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The REAL problem with debating educational levels

It is: ego, personal investment, and personal axes to grind.

The unschooled (high school graduate only) will scorn college as a place for spoiled rich kids to get drunk. This person will dismiss anything having to do with the implied advantages conferred by college. This person will generally be very defensive about any lack of knowledge, polish, professionalism, or penchant for abstract thought implied by their lack of a university education.

The bachelor's degreed person will insist that their level of education is the absolute sweet spot of every intelligent person's repertoire. They will scorn two year technical school as too applied, and a post-graduate degree as hoity-toity.

The tech school degreed person's outlook will be similar to that of the high school educated, but with a bit less defensiveness. They will, however, feel strongly that their level of education is perfect and anything more or less is polluting or inadequate.

The person with the master's degree will view people with only a bachelor's as unwashed, and anything less (tech school or high school) as "bottom out of site".

In other words, I find that every opinion expressed on this subject is fairly predictable in 90% of the cases given the background of the speaker as a know. Why? Because educational level is generally taken as a measure of personal worth, merit and achievement. So your own position is the one you justify in your stated outlook.

I'm not saying that I am above all this (if I was I wouldn't have come up with this diatribe!), just that it's amusing to watch this pattern repeat itself in lockstep.

Ultimately it's a fruitless "discussion".

Bored Bystander
Monday, November 3, 2003

You forgot that segment that claims that a bachelor's is only good if it came from a certain school.

We're talking about MIT, right?
Monday, November 3, 2003

I went to University and think that a University degree in anything other than what gets you accreditation (medicine, law, accounting etc) is a waste of time.

Of course, if it's something you enjoy, I recommend it. I just don't think it's necessarily useful to you in your job (although it may help you get a job).

But maybe I'm just bitter I did comp sci which was boring as hell, when I could have done something interesting like philosophy or English literature. Or something useful like law.

Sum Dum Gai
Monday, November 3, 2003

And those with a Ph.D think that all the rest are just a bunch of peasants ;-)

Monday, November 3, 2003

What you describe is basically the problem that limits the effectiveness of democracy: People describe their own position as the righteous and correct position, even if it was one thrust upon them by happenstance or coincidence (or convenience). This reveals itself in scenarios such as the public transit patron that belittles those who drive and calls for hefty tolls on all roads to punish those suburbanites, or the commuter who is tired of subsidizing a public transit, and who thinks traffic would move much better if buses weren't stopping on major arteries. You can describe the same sort of positional-defensiveness for any issue. In your chariacture I can't help but find it interesting that you only use the term "defensive" for the high school graduate - my experience has been that the most vitriolic, and defensive, are the clueless degreed that feel that their 4 year investment _entitles_ them (a thought process circa 1860). These people are especially loud right now that there's a job crunch, as their dream would be that all 'below' them would be washed out of the job market, allowing them a chance at getting the next gig.

Having said that, not everyone is like that. There are a lot of people, such as myself, that have been certified and accredited and degreed, but that will honestly debate the merits of the same regardless, without the same tired rhetoric justifying my position as the one true position. I am the same way about politics as well, where I will vigorously defend that which I believe in, even if personally it will be detrimental.

Dennis Forbes
Monday, November 3, 2003

The recurrent "education level" debate seems to focus on how we ourselves are treated.  The neglected angle is how we treat and perceive others.

I think this can divided into two separate questions:

A. How does education level affect your assessment of competance of individuals you know? (coworkers, friends, family, etc.)
B. How does education level affect your assessment of people you don't know? (Interviewees, book authors, people in other departments, etc.)

I would expect, even after many years of experience, for education level to have a positive statistical coorelation with competance.  However, as time passes, the most predictive factor becomes projects worked on and success achieved.  "Sorting" by a quantifyable factor, even if not very predictive, is valid, but may not produce the results you really want.

Context is vital as well.  Are you evaluating someone to write a compiler, a physics simulator or to fix bugs in the 8.2 version of a 15 year old accounting system?  Education will have different predictive value in each case.

One of the traps with IT related skills is that the coorelation between education and skill is lower than in most occupations.  Non-lawyers don't generally know legal mechanics.  Non-licensed drywall people can't usually fix a large hole in your wall.  Non-certified oncologists aren't as good at managing cancer.  The list goes on.

I believe the main reason for this is the creative nature of IT.  Generally, most of our time is not spent applying documented, accepted procedures to our problems.  This attracts a different kind of person into the field, perhaps one that is resistant to uniformity and compliance.  A valid point can be made that a degreed person will be less likely to become a know-it-all, chaotic developer.

The low barrier to entry is another difficulty.  There are a lot of folks out there with "semi-professional" computer knowledge.  Enough to configure their home network, but now enough to be trusted with a domain.  Can create a "spinning widget", but couldn't be trusted with a distributed transaction.  Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but the intensity with which many marginally skilled people overestimate their own competance does a disservice to other, genuinely skilled individuals.

I myself do not have a degree, but do look at it as a moderately predictive statistical positive in other people.  In some cases, it is necessary to hire someone with chaotic energy and a master degree might be a negative coorelation.  Your mileage may vary...

Bill Carlson
Monday, November 3, 2003

I think anyone who would rather be a run of the mill employee from 18 to 21 rather than party for 4 years is obviously an idiot. OTOH, if you start a company at 18 and build it up then that's different. Also, I have found that smarter people or those from better name schools make terrible run-of-the-mill employees.

Tom Vu
Monday, November 3, 2003

Bill, I think the issue you touch on is correct - that it's a learning activity. It's for this reason that smart learners will indeed acquire substantial expertise indepenently of a CS degree. By the same token, CS grads without this ability to learn will seem shallow to others.

Borded, my views on this actually come from a very wide range of experiences. I know guys who never set foot in a university, yet now run games companies and know more C++ than the top grads they interview.

Maybe the problem arises when people try to apply the judgements about the value of formal degrees in other fields to this field.

Monday, November 3, 2003

Memo to all HR Drones:

Please disregard the educational level on all resumes accepted for IT positions.  These people are special and a degree is not relevant to them.  Instead check their experience and ask them to code "strcat" in C.  Even if they can't code the routine don't rule them out because they may be able to figure it out given enough time.  In addition to experience level please allow them to discuss at length what they do with their free time.  In the end just draw straws to decide who gets the job.  This should be sufficient enough to satisfy the masses.



Enclosed: Please find the "strcat" routine.  It is in XML because I didn't have to to convert it to C.  You should be able to convert it to C rather easily,  after all everyone is a good at IT and XML is a rather portable format.

P.S.  You think I'm joking.  I'm not.

P.S.S.  Make sure the straws are different lengths.

Monday, November 3, 2003

Bill:  Very nicely put.

Tom Vu:  Not everyone can afford to "party for four years" in school. 

Monday, November 3, 2003

Another example of people choosing a position in a self-serving manner can be seen in the whole abortion debate: Young women are much more likely to be pro-choice than older women. This is similar to how young adults are very often highly liberal leaning, but if you follow them into middle-age, often they've switched sides and are now leaning heavily to the right. In every case, though, they'll explain their position as one purely based upon an analysis of the information.

" "
Monday, November 3, 2003

I'd second what Tom said in his post.  How many of us at 40 wouldn't kill for the chance to screw around for 4 years on someone elses dime?  Take it at 18 if you can get it.  The chance doesn't come again for most people...

Bill Carlson
Monday, November 3, 2003

No offense BB, and others, but do you think you could get over whatever gripes you and talk about something more interesting than problems with programmers, management, education and so on.

If you hate your job, LEAVE.
If you want education then GET IT, OR DON'T.
If you hate being a programmer, THEN DO SOMETHING ELSE.

But on a personal note, management suks, that's why we have our OWN BUSINESS.

Very Very Bored
Tuesday, November 4, 2003

You get to screw around on someone else's dime at University? Maybe if you have a rich mummy and daddy to pay for you. Most people don't have that luxury.

Sum Dum Gai
Tuesday, November 4, 2003

I would add something insightful (or not), but my head is still spinning from the comment about licensed dry wall workers.

That's akin to licensing someone to split fire wood in my mind.

Steve Barbour
Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Plus it's hard to know what you don't know.  I can be a programmer for 10 years, if I was never exposed to certain algorithm's, methodologies etc...  I can think I'm doing great, because I don't know I could be doing things better/faster/easier.  One of the benefits of formal education is that you are exposed to things which you might not know that you need to know.  Things you might not seek out information on otherwise.

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

>How many of us at 40 wouldn't kill for the chance to >screw around for 4 years on someone elses dime?

Paid for by whom? I've honestly never accepted money from my parents since I was 16, except for tiny short term loans when I was younger (e.g. for two weeks topps).

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

I don't remember partying for 4 years at university. It was five years of harder work than I've done for most jobs plus a lot of time screwing up.

(ok, it was Berkely, so that might explain why I don't remember)

Tuesday, November 4, 2003


Most states require all construction contractors to be licensed.  You want them to be familiar with local building codes, as well as proper estimation.  I've been to Alabama, and I've seen what happens when there aren't standards for construction. 

I've also seen what happens specifically when fly by night drywall contractors are used.  You get lousy drywall jobs.  You can see the seams.  If you're really unlucky, you get  nail pops.  It might not be on the same order as building a compiler, but isn't a completely trivial job.  I've done it myself before, and it took me a lot of work to make it right.

Clay Dowling
Tuesday, November 4, 2003

" I can think I'm doing great, because I don't know I could be doing things better/faster/easier"

In most real world scenarios, the prof didn't give you a quick overview of how something could be done better/faster/easier in the domain specific areas that you'll actually be facing doing your job: Maybe you're using .NET, and you could be doing everything so much better/faster/easier if you used a particular part of the framework in a particular way, or you're doing some cross-domain COM+ distributed transactions and are optimizing the RPC calls - somehow I doubt that "how to build a microprocessor" course is going to offer much assistance. When you're optimizing some t-sql statements, I doubt that class on "building an operating system" will have much applicability. This massive variability, and high domain specificity (with often minimal overlap), of computer science is the reason that a degree is so much less of a benefit in this field over many others.

The primary skill, and the most obvious predicate of skill, in this field are intelligence, problem solving abilities, ability to accept change, and initiative - this is a combination of skills that is actually remarkably rare (despite the absurd claims that this is a low barrier to entry field) : None of these are earned through a degree. Of course then you need to add in practical knowledge in particular domains to know what is and is not possible, and where to find solutions. A degree can help in the quest of acquiring that knowledge, but so can practical experience, reading magazines, staying on top in the forums, following current events, etc.

" "
Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Oh, you're talking about licensing a contractor.  There's a big difference between licensing the contractor and licensing the schmoe hanging the dry wall (I speak as a schmoe who has hung dry wall).

Yes, you might want your contractor to be licensed.  No point in licensing the individual workers though, it would just drive up the cost without significantly better results.

Most construction jobs are hard work, take some attention to detail and require a little knowledge of how to do things (generally aquired by having to redo a job three times or so), but let's be frank, if your drywall isn't the greatest it's probably not going to kill you.  And if you don't approve of the job they did, point it out and make them fix it (which is what your general contractor should be doing).

On a slightly related note, who the hell uses nails for drywall?

Steve Barbour
Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Carlin's Law: everyone driving faster than me is a maniac, and everyone driving slower than me is an idiot. (After the comedian, George Carlin.)

One of my Dad's favorita aphorisms: Where you stand depends on where you sit.

Jim S.
Thursday, November 6, 2003

>>On a slightly related note, who the hell uses nails for drywall?

Beat me to it on that one Steve.  :-)

Personally I'd take 5 people with drive and ambition over one highly educated Prima Donna.

Greg Kellerman
Monday, November 10, 2003

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