6 responses to “Weekend Journal — The Value Of School Lies In Opportunity”

  1. Awkward Engineer (Sam)

    While I have definitely been able to learn material from online courses, I think it’s worth discussing the amount of personal discipline and resolve it takes to do so. When I think about what it would take to keep that up through 4 years, of college, well, then I wonder some more.

  2. ferd

    “An employee willing to take on new challenges and question authority”

    When I read that trait I thought you meant to challenge, or at least not blindly follow, management directives. Which can be a slippery slope. But your linked article was merely about allowing yourself to expand your own horizons. Which is also valid… just not what the statement implies.

  3. Michael Brown

    This is a good piece, and I agree with the several points raised. I have a few comments:

    – I’m reminded of one of my favourite lines: ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’. Code Academy et al. may not be as good as a top engineering school, but it certainly competes on cost! More generally, and on an international scale, if an education 75% as good as MIT/Stanford/etc can be provided for say 25% of the cost, this would be great for the ‘democratization’ of education.

    – I think the part about experience vs degree applies to higher education more generally, rather than engineering specifically. For one, a P. Eng requires a degree from an accredited school (at least in Canada, I believe there is a similar process in the US). Although not mandatory for work in the field of ‘technology’, a P.Eng is certainly a ‘signal’ of a minimum of competence and expertise.

    Also, 20 years to repay an undergrad eng degree seems fairly implausible in most circumstances, even today.

    – Speaking of signalling in general, a degree of any sort is more often the minimum requirement for any sort of office type job. Search costs means that most firms will likely not investigate ‘alternate education’ in great detail and would prefer to rely on established signals, eg work experience, degree, and school (probably more relevant in the US than Canada, to the former’s detriment IMHO).

    – I think a good firm will appreciate this sort of education, ie they will value an applicant’s experience properly. Sadly, I do not think this is or will necessarily be the norm; there is plenty of room in the fitness landscape for mediocrity. Demographic and financial pressures will change this calculus in the next few decades; these changes however could be incremental rather than drastic.

    – I read one of your last points as ‘access to… … is rapidly shrinking.’ At the margin this is probably true considering rising costs and relatively stagnant wages, but I’m not sure what this means for society in general. Improved access to education is good for all professions – why discriminate entrance to a skilled trade based on how much money your parents make? Is engineering worse or better in this regard than other trades, such as doctors, lawyers, electricians, etc.?

    I appreciated this piece. It’s good ’21st century thinking’.


  4. IEM UAB

    Couldn’t agree more with the ideas you’re putting forward here. One of the concepts we teach, actually, is exactly as you say the “piece of paper” idea–a diploma is just a piece of paper. What makes a person successful is their drive, passion, and commitment.

    You list apprenticeship as a way to move past the “diploma syndrome.” Have you found that works for people who try it? How do you compare apprenticeship to entry level jobs? Something we recommend is the idea of Reverse Interviewing-where your focus instead of on getting a job is to learn more about the field you want to work in by interviewing people you identify as “Successful” in the way you want to be. Learn from the people who are already there, then emulate. Looking forward to hearing your feedback on these comparisons. Thanks for writing!

  5. Outrider

    Some good points. University is a major source of what I like to refer to as “opportunity topology.” In the 21st century, money is just a waste product. If you want to create value and the U.S. is starved for value, you need to get the intellectual and capital resources together in specific venues where everyone understands “what is in it for them.” University’s have a surplus of these types of intersections of interests.

  6. John Seehorn

    The apprenticeship route really does work, at least it did for me. It took a long time to work my way up from a technician to an engineering position. It then took a lot of self directed study time to prepare for the FE and PE exams without an engineering degree. Fortunately I qualified in my state to take the exams based on work experience. The requirements very greatly by state. There is a list of links for requirements for each state on my blog site NoDegreePE.com. On the site I write about preparing for the exams for those with lots of work experience but little formal education.