Re: [OFF TOPIC] College Degree

From: Bill Ferguson <>
Date: Tue, 8 Dec 2009 07:42:28 -0700
Message-ID: <>

Congrats on considering this. Here is my perspective, from the other side of the fence.

I am a high school dropout. I dropped out on my 16th birthday, burned all my school books, and took a few menial jobs (gas station and restaraunt). On my 17th birthday, the Army recruiters gave me an age-waiver so I could take my GED. I had the results back in 11 days and then signed up (just 8 days before the end of the Vietnam War). I trained as Infantry (lots of comparable civilian jobs there!), with my first duty assignment as a security guard in Panmunjom, Korea.

After the Army, I took a one year course in Mechanical Drafting, which turned out to only pay a hair above minimum wage. After doing this for a couple of years, computers were just starting to make their way into the business environment, and CAD was still a fledgling industry, but I could see the writing on the wall. I got an Osborne 1 'portable' computer, which came with dBase 2, and I taught myself dBase and some Z-80 Assembly language programming. Being a Vietnam "Era" vet, I qualified for a special incentive for employers to hire me (the government would pay half my wages for a year), and I eventually got a job writing a program for a small company to manage their inventory, service calls, sales, tax reports, sales commisions, etc. I did that for about 8 years before getting hired on as contractor to the Government for some Oracle programming (which I'd never even heard of). About 6 months into this, the guy I was working for took a two week business trip to Australia to check out how they did their mineral databases, and left me a stack of corrections to do while he was gone. Well, they were real simple and I finished them fairly fast, and then started looking for other things to do. I noticed some of our reports had problems (they were all done in FORTRAN), so I found a FORTRAN book (I didn't know FORTRAN either) and got the reports fixed, then consolidated the report generation screens into just one with parameters.

He was pretty impressed when he got back, and after a 'regular' government job opened up, doing the same stuff I was doing as a contractor, I got that job, and have been doing so ever since, though with a new agency now. Where I am now, almost everyone has a PhD, and I am still the only high school dropout I know of there. With my lack of formal education, I have to work harder and longer than everybody else, along with the fact that I don't create publications like they do, so my work isn't as visible.

I've tried over the years to go back and get a degree in something, but the courses have always been so boring I always quit. It wasn't until around 4 or 5 years ago in family couseling that I was finally diagnosed as having ADHD, which explained why I always had a hard time with formal learning.

Anyway, over the years I have worked with both some pretty stupid people and some brilliant people, and at both ends of the spectrum, it was pretty evenly matched with folks with degrees and floks without degrees. My opinion is that the mere possession of a degree doesn't mean the person has any usable knowledge of the subject (often times quite the contrary in my experience). To me, what matters most, is the possession of sound "common sense" and problem solving skills, both of which seem to not be taught by parents or schools these days. A good sound work ethic helps as well, as most of the people I've worked with that have degrees seem to have a sense of entitlement that they don't have to work as hard (I know this is not the case everywhere and with everybody though).

So, with those three things under your belt, in my own opinion, it doesn't matter much what you have (or don't have). The degree will help open the door, but the other three things are what keeps the door open. HR people though generally have a different opinion. Without a degree, I have had to struggle extremely hard just to get my foot in the door for both jobs and promotions. So, get a degree in whatever YOU are interested in, not in what you think potential employers want.


Received on Tue Dec 08 2009 - 08:42:28 CST

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