I used to have educational ideals, but then I took a recession to the knee.

gore wrote:
DSGamer wrote:

#2 - I agree completely with technical vs. Liberal Arts degrees. Most pure engineers I've worked with are really difficult. They don't generally communicate well in an office environment and they aren't terrible adaptable. They tend to be prima-donnas and often rude to those of us without an engineering degree.

I don't think it's fair to conclude that your co-workers are jerks simply because they never had the fortune of studying Proust or Nietzsche or the Crimean war in a formal setting.

Maybe they're jerks just because they're jerks.

Fair enough. Maybe it's correlation and not causality. Either way the best co-workers I've ever had have generally held degrees in Liberal Arts or even had law degrees or BSAs. The worst have generally been actual CS majors.

I do know from personal experience that studying 18th century literature in a room filled with women will round off some rough edges. My college was very liberal. There was a huge gender studies program and it was almost universally assumed that every walking male was a potential date-rapist. So here I am, big football player. In order to become accepted I had to refine myself quite a bit and I do sincerely feel like it paid off. That ability to be sensitive and learn how to stand my ground while talking to someone and being sensitive.

I already had a decent emotional IQ and the ability to read people, but that situation taught me how to be very diplomatic, pick my words and ultimately I was well-liked in the English department. But I came in with rough edges that I don't think CS would have helped me to sort out.

I'm a weird bird so I have hesitated to post here, but this query is taking for-frelling-ever so what the heck.

Context first, my higher education. I have about fifty credits from a proper state university, but no degree. I do have an associates degree in Computer Science from a podunk city college in Alaska, and two incredibly antiquated technical certifcations (one for AutoCad and the other is a MCSE cert). All of them were gotten in 1993 or 1994. I also have a bunch of art training, but no certifications or anything to describe it with other than job experience and my bookshelf.

Resistance to economic trouble: Well, I guess you could say so. I got hired right out of school by a commercial architecture firm, and since then have only had one serious period of unemployment of about five months back in 2000; got laid off two weeks before Y2k, and it took me five months to land another slot after that. But part of that was emotional, too. I was frickin' wreck after that mess and I probably wouldn't have hired me either.

But I've been working steady since I was 14 and I don't think school was all that important to it. My skillset is really broad and really weird and this business chances so fast and so profoundly over the long haul it really can't keep up. When I went to school I was working on mainframe environments and my teachers made me learn how to deal with punched cards and paper tape. Needless to say, that's no longer relevant. Add to that my practical knowledge of other things (I grew up fixing and building things with my contractor/excavator stepfather) and I can usually grab two or three things off the pile, dust them off, and mash that into a job description.

For example, starting off I worked at the architectural firm setting up and teaching the architects how to use AutoCad and helping them come up with workflow and document management procedures, doing custom AutoCad command programming (frelling plotter drivers used to drive me insane), grunt-level drafting, document processing for the big government RFP forms and desktop publishing, database programming in ObjectPAL (good old Paradox) and report programming, and running a staff of people to do data entry for a giant auditing project about the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Three years later they decided the needed someone who could do networking and they went Novell and I didn't have any training there, so I left there to go to work at a small internet company managing the business, learning networking and the earliest stabs at N-tier development, creating brochure websites and web art back when it was new and cool you could put backgrounds on webpages, and building a centralized messaging system that could handle phone, email, fax, and even radio phones for remote sports hunting/fishing guides and lodges in the Bush so customers could contact them straight from their webpage. Yawn now but for 1995 it was awesome - the interface ran on Mosaic, Netscape 1.0 and then we had to make it work on IE3 when it came out. The backend was Xbase and the production servers were down in Seattle in my boss's brother-in-law's closet so I had to deal with "the cloud" before it ever showed up on anyone else's horizon.

From there I moved to Seattle and went to the Northwest Education Loan Association writing technical and user documentation for a new risk tracking system once I figured out how to use the retarded Leviathan, and then from there to MS, working on the online components of Office. From there I went to the Tax and Audit division at MS, and from there to my current gig at an online legal research library which will be 10 years in August.

How do I feel about my decision to go to college?: Well, once I got my loans paid off I felt a lot better about it. For the state college I went to I had a full scholarship, but I paid for the city college and the certifications. The sticker-shock from that is nothing to what I see here these days, though.

To the limited extent they helped me get in the door, I'm glad I went. Since then, I can say the most practically useful info I got out of the whole thing was the Accounting classes that CS degree required under the premise that if you're working in the business world, a great deal of programming was crunching numbers so you should have some familiarity. It taught me that a) I do NOT ever want to be an accountant, b) doing this by hand is batsh*t insane and I had a burning desire to learn to use a computer to deal with it and c) enough to nod in the right places when reading a spec or having an accountant talk requirements at me. It's stood me in good stead.

What do I think of worker training programs?: Can opened, worms possibly everywhere. Getting people working is key. Too many people have been taught that sitting in a classroom for four years guarantees them a middle-class wage in an air-conditioned office no matter what they do and that never was true. There's a heck of a lot of work in the real world that has to be done that can't be done from an Aeon chair and there are people out there who would be good and happy doing it if they hadn't gotten the idea that it's somehow beneath them.

But I agree wholeheartedly that there is a heck of a lot more out there that has to be learned to make someone a well-rounded person. There has to be some way to bring that to them. In the short term, I think people are going to have to change the way they think about things in a lot of areas.

But even a more technical degree won't automatically help you these days. One of my son's friends just got out of school last year with a four-year Justice degree and I helped him with quite a bit of his homework (insert long rant about the garbage they're teaching kids in all levels of school these days). He's having a terrible time finding a job even with a purportedly more marketable degree.

Do I think the recession has changed people's minds about technical/community college?: I don't think it's all of it, but I hope it carries it forward. There was some shifting before that. The shortfalls they were looking at in several key industries like health- as the population ages were starting to shift some things in my state before the bubble burst, and it's only accelerated since then. I don't think it's penetrated to the lower levels, though, and that's where it's key. They're still teaching each kid that they HAVE to go to college. To graduate from my local school district, you have to apply to four-year colleges and go through a year of guided college hunting. This is even the Special Education kids. Until that sort of thinking is changed, I don't know if we're going to catch this next generation in time.

I've always been self-driven, and without that I don't think my schooling would have taken me past the architectural firm. I made my first HTML page during my job interview at the internet company and they hired me anyways because it demonstrated I could learn fast.

And my "liberal arts" education didn't wait until college. I had teachers in jr and senior high who made it abundantly clear that it was necessary to know Keats and Milton as well as Newton. Athletics, music, and the arts were also required. None of that stuff is coming out of the public schools now. I still study a great deal on my own on things that have nothing to do with computers. The internet is a key part of that. I would never have time to do things the old-fashioned way and still keep a living wage job.

Before college, I worked "in the industry" anyways, doing small freelance programming and design jobs part time on top of going to school and working George jobs. The college didn't get me my job; the bar my ex husband was tending was considered to be a "conference room" for the firm and when two of the principles were complaining about having to go to digital format for their drawings to keep their government contracts my ex piped he knew someone who could help.

That said, I am seriously considering a new direction in my life. I realized a while ago now that I've been doing this for 25 years now, and that's not a sentence I'm comfortable with. I'm going to be making some changes to at least a funner branch of this industry if nothing else over the next couple years.

I checked into it and confirmed if I do decide to go back to school to get the paper that everyone says must go with my job experience I would have to start over. None of it would transfer - way way too old. And I priced that out and nearly fainted.

I don't know what I'm going to do. I may start another thread about that, though.

As far as engineers having a bad attitude, I think it has less to do with their degree and more to do with what employers let them get away with. I worked at Microsoft for several years and saw lots of bad behavior that was tolerated because the artard in question was one of 5 experts in the world in a particular programming language. Many regular employers let run-of-the-mill IT specialists get away with being prima donnas because the boss is scared of anything more technical than opening a web browser.

Does a degree make you more resistance to economic difficulty?

No. However having skills in a field where there is scarcity of labor does. The degree you have is incidental to that barring that some high scarcity fields (medical) require degrees. If you have a degree in a field where there isn't a scarcity of labor, having a college loan actually makes you less resistant to economic difficulty since you can't discharge them in bankruptcy.

It also makes you less resistant if you get suckered into an expensive college for a degree like social work where the salaries simply do not justify the size of the loan required.

My decision to attend college
Satisfied. I went into a technical field (computers) and picked up as many credits as I could in business, finance, economics, etc. Not only do I have expert level technical skills in development but I picked up a lot of general business knowledge so in my early career I was vaulted up the ladder quickly for my capability to interact with non-IT stakeholders.

I went back a few years ago and picked up my MBA because I have executive management aspirations and it's a gatekeeper. Most of my knowledge and skill is self-taught though. The degree was a piece of paper I put a cost/benefit against back in the 90s that came out net positive.

What do you think of the worker retraining programs that are being touted? Should they be trade-school-only, since the point is to help people become employed again, or should university be included?

I think that the limiters are inherent in the person, not the available training. Community college, etc has been widely available for many years. The people who have the drive and talent to attend and retrain are doing so. We certainly need programs to make it accessible, but anyone who thinks if you shut down a factory of 1,000 workers that even 20% of them can be retrained into computer technicians is smoking something. Joe Sixpack has a job putting widget A into slot B because he doesn't have the talent or ambition to be much more. Average people are... average.

Do you think the recession has changed people's perception of community colleges and trade schools?
I hope so. If you don't know what you want to do with your life but feel compelled to go to college, you belong in a community college. It's financially irresponsible to do otherwise. Trade skills, just like other skilled fields like computers, medicine, etc require knowledge, common sense, and craftsmanship. A great electrician will beat the pants off of most college grads in lifelong earnings. I have two sons, if they turn out not to be textbook smart but have good common sense I will strongly advise them to seek the trades. Additionally, you can't offshore an electrician to China.

jdzappa wrote:

As far as engineers having a bad attitude, I think it has less to do with their degree and more to do with what employers let them get away with. I worked at Microsoft for several years and saw lots of bad behavior that was tolerated because the artard in question was one of 5 experts in the world in a particular programming language. Many regular employers let run-of-the-mill IT specialists get away with being prima donnas because the boss is scared of anything more technical than opening a web browser.

Well of course they will be prima donnas. The unemployment rate in IT is 3% which in economic terms is effectively 0. Even in economic crapholes like Detroit you can find a thousand technical jobs open.

Additionally, businesses are incredibly reliant on computers and their systems. A severe outage could literally put some firms out of business. Given that and the supply/demand situation, IT people have their employers by the nads if they play their cards right.

jdzappa wrote:

As far as engineers having a bad attitude, I think it has less to do with their degree and more to do with what employers let them get away with. I worked at Microsoft for several years and saw lots of bad behavior that was tolerated because the artard in question was one of 5 experts in the world in a particular programming language. Many regular employers let run-of-the-mill IT specialists get away with being prima donnas because the boss is scared of anything more technical than opening a web browser.

Except that I just explained how I worked in software and knew plenty of people with degrees in Liberal Arts who didn't have bad attitudes. I've been in the industry for 13 years and still manage to appreciate my job. I think there is definitely something there in terms of what you get out of a soft skills education and how that prepares you to relate to others.

DSGamer wrote:
jdzappa wrote:

As far as engineers having a bad attitude, I think it has less to do with their degree and more to do with what employers let them get away with. I worked at Microsoft for several years and saw lots of bad behavior that was tolerated because the artard in question was one of 5 experts in the world in a particular programming language. Many regular employers let run-of-the-mill IT specialists get away with being prima donnas because the boss is scared of anything more technical than opening a web browser.

Except that I just explained how I worked in software and knew plenty of people with degrees in Liberal Arts who didn't have bad attitudes. I've been in the industry for 13 years and still manage to appreciate my job. I think there is definitely something there in terms of what you get out of a soft skills education and how that prepares you to relate to others.

We really shouldn't abstract such a small sample size.

bandit0013 wrote:
jdzappa wrote:

As far as engineers having a bad attitude, I think it has less to do with their degree and more to do with what employers let them get away with. I worked at Microsoft for several years and saw lots of bad behavior that was tolerated because the artard in question was one of 5 experts in the world in a particular programming language. Many regular employers let run-of-the-mill IT specialists get away with being prima donnas because the boss is scared of anything more technical than opening a web browser.

Well of course they will be prima donnas. The unemployment rate in IT is 3% which in economic terms is effectively 0. Even in economic crapholes like Detroit you can find a thousand technical jobs open.

Additionally, businesses are incredibly reliant on computers and their systems. A severe outage could literally put some firms out of business. Given that and the supply/demand situation, IT people have their employers by the nads if they play their cards right.

I've seen the opposite here in Seattle. Back in 2009-2010 Microsoft let several thousand people go and the market was flooded for a long time. If people are struggling in one of the biggest high tech area outside of Silicon Valley, I think things are worse than Dice is letting on. Sure, there are lots of job openings. Many openings are company attempts at fishing for the best candidate. Those job openings will stay open for months. It's still really tough to get back in the game if you're unemployed in IT, albeit probably easier than say being an out-of-work automaker.

Also, there are tens of thousands of hungry Indian and Chinese IT experts out there, and from what I've seen both groups are far more polite than a lot of American IT guys. Perhaps outsourcing isn't just about saving money but also getting better professionalism?

jdzappa wrote:

Also, there are tens of thousands of hungry Indian and Chinese IT experts out there, and from what I've seen both groups are far more polite than a lot of American IT guys. Perhaps outsourcing isn't just about saving money but also getting better professionalism?

It's easy for IT people to become slightly embittered. You have to realize a good chunk of their existence is spent fixing everyone else's screw-ups. The other chunk is spent explaining to non technical people why their ideas won't work or are bad. The last chunk is spent trying to figure out why the software that is marketed as doing X does Y instead.

It's easy for IT people to become slightly embittered. You have to realize a good chunk of their existence is spent fixing everyone else's screw-ups. The other chunk is spent explaining to non technical people why their ideas won't work or are bad. The last chunk is spent trying to figure out why the software that is marketed as doing X does Y instead.

Oh man, that list can go on and on...

I think a problem with the whole "people should learn trade skills and not go to college" sentiment is that you are forcing people into a paycheck to paycheck existence.

I remember we talked about mike rowe going before congress and talking about getting more people into trades, etc, and remember thinking, "right on!". Then I thought about the pay those people receive. Out of the military I worked at various technical companies and always worked my way up the ladder but always hit that non-degree ceiling. It was tough to pay for health insurance and save for retirement (ie, zero).

With my engineering degree, I don't have to worry about that anymore personally but how do you propose to change the employers mindset of "no degree means lower pay".

But it's irrational to think that think that everyone is going to get a high-paying job. Because there are people already who go to college with no clear direction on what they want to do and graduate with a degree but no marketable skills. Then what? They live paycheck to paycheck with student loans on top of that.

I'm only guessing here, I'd imagine that the job markets opened up by trade school aren't the ones where lack of a degree is a hindrance.

To some (no pun intended) degree, I think my degree is worthless. I didn't do any internships or get a job right out of college and that made it nearly impossible to get a job in my field years later. I finally landed one at the most unprofessional and downright absurd software company you can find. If they had any brains at all I probably wouldn't have been hired and been able to use that experience to get my next job.

It's been my observation that experience >>>>>>> college degree.

Experience may be worth more but then some places won't even read through your resume if the diploma or degree isn't on there too, regardless of whether the degree's knowledge is actually relevant to the job.

These days, at least locally, it seems that even the very basic entry positions require both - the diploma or degree AND 3-5+ years experience. You may be able to do the job but that's not much help if a computer or human resources person auto-junks your resume.

I thought this was good and fairly relevant here.

On the topic of the changing structure of "industrial age" education models:

Stanley Fish, curmudgeon emeritus, on Digital Humanities (the field I'm working on a masters in). What he's missing in his value of books or any other self-contained and final utterances is that printed materials were a way of coping with the limitations of geographic and temporal distance. Ideally, the great minds of history would probably have preferred to hang out in symposium all day and have their conversations automatically transcribed and marked up for later reference and analysis.

That said, I see value in directed education. Self-directed studies can leave huge blind spots.