kids. Articles like this are fairly popular on homeschool lists. My two favorite examples of successful people without college degrees are Bill Gates and Madonna. You clearly don't need a degree to have financial and career success. However, I have always told my sons that because they are homeschooled, their best shot at career success is to start their own business. If you want/need to work for The Man, a degree not only helps but can be essential (unless you are content being stuck in some entry level job for all eternity). Also, there are certain careers that require a formal education (doctor, college professor, etc). So it depends in part on what you want to do with your life.

I am a dropout myself and I am doing OK for the moment but I still would propose to question your own readyness to being so judgemental. I think of education being something highly individual and complex (e.g. I regard my time at university very inspiring and influential). Everybody should be able to 'roll their own' in order to achieve ones respective goals - which fortunately these days is possible for most of us. It is great that you found your very own hack to tackle the issue but try to stay open to other approaches too - most importantly try not to make too many generalizations. I know that can be hard but it could perhaps result in real inner peace.

I suspect his perceived correlation between the quality of the programmer and lack of education has quite a bit of selection bias.

I have coworkers with and without advanced degrees. There are lots of good and bad ones in both groups, and I get along with most just fine. But I strongly suspect that I'd have trouble working with anyone with a chip the size of the one perched on his shoulder. Which means that he's going to drive away the good educated people, and confirm his own preconception about quality. And he's going to create a lot of problems for himself down the road.

As a concrete example of what I am talking about, consider his four man team story. Given that he posted that with his real name, the engineer who he didn't like is going to be a burned bridge. Any educated software developer he knows who reads that will wonder, "What does he think of me?" There go a few more bridges. Anyone considering hiring him is likely to Google his name. If they turn up this then any interviewers with an education are likely to be turned off.

Technology in whatever town you're in tends to be a small community. You wind up working with the same people over and over again. A knack for making lots of people dislike you isn't a good thing.

Perhaps in several years he'll learn enough to be able to take that advice. After suffering for a bit. Kind of like how he has slowly recognized that a lot of what he refused to learn in school was actually something that is reasonable to learn.

Some of the things you point out are largely true, in your 20's, if your only concerns are "getting a job" and making money. However, a good liberal arts degree confers a number of benefits in many areas of knowledge, and provides a foundation of education and articulateness that is quite helpful throughout one's lifetime. There are, of course, many bad liberal arts programs that confer little of these benefits.

I have a couple of friends who forwent college for similar reasons, and they did make more money early on. However, as time passes, they find that there is a pay and advancement ceiling that is lower for them than for their higher educated coworkers. They are also more fearful of losing the income they have painstakingly built up, are more rooted in their company, generally have not saved and don't have a lot of equity (especially with the current housing market), and don't use their monetary head start to now get the education that would help them. They then complain to me that they've hit the pay ceiling and are watching their (always less qualified) over-educated co-workers advance and make more money for doing less. I am sympathetic but skeptical.

There is also a smugness in posts like these that rub people like me the wrong way. It is easy when things are going well for you to look around and say everyone else is doing something wrong. I encourage you to look deeper.

I did not get much in the way of programming out of my Math/CS degree, other than socially accepted (encouraged, even) time to fiddle with my own projects.

I did get an clear benefit out of the institution of university, in socialization and in closed-world long term interaction with other like-minded, intelligent people.

i.e. Courses were often a waste of time, University was not.

If I were given a chance to do it over, I think I'd beg to be allowed to unschool for k-12, and then go to university. University was where it started getting relevant/interesting (to me, anyway).

I'm not knocking education in itself, just... so much time wasted while the teacher organizes things, disciplines people, and they managed to take interesting subjects and make them utterly boring.

There are probably great schools out there, but the 7 different schools I went to were not very inspiring.

Degrees are overrated to some extent. Not all university graduates are successful, competent and motivated, but there is a correlation.

It's true that blind faith in the system is not the ideal recipe for success, however it's also true that being able to buckle down and do something you don't like or see the purpose of is very useful, especially when you're young.

I think this post's argument really needs to be turned on its head. So what if your degree(s) are irrelevant to the activity that pays your bills. Even if you count starting from kindergarten, an American of no more than average life expectancy is going to spend way more years out of school than in school in his or her life. In other words, no matter what you do, chances are excellent the years you spent in school will eventually become more or less irrelevant to the entire rest of your life.

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