Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Has your college degree helped you?

College is an essential part of an individual's education. While it doesn't guarantee a job in that particular field by any means, it does further your way of thinking. I'm one of those who wishes I had taken more courses and stayed in college longer but I didn't feel challenged so I wrapped things up with a relatively low level degree in a somewhat low paying field but I knew from the age of 14 that it's what I wanted to do. And two months after graduating college I had that all important first job in the general area of what I wanted to do.

I evolved with that job and even after moving and taking a new job in the same field where my focus was originally back to my roots, I have again experienced that evolution. The relatively open management has not only allowed but encouraged my experimentations with social media and writing. They hired me, I think, because my skills spoke for themselves and my boss realized the potential I had so even with what now looks like the portfolio of a high schooler, I was hired. Nearly seven years later I am still doing what I love along with all of the side experimentation and dabbling in other sometimes unrelated areas.

I realized very early on that I needed to diversify to stay viable. So I took on a bunch of IT-related duties. I worked with software vendors and solved problems. I travelled locally to meet with B2B-type customers and made those relationships more efficient for all parties. After moving I did less of that but still solve problems that if left unsolved would grind operations to a halt and effect not only us but service providers we rely on and charge us for time spent on our projects. But in my back pocket, through all of this, I still have that practically meaningless degree as a back-up. Sure, it's probably not entirely meaningless because it's directly related to the very job I've held for over a decade but it's really just a piece of paper saying I've completed courses whose curriculum is basically outdated.

Then a drastic reorganization hit us. Call it change for the sake of change or needed change to see if things can be made to run better but it's been met with plenty of resistance. A colleague found out that projects previously his or her own would be taken away essentially because he or she doesn't have a degree in the particular field we are employed in. My colleague, whom one person is essentially deeming as underqualified, is the best on our team and has proven so time and time again. Consistently going above and beyond and satisfying customers while meeting deadlines and being pleasant to be around. Let me say that again, the best on our team - the best I've ever worked with.

But because this colleague is no longer the shining star because one person has decided that everyone should be equals. A level playing field. All this based on initial conversations without examining work. What I take away is that the best will again rise to the top because every team has grunts and superstars. Equality is nice but it isn't always reality. It takes superstars and behind-the-scenes people to make a team work. We can't all be quarterbacks but one person seems to think so. I have faith that it will all work out in the end and that those superstar-type projects will again return to their rightful superstar but it will be a bumpy road between now and then.

As I've found out via Twitter, degrees are a good launching pad but in the long run it's experience and proof via your work that make you successful. And there are plenty, too, who are damn good at what they do with degrees in totally different areas than what they are employed in. So, while college has value and I'm not saying that you shouldn't pursue a degree in something you're both interested in and good at, that degree isn't the be all, end all. So what if that BFA in Art History is gathering dust as you toil away as a manager. Those skills gained as a manager could launch you in to HR or something more. Or that lowly tech certificate could allow you to pursue a boat load of cool side projects because it's allowed you to be a jack of all trades and getting paid to find your niche is pretty damn cool. Just like MinnPics has been called pretty damn cool. Plus it's the only intensely Minnesota photo blog showcasing the photos of others that I know of so go check it out.


VE said...

Interesting post. I only bothered to get a two year degree and even that seemed a waste of time other than I found my first job during an award ceremony for grades. So I guess immediately on it worked. After that, forget it. I'll take smart, motivated people over college degrees any day.

snowelf said...

My degree really did help me because I didn't know crap about computers when I started it, so it was a great launching off point. IT is an ever changing field though, so as soon as you know something, they change it. I've learned just as much on the job as I did in school. Plus, with IT, most employers don't look at your schooling as much as they look at what you know how to do practically, so I knew I didn't need more than a 2 year degree just to get my foot in the door to let the real learnin' begin! :)

Good luck with your house, Sornie!!


Anonymous said...

I think college gives a lot of naive people the false impression that soon afterward, you will be on your way doing exactly what you expected, and that you will then ride off into the sunset of life-long career happiness.
I also think if you go to college fresh out of high school, you might not know yourself as well as you think - maybe picking something that you love to do, but find that it doesn't fit you in in some other career-critical sort of way.

Jacki said...

I think my degree has helped me gain all the theoretical knowledge necessary to get started in life as an engineer, but it didn't prepare me at all for a career. There is only so much you can learn in a classroom, but the bulk of it, say 90%, can only come from experience and on-the-job learning. I mean, I came out with a BS, but when I started working, I realized I didn't know anything compared to those who had been in the field for years.

And I certainly don't think that people should be evaluated purely on whether or not they have a degree. That is just stupid.

Sarah said...

The actual content/base of my BA is doing nothing for me. The experience in college -- learning to be a critical thinker and a better writer has helped tremendously. The problem in my case, is while taking 8 years to do a four year degree I worked in a totally unrelated field and here I sit, still in that field but with a degree. Woot!

At any rate, great post!

Anonymous said...

Bookmarked this. Thanksgiving owing to you against sharing. Definitely benefit my time.

No said...

Amen, brother!