Without an Education, Will Techies Go Far Enough?

For this article, I am standing firmly on a soap box.

The Associated Press reported, today, on a few information technologist that are doing well in their young careers, so well, in fact, that they each hope to retire before reaching middle age, and they attained their success without a formal higher education. This article struck a raw chord with me, because I emphasize the value of formal education to all of the students whom I teach, including those seeking a B.S. in information technology (IT) and those pursuing a M.B.A. with a further concentration in IT.

The true, lasting, value of their education (and degrees) is not so much to gain their first few promotions, those elevations will come based on technical certifications and demonstrated technical acumen. The lasting value is in the cognitive polish that is developed from rigorous, guided scholastic work and mentored critical thinking, both of which are required during the pursuit of a formal academic degree. The two IT workers described in the article, which I read on CNN.com, are reportedly earning significant salaries; however, their success is fallaciously related to their lack of formal academic training. Both of the interviewees are successful because of their hard work and a generous helping of good luck: one is an entrepreneur, the other is rewarded with stock options. Along with Bill Gates and Michael Dell, these two bring to four the total number of successful IT folk without at least one college degree that I’ve read about in the last two decades.

Yes, good work is rewarded; however, good work, coupled with a well-earned college education is much more likely to result in significant professional success. The ability to critically analyze data, perform algebraic and geometric computations (such as calculating the linear feet of cable required to wire a building) and persuasively argue (or actively listen) are all skills best learned in the combination of classroom and office. These are skills that, along with those taught in a liberal arts curriculum, are valued in business leaders.

Not all IT workers will have a series of fortunate events, as did the two men described in the news report. For the vast majority of us, we must take all advantages, and a solid education is one personal advantage that I earnestly hope will be valued by all IT professionals.

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Some Techies Find Success Without a College Degree


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