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Public vs. Private Universities?

X. J. Scott asserts this:

>>If your goal is to do development work, you must either have:

1. A portfolio of software you have designed and preferable sold
2. A great resume profiling verifiable development you have done.
3. An MS.
4. A BS from a prestige university.
5. A BS from a state university with amazing grades, good letters of recommendation and a resume with development experience. (Most BS-CS grads are not qualified to do design work, though scripting and simple programming jobs are OK.)


Mr. Scott seems to suggest that my degree from a public university is just not terribly valuable.  This, however, certainly hasn't been my experience (Go Pitt!).  We University of Pittsburgh graduates work right along side the Carnegie Mellon & MIT grads.  (BTW, I do meet his fifth criterion, because I had excellent grades, but I've *never* been asked about my QPA.)

Is Mr. Scott correct?  Should I give up my job and look for one more suited to my meager talents?  Perhaps I can work for him doing some scripting or some simple programming...  Seriously though, does he have a point?  In general, how important is it to have a BS from a first-tier school?

Paul Spaulding
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

How about prestigious vs. obscure/infamous?

MarkTAW
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

I couldn't resist replying to this one, before I vanish from this forum forever.

IMO if you have a degree from a first-tier school, you are a total schmuck if you are doing grungy bizapps at all. The point of going to a first-tier school is not so much that the education is better, it is that you have easier inroads to jobs on wall street, high-level scientific research positions, higher-level corporate positions, government, etc. I.e. the point of going to Harvard is so that you never ever have to think about if you need to learn .NET to increase your hourly rate.

I went to a crummy state school and work along side MIT/Harvard/Berkeley people every day. I TA'd two courses at MIT. I'm making more money than 95% of people on earth. Thus, I'm doing just fine without an MIT degree. However, if I had kids, I would totally pressure them into getting into a name brand school, it just makes sliding through life that much easier.

arsdigitan
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

> However, if I had kids, I would totally pressure them into getting into a name brand school, it just makes sliding through life that much easier.

CNN had a surprisingly interesting documentary on Sunday evening about kids (young adults) in their final high school year, and the contortions (no social and little family life for example) that they were going through to get high GPAs, high SATs, several extra-curriculars, ...

Christopher Wells
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

It does matter. The mindset of the students are different. Those who go to first tier schools start or eventually run companies. Those who go to the "mills" become employees of companies.

Jeb
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

I have no idea who "XJ Scott" is, but he is saying that if you have a *verifiable* resume and/or portfolio of work, that's enough.  It's certainly been enough for me.  I've been working in software development, including doing design work and start-to-finish projects, for nearly 20 years, and I have no degree whatsoever from any university.  I do have a list of good references from the half-dozen places I've worked over the years.

I'm sure there are shops out there that insist on having a "good" degree from a "good" school (however you care to define that).  I simply don't work for such places.  There are a great many shops that are more interested in what you know than what school you went to.

btw, writing an open source project is an excellent way to build a verifiable body of work if you can't do so at your current job (or you're stuck in a non-prestigious school and you're worried about getting a good job after).

James Montebello
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Wait I'm still here.
I disagree with Jeb. More people who drop out of state schools start companies than do people with harvard degrees. (I just made that up, but I bet if I did research, it would pan out to be true.)

Starting a company is an insane amout of work. The point of going to Harvard is so that you can get a mid six figure job that requires doing very little work. You bust ass in high school to get into the Ivy League, then you are entitled to an easy life.

arsdigitan
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

there've been studies done in recent years that show that indicate that going to a prestigious school doesn't influence your earnings that much.  what's more important are the schools people apply to-insofar as that's an indication of how bight the person percieves themselves to be.

what's important is how bright you are-not what school you go to.

check this link out:
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/21/business/yourmoney/21VIEW.html?pagewanted=print

Razib Khan
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

15 years after you graduate,  it will become less of an issue.

Paul B.
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Hmmm. I almost applied to Harvard because I learned my SAT scores and GPA were about average for a Harvard student, but I didn't have any extracurricular, and my high school was a lowly public HS... Does that mean I have a low self worth?

On the other hand, I'm thinking of starting my own business (in a totally unrelated field of work), and I did drop out of college...

MarkTAW
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

>15 years after you graduate, it will become less of an issue.

Uh. If you go from Harvard to a management position or from a state college to a grunt employee it will.

One says "Future CEO" and the other says "Future Middle Manager" and in 15 years it'll make a big difference.

MarkTAW
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Anything can be considered an advantage if it's enough standard deviations in the black.  Some people will hammer home their dull note to anyone who listens.  Especially since it's a strategy that occasionally pays off.

I found something interesting though.  I once visited a quiet dinky little university.  Looking through their newspaper, it was leagues better than each of my university's award-winning magazines, or of any other big university's I'd read.  Less pretentious; more insight.  I'm glad that Jack Welch, rockstar manager, agrees in his management philosophies.  An Ivy League degree doesn't count against you in his eyes, but neither is it any indication of ability.

Magnus
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

>Starting a company is an insane amout of work. The point >of going to Harvard is so that you can get a mid six figure >job that requires doing very little work. You bust ass in >high school to get into the Ivy League, then you are >entitled to an easy life.

After all of the downsizing of the 80's & 90's combined with increasing globalization, I doubt that many of the easy six figure jobs still exist anymore.

You would probably have better luck winning the lottery or locating the fountain of youth than finding such jobs anymore.

Anonymous Coward
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

It is interesting to note that on the Best Colleges list for computer programs where the highest degree is a Ph.D. on usnews.com (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/college/rankings/engineering/phd/computer.htm), 13 of the top 20 schools are public schools.

Anthony Rubin
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Here's the question-are Harvard undergrads successful because they go to Harvard-or perhaps Harvard undergrads are brilliant and brilliant people do well? 

I tend to lean toward the latter.  In a few areas-like politics, it seems getting a Harvard degree is important.  Also, if you are in academia-it's important to go a good grad school (I went to a public University-but my friends who wanted to get a position at a University went to MIT and Harvard for grad school).

Razib Khan
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

>. Those who go to first tier schools start or eventually run companies. Those who go to the "mills" become employees of companies.


What a horseshit gernalization.  People who start companies are risk takers.  Where is the risk in being a puppet and getting into an Ivy?  It's a robot DRONE mentaility, if anything. 

Also, having little to lose also comes into play.  It's a lot harder to walk away from a $200k law firm job to start your own firm. 

Bella
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

In fact, many people from elite schools, understandably, since childhood have been conditioned to think they are better and smarter and have a "different path" than mere mortals.  But at the end of the day, they have to stand in line and work for a paycheck like the rest of us.  Some have a SERIOUS problem realizing they are just another decaying pile of flesh, like the rest of us.    Many become professional students into their 30's and 40's, b/c they cant cope with reality of being a mere mortal. 

And in IT, degrees mean squat after day one of your first job, at least in my experience.  Degrees are the most over hyped SCAM racket.  Skills talk.  Degrees don't make the man.  Send a genius to community college, and an idiot to Harvard.  the oil and water will eventually rise/fall to their levels.  The HIGHEST paid consultant I ever worked with didn't have a degree. 

Also, success only has a LITTLE to do with raw intelligence.  It has everything to do with motivation, following thru, accountability for your actions, people skills, make no excuses, entrepreneurial instinct, etc.    NONE of these traits can be 'bought' with an Ivy degree. 

Bella
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Yikes! Didn't mean to start a flame war...
The list I posted was meant to indicate in a roundabout fashion a potential hire which I believe many companies would have concerns with, as far as hiring to do development work that involves design (for example, creating an application or subsystem from scratch).
The qualifications I think would be unimpressive are:
Someone with a BS from a non-prestige university with no verifiable development experience, no portfolio, no positive recommendations, and average grades.

Why do I say this? Because:
1. I went to one of the best State engineering schools in the nation (one of the ones listed on http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/college/rankings/engineering/phd/computer.htm) and know that most of the students graduating could not do more than simple work, certainly were far from ready to do design work.
2. In my experience working and observing others, I have not encountered anyone as I described above capable of designing and implementing anything much more complex than a routine, a small module or a script. Now, there is a demand for people who work at this level and there is nothing wrong with only being able to work at this level, but a person with such qualifications may be disappointed if they are hoping to be put in charge of something.

Note that any -one- of the items being true would be sufficient to bring someone in on an interview and check them out -- experience with no degree is great, portfolio with no experience working as an employee is fine (such as if they have been selling their own shareware or doing contracting since high school), or can show and intelligently discuss and demonstrate results from open-source projects they have been involved in (open-source work is a reasonable way to get a free education).

The original post was in the context of advise to someone wondering of an Associate's Degree was sufficient to get a decent job in IT. I'd say no, and also point out that it's important to have some experience, or a portfolio, or great grades, or recommendations. The exception to this is if someone graduates from MIT or CalTech even with horrible grades, it's likely they are still spectacular performers since those are really harsh schools where anyone who manages to make it through is quite special.

BTW, I included the last item of the list about people with music experience because I have noticed that the very best developers I have ever been fortunate enough to know were musicians with no engineering degree. Perhaps that could be another interesting topic. I think the reason musicians make great developers is because they are the sorts of people who are creative and think in terms of putting structures together in a cohesive manner.

- Jeff

X. J. Scott
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Actually what is the argument here?

X J scott's original assertion seems to be reasonably correct

- If one has a portfolio of work, and went to MIT, and has good recommendations...chances are that person is a better developer than someone with no portfolio, no recommendatoins, and a degree from north central iowa technical college.  It must be that Pitt chip on the shoulder thing...not being able to afford / get into CMU really messes with the psyche of certain west pennsylvanians. >:-)

tbone
Tuesday, April 23, 2002

>Uh. If you go from Harvard to a management position or from a state college to a grunt employee it will.

Sorry, you are right, I was thinking more a prestigious private school  Vs a prestigious public. I tought that was the topic in question here.

Paul B.
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

I couldn't help but reply to this thread... I attended Carnegie Mellon Univ., and was in Navy ROTC.  We were in the same ROTC unit as the Pitt guys.  We were always giving them grief about state school, and the comeback I remember (at least, the one I can post here) was "Physics is physics no matter where you are."  And I'd have to agree with that, to a certain degree.

I left CMU after the first year (turned down ROTC scholarship, no $$ for tuition), and went to a local community college.  I slept through the classes, and started working before I finished my A.S. (stupid english class...they make you attend them all!).  I've been working for the past 3 years without a degree as an IT Consultant, and have on the side started an auto body repair shop with a couple other guys.  I'm thinking about going back to school here to finally complete my BSCS.

I'd say it's not so important where you go to school... I've been at the top and I've been at the bottom.  Smart people are all over, and they *will* rise to the top. 

Nathan DeWitt
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

I think one of the main values of an Ivy League degree (or degree from a similarly prestigious school) is as a marker of class privilege.

Computer programming does not appear to be a field in which class privilege matters very much.  Nor is computer programming a field overwhelmingly concerned with credentials.  In my experience, most employers appear to expect, at most, a bachelor's degree -- and where the degree is from doesn't matter as long as you can demonstrate competence.

By contrast, consider prestigious Wall Street investment banking firms.  You would not be able to get an interview there with a degree from an obscure state university.  They are looking for people from a certain social class, people used to privilege and comfortable with lots of money.  They are more interested in good breeding than they are in competence.

Some might say that you are more likely to be competent as a programmer if you went to a prestigious school -- but my observations have not shown this to be the case.  I agree with something Bella said, to the effect that Ivy Leaguers are more likely to be conformist drones.  They are more risk-averse, more afraid of making mistakes, and they will possibly be LESS competent as programmers than people who have been less fastidious in developing sterling, prestigious credentials.

James
Wednesday, April 24, 2002

"It is interesting to note that on the Best Colleges list for computer programs where the highest degree is a Ph.D. on usnews.com, 13 of the top 20 schools are public schools."


I wonder if that's a function of funding.  Are larger public universities more likely to get the huge government grants that can keep some of the best Ph.D.-type research-focused minds busy?  While resources are finite even in government-funded programs, are research budgets relatively smaller for all but a few private schools?  I can just imagine the pipeline of public money just behind a single program like NCSA.

More to the point of this topic, does that research space for the Ph.D.s increase the benefit for your typical comp sci undergrad?  Do they have the ability to work on some of these gee-whiz projects, are the instructors available who are at the leading edge of the research?

Kevin Williams
Friday, April 26, 2002

--More to the point of this topic, does that research space for the Ph.D.s increase the benefit for your typical comp sci undergrad? Do they have the ability to work on some of these gee-whiz projects, are the instructors available who are at the leading edge of the research? --

No. Also, most "leading edge" computer science research is done in industry, not at universities. For instance, google is a far more interesting research project than anything I've seen going on at any of the top 10 CS research schools in the US (with the exception of a couple projects at MIT).

The simpsons episode where Professor Frink declares :

"Well, sure, the Frinkiac-7 looks impressive, But I predict that within 100 years computers will be twice as powerful, 10,000 times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest kings in Europe will own them."

Is sadly an accurate reflection of most university computer science research projects. YMMV.

http://www.snpp.com/episodes/3F20.html

UNLV Running Rebel
Saturday, April 27, 2002

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