Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




What's wrong with Technical College?

It's seems everyone on this board discusses education in terms of bachelors degrees and higher.  What's wrong with a technical college education?  Are the tech schools just money making machines that don't turn out a quality product?  What's the deal?

Quark
Monday, November 03, 2003

I think the "objection" is almost always stated as follows: the tech schools teach applications, while the bachelor's degrees teach fundamentals. The tech schools teach how to do specific things with current commercial technology, while the universities teach you how to think so that you can master and use any technology.

What I think: the people who bash tech school are not accounting for the fact that people aren't robots. I have worked alongside excellent people with two year degrees who *were* able to generalize their knowledge, adapt, and grow. Likewise I have observed many products of the university system flounder in abstractions and never really develop traction in the real world in their chosen field.

I think a person should get the level of training with which they're comfortable and for which they're motivated.

Bored Bystander
Monday, November 03, 2003

It depends on the technical college, really. Same with universities. The discussions on the board concerning education rarely touch upon the vast discrepancies in quality of education between different institutions , at least in the US. A computer science degree from northern iowa state university is probably not going to be equivalent to a computer science degree from MIT. A computer science degree from MIT isn't even going to be the same as a CS degree from Berkeley, but I'll let alumni continue the argument about which one is better.

Tech colleges usually admit anyone who can pay, so there isn't as much meritocratic esteem associated with tech schools. However, there are so many colleges and universities in the USA that basically anyone who can pay will be admitted somewhere.  Also tech schools are usually 1 or 2 years, compared to the 4  normally associated with a bachelor's degree.

I actually think an intense, focused one year program (12 actual consecutive months) where a limited number of people are in the same place 8am until 5 (or midnight) would be a much better way to learn computer science and programming than the typical 4 year university curriculum.  ArsDigita tried this out during the dot com heydey but unfortunately no one else caught on. This approach is used to teach design graduate students, foreign languages, military personel, and it seems ideally suited to programming.

My dream education would have been 4 years of "liberal arts:" math, foreign language, philosophy, economics, basic sciences, etc followed up by an intensive year of programming training. I sort of ended up doing this, by majoring in math and philosophy and then going out into the workforce and learning by fire. I'm a big advocate of learning on the job, but the downside is that it can be very stressful.

rz
Monday, November 03, 2003

Same ol', same ol' -

Job requirement says "Bachelor of Science"

Technical colleges don't give those.

Reiterating:
Philo's advice to job seekers: Act as the world is. Do not act as you wish it was. The current management and HR regimes will generally list "BS, preferably BSCS or BSEE" as the first requirement for just about any job that pays more than $30k/year. If you want to maximise your opportunities, get a degree.

Philo's advice to management: Stop requiring degrees in IT. It may be a good weighting factor, but four years of good experience will beat four years of sitting in classrooms every time. You don't need to know Chaucer to write a quicksort, so stop acting like you do.

Test knowledge and skill, not where it came from.

Philo

Philo
Monday, November 03, 2003

WARNING - I'm going to speak in generalities here.  Don't waste our time telling me why you or your friend Alice are different.  We all know that generalities don't apply to everyone.

That said, remember what Joel said he looks for in programmers - Smart and Gets Things Done.  Smart is difficult to judge, but someone who skipped "regular" college to get a 2 year degree doesn't seem to me to be a "Gets Things Done" kind of person.  IT schools are much, much less competitive, and like others said, anyone can get in.

Now, if someone got a 4 year degree in some non-computer field and THEN got a 2 year degree, that's different.  That person probably just found their love late (or saw salary ranges).

If you find a resume from someone with a BS from a good school - you know that person is both Smart and Gets Things Done.  They did well enough in high school to get into the tough college and then well enough to graduate.  Someone who instead went to the local Devry looks like someone who goofed off in high school, so couldn't get into a "real" college.

David
Monday, November 03, 2003

The basic problem, as I have pointed out on other threads, is that tehcnical colleges may be much more geared towards specific technologies, and you cannot be at all sure that there are going to be jobs in those technologies when you qualify.

Go to Technical College to be a welder, or a hairdresser or a CAD operative, and you will probably find jobs awaiiting you.  Do a specific course in Cisco routers, and you have to hope Cisco doesn't go bust (unlikely, but look what happened to ATM and Marconi).

Tnere's also the problem of the herd mentality; for example everybody in our college now seems to want to do their majors in instrumentation - presumably they have found out that there are lots of jobs around, and that they pay better than the other specialites; whether this will be true in two to three years when they leave I don't know.

Also the question arises of whether there are going to be any mid-level jobs in IT left to fill. In System Adninistration and Support I see the trend going towards fewer but higher level people, and just above janitor level people to carry the boxes around and set them up. And India is cornering the market in routine programming tasks.

Finally, with technical college you need to be a much more aware consumer than you do with university, where you can just look at the US News rainking. Look carefully at the syallabi, check out with other people, and try and see how many get hired and where.

Stephen Jones
Monday, November 03, 2003

>> "Smart is difficult to judge, but someone who skipped "regular" college to get a 2 year degree doesn't seem to me to be a "Gets Things Done" kind of person."

You can't judge a person to be someone who gets things done if they've attended a 4 year school.  How can you?  That's like picking someone off the street and saying to them, "You look like you can get things done".  Joel said it himself, "Gets things done" is a part of personality.  You could have a two or four year degree and be lazy as hell.  You can have a two or four year degree and be motivated to get things done.  Judging people like this only leads to catering to people who think that 4 years in school means something.  Personally I think it means jack squat.

Someone who worked in a factory 15+ years get's laid off and goes to technical college on their severance pay. 

Some spoiled brat goes to college out of high school on mommy and daddy's paycheck.

Who's going to be more motivated to "get things done".  You can't tell can you?  That's because it depends on personality.


Monday, November 03, 2003

"but someone who skipped "regular" college to get a 2 year degree doesn't seem to me to be a "Gets Things Done" kind of person"

Why?  "Get Things Done" to me means (as it applies to education) accumulate the knowledge you need as fast as you can.  I don't picture someone who spends the first two years of college partying and trying to get laid a "Get Things Done" kind of person.  :)

That being said, I do have a question.  I have a two year DeVry-type degree.  However, I now have 5 years programming experience.  Do I go back and finish up my education, get certified or just continue my self-study to make myself the best programmer I can be?

Thanks :)

shiggins
Monday, November 03, 2003

shigs, a lot of guys I know are sort of in your situation. they either have a 2 year degree or they dropped out after 2 years. they are employed as sysadmins, so are making a good bit of money. they are all completing their degrees at harvard extension school, (i'm in boston). It seems like a pretty good deal. I took a few courses there and they were top notch.  The prices were actually cheaper than anywhere else. (note: i didn't take CS courses - the CS courses are expensive) Mostly adults in the program, so you don't feel like the dreaded weirdo "non trad" student in day classes.

Also the psychological significance of having a "harvard degree" is not lost on people. outside of ivy league snobdom and the greater boston area, hiring folks and your mom just see "harvard" and think you are smart.  So if you can find a program like that, it might be what you want to do.

My question is, are there any schools like harvard extension outside of harvard? I'd like to escape the parochial gloom of boston sometime, but I like leisurely taking night courses. The night schools in California, for example, seem to be quite wanting in comparison.

rz
Monday, November 03, 2003

"someone who skipped "regular" college to get a 2 year degree doesn't seem to me to be a "Gets Things Done" kind of person.  IT schools are much, much less competitive, and like others said, anyone can get in."

So you prefer to hire people who take twice as long to reach what many consider to be the same result?

Philo

Philo
Monday, November 03, 2003

Classes are usually paced so the average or below- average student doesn't get left behind... which means at a tech school that accepts anybody,  you don't cover as much per class as you would at a selective school where the slowest kid still had 1400 SAT's.

And a lot of tech schools don't even cover math past single-variable calculus, which is taught in a single semester freshman year at MIT. So especially if you're interested in science or engineering applications, you wouldn't get the background you need for that from a tech school or community college.

Rick
Monday, November 03, 2003

I am one of those private-school educated, went to varsity on mom-and-dad brats, and my advice to you, like others said, is "deal with it". Birds of a feather flock together.

I have been interviewed by guys that went to the same high school I did, or the same university, and the conversation in the interview is more about the 'old school'  and less about skills, because presumably the interviewer already knows what it takes to get the qualification.

All things being equal, and given a choice between someone from BoraBora Uni, and someone from my Alma Mata, I would probably go for the latter, especially if the he studied the same course as I did.

Why? because I identify with him. Might be a generations difference between us, but we still have that bond already.

If you want to work in Investment Banking, or Management Consulting, there are only x schools that the top companies interview at. You really would have to be exceptional, or have an inside angle to get an interview otherwise. Why? Possibly because the folk doing the hiring are from the same schools.

And the trend is reinforcing. Look at most measures, such as the FT or BusinessWeek on MBA . The ratings are determined by criteria such as
- Employer satisfaction
- % of applicants admitted
- Graduate's satisfaction
- % receiving job offers at graduation
- salary at grad
- salary 5 years after grad

So as long as the top guys are from MIT, Stanford et al, and they recruit and promote graduates from these places, they will always have a higher rating than BestTechCollege.

Furthermore, a company that says we have 5 MIT geeks in our team has more street cred (yes, with investors, customers etc) than one that says we employ the top 5 students from BoraBora Tech class of '98.

Tapiwa
Monday, November 03, 2003

I think the larger point is that tossing out all of the 2-year folks is a quick way to reduce the size of a stack of resumes, same as throwing out the 4-year schools that you haven't heard of or throwing out college grads with more than 1 page, throwing out people who worked at SCO after it became a haven for lawsuits, etc.

Flamebait Sr.
Monday, November 03, 2003

This discussion always seems to boil down to whom you ask. People who skipped college, or don't have a BSCS will always tell you the degree means nothing, mostly because they want to believe it. People who got their butts kicked for 4 years getting a tough degree will always tell you it was worth it, because they want to believe it.

It always, always depends on the specifics. If you go to a good school for 4 years, and get a solid foundation in humanities, programming theory, and software engineering, you've gotten off to a much better start than someone  who learns VB at a tech school. It might also mean you're more willing to challenge yourself, and can deal better with challenges thrown at you. In the end, YMMV.

jason

JasonB
Monday, November 03, 2003

"So you prefer to hire people who take twice as long to reach what many consider to be the same result?" - Philo

You really consider the education of the local 2 year tech school the same as a 4 year degree from, say, Georgia Tech?  That's like saying it's the same thing to have finished a local 5K run as to have been accepted and completed the Boston Marathon.  And, yes, I'm exaggerating a bit to make a point.

Like someone else pointed out - one part of it is that you have to get through stacks of resumes somehow.  This is one way.

Someone else asked about experience - of COURSE experience counts.  That wasn't what the question was about.  If you have 5-10 years of experience, your previous eduction doesn't mean that much, other than it might show how capable you were at that time.  For example, a person of "average" intellect won't necessarily gain the ability to succeed at MIT just because they worked for 10 years.

Other people have brought up IT positions.  That's completely different.  For my network guy, I'd RATHER have the 2-year guy (or gal ;-)) than someone who studied programming for 4 years.

David
Monday, November 03, 2003

"If you have 5-10 years of experience, your previous eduction doesn't mean that much, other than it might show how capable you were at that time."  Ok, so would you recommend a person with experience go back to school and get a BS?  This is an honest question.  I'm totally at a loss as to what to do.

I would also like to add that while a tech school does give good hands on experience, they are SEVERELY lacking in theoretical concepts (at least at the associate degree level).  At my first programming job, I found myself playing catch up trying to grasp complicated math and algorithms.

shiggins
Monday, November 03, 2003

"Ok, so would you recommend a person with experience go back to school and get a BS?"

No, I wouldn't.  After three or so years, that experience is what people are going to look at first, not your education.  Where your education might still matter is if you went to a "name" school, like MIT or Yale (FWIW, I think Joel went to Yale).

I have a good friend who went back to get his BSCS even though he had about 10 years of experience (he originally had a math degree).  A complete waste of his time, IMHO, at least from a career perspective.  No employer is going to be too impressed by it.  In fact, it may cause me to wonder if he felt he didn't learn much in his 10 years on the job.

David
Monday, November 03, 2003

Thanks David.  That's kind of what I thought.  However, it's always nice to have a second opinion.

shiggins
Monday, November 03, 2003

i would add that it *might* be worth while going back to school for a BA or BS in _something other than CS_.

the guys i mentioned above were going back to school to get BAs concentrating in political science.

a bachelor's degree _IS_ useful if you ever decide you don't want to be a programmer and want to go to graduate school to become a librarian, or a nurse, or a high school teacher, or an MBA, etc. if you want to stay within your organization it might be easier for you to get promoted to a management role if you have a BA or BS in something or other.

rz
Monday, November 03, 2003

but, i should mention "don't quit your day job." :)

rz
Monday, November 03, 2003

As fields mature, BS+ degrees are more often required for entry into the field. I have worked with older electrical engineers that were self taught and worked their way up from technician positions. These guys are all in their 60's and 70's now. I have worked with tool and die engineers that have worked their way up from positions in drafting and the machine shop. These guys are all in their 50's and 60's now. I have worked with manufacturing engineers that used to be production employees.  These guys are all in their 40's, 50's, and 60's.  As these fields have matured and become more widely recognized, the requirements for them have changed. It's rare these days to find anyone hired into an entry-level position in one of these fields without a BS or MS degree in engineering.

Programming is a young field.  As it ages I would expect that most companies are going to become more demanding of their applicants for these positions.

Note that I did say "entry-level" above.  I don't think it will make much difference, career0-wise, to someone with a lot of experience.  However, I wouldn't advise a younger person to start out by going the tech school route.

Observer
Monday, November 03, 2003

"Get things done" is really not related to how many years schooling. You could argue that someone who drops out of school at 15 (or whatever the minimum age is) is the best at getting things done, because they know to start as soon as possible!

Sum Dum Gai
Monday, November 03, 2003

Philo wrote:

> You don't need to know Chaucer to
> write a quicksort, so stop acting like
> you do.

Perhaps more relevant is the fact that we don't need anybody to write a quicksort.

OTOH, I could see how a little Chaucer is could come in really handy.

Eric Sink
Monday, November 03, 2003

I didn't like the bit about kissing the bottom hanging out of the window.


Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"After three or so years, that experience is what people are going to look at first, not your education"

You jest (at least for some jobs). I've seen adverts which not only state that they want you to have a degree, but also where it must come from and that you should have excellent A level grades. Mind you, they probably want you to wear the 'correct' tie and have had your arse used as a toast rack as well but couldn't get away with putting that in the ad.


Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"I don't picture someone who spends the first two years of college partying and trying to get laid a "Get Things Done" kind of person."

I do. Just different things were getting done :-)


Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Clearly Chaucer would come in more handy when writing a bucket sort than a quicksort.

Nick
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Nobody wants to admit that they actually learned something in school, whether they realize it or not.

Tech schools just don't give you what traditional schools do.

And no, I don't think experience is a substitute, sorry. Reason dictates that there must be something to it or they would fade away.

rome
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"Reason dictates..."

Thanks, I'm going to check my horoscope right now.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home