There’s a meme going round that you don’t need a college degree to be a success especially if you’re going to start your own business.
Citing examples such as Bill Gates, Henry Ford and Simon Cowell, it goes to show that success is not made out of paper qualifications. It’s all about talent, hard work, savvy and not a small amount of luck.
However you shouldn’t go through life thinking that college is a waste of time. I once told Aidan that I believed that you would only end up working in the field you studied in if you were very unlucky. My own example, a degree in Genetics, and yet I work in information technology and I’m glad of it. Though I love biology/genetics as a subject and I love being informed about it, I’d not have been as happy to work in that field for the rest of my life.
Itâ€™s natural to wonder whether college is really necessary. A college degree, as many have found, is no guarantee of a good career.
Going to college is not a guarantee of a career – you actually have to put some work in and keep working after the fact. Any fool that thinks a college degree is going to guarantee them success probably doesn’t need the degree (they’ve probably got the family connections).
As a commenter on the article remarked: you’ll be lucky to get the kind of success they describe with three college degrees. Using Richard Branson or Michael Dell as your life guru is one thing but don’t consider yourself a failure of you don’t achieve their lofty heights.
In many cases the luck element in terms of timing was just right. It would be hard for Michael Dell to make his fortune now if he were a college student building PCs in his dorm room. The same goes for Henry Ford. Looking at a recent example, Mark Zuckerberg is currently riding the crest of the wave that is Facebook which was started in February 2004 and has just been valued at $15 billion (which is about enough to get two gravy chips and a pastie by todays inflation).
Of course, some companies won’t even look at you if you don’t have a college degree. I remember campaigning to a manager in Nortel back in 1996 that they should get a recruiter out to see the writer of Dreadling, who was a Belfast teen. The reply was “But he wouldn’t have a degree.” which, as you can tell, is a bllinkered attitude directly linked to their share price (I’m kidding here). I hear he was whisked off to Apple after a stint at Biznet. He was described to me about a year later as a “star” by one of the seniors at Biznet. Every company should look for stars, college degree or not.
A college degree is a piece of paper which says “This person is capable of a standard of work.” There will always be cheats in the system (like one girl who got her boyfriend to do all of her coursework. She did tremendously well in coursework and then did badly in the exam, coming out with the lowest Honours classification after being a star pupil all year – which goes to show, you don’t have to work hard when there’s coursework involved). For the most part, however, it is a certification of some ability to think, write and prepare reports. There’s not much room for innovation as an undergraduate – the equipment you’re given is substandard, the teaching you’re given is full of personal bias and the postgraduates assigned to you actually hate you passionately with an intensity that increases every time to speak to them – so any undergrad who shows some innovation is going to be outside the norm.
Some of the most talented people I know don’t have college degrees yet they have managed to build up a resume which has some of the biggest names in business. They’ve proved their worth in terms of their ability to produce extraordinary results, their ability to learn quickly and make good relationships with colleagues.
I’m glad I went to college. I learned a lot, made some friends (retained very few) and had some fabulous experiences. I didn’t spend any of it “off my face” on drugs or alcohol (which makes me a bit of an oddity apparently) but I don’t feel I missed out any. I fell in with a “bad crowd” in terms of nocturnal entertainment because having reliable lab partners was of more value to me than a night out with the lads. College gave me my first exposure to real computers. Before this I’d had a Spectrum. In college I was logged into some DEC UNIX workstations and playing with telnet, finger, ftp because that’s all we had. There was no WWW at the time. I remember logging in one day and seeing a new icon in the Applications folder. Mosaic? And of course there wasn’t much out there. We certainly couldn’t buy anything over the net. And there was almost zero advertising. You had to go and look for it. But we had email, we had instant messenger (zwrite on the DECs, and talk to chat to people on other UNIX systems worldwide.), we met in virtual worlds (MUDs, MUSHes) and we built simple web sites. I find it a little bizarre that I can Google for my student ID from 1990 and find posts I made to newsgroups and mailing lists. I guess that’s a rather unfortunate non omnis moriar and not one I’d hoped for. I was in the College OTC and that meant I travelled, learned to shoot guns, went climbing an abseiling, flew in helicopters, drove tanks and otherwise had a great time. I’d not have missed that for the world.
College gave me a grounding in Information Technology. It gave me some great experiences. And it taught me a little about biology, evolution, genetics, chemistry and people.