CHUCK: Who are we waiting for. Joe?
JOE: We’re waiting for everybody.
JOE: No, everybody’s waiting for me.
JOE: I’m here. The party can start.
DAVE: The world waits for Joe.
JOE: Do you know how many Joe’s it takes to screw in a light bulb?
JOE: I just hold it up and the world revolves around me.
JOE: Hey, everybody.
CHUCK: Aimee Knight.
CHUCK: Jamison Dance.
JAMISON: Hello, friends.
CHUCK: Dave Smith.
CHUCK: I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.TV. Quick announcement, I have the page up for JS Remote Conf, so go check it out.
This week we’re going to be talking about whether or not you need a college degree. And I think there’s probably some nuance to this conversation. But I kind of want to go around the horn real quick and see just briefly if you could say yes, no, or it depends, and a brief statement of why, whether or not you think that somebody should get a college degree maybe in Computer Science if they’re interested in being a programmer.
JOE: Can we find out first who has a college degree on the panel?
JAMISON: In general or in Computer Science?
JOE: I don’t care.
CHUCK: If you have a college degree, tell us what it’s in.
DAVE: Campus wildlife.
JOE: I want that degree.
JAMISON: Do you feed the trashcan cats?
CHUCK: I could just see Dave Smith walking around U of U campus or something with an Australian accent.
DAVE: Why Australian?
JOE: A video you know, take a video.
JAMISON: Or because of Steve Irwin.
JAMISON: I almost said Crocodile Dundee.
DAVE: [In Australian accent] This is a very rare specimen.
JOE: Pretty good.
CHUCK: Alright. Well, I can start this off.
JAMISON: Yeah. Nobody actually answered.
CHUCK: I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering.
DAVE: Which we like to call remedial Computer Science.
AIMEE: Oh, gosh.
JOE: It starts already.
CHUCK: It’s going to be one of those.
AIMEE: I’m scared to know what’s going to happen when I say mine.
CHUCK: The hardware is cool, too.
JOE: This is Joe. I do not have a degree in anything.
JAMISON: I don’t have a degree. I have two classes to finish a degree. And I’ve had those two classes for a few years now.
CHUCK: What were you majoring in?
JAMISON: It was Computer Science. Computer Science with an emphasis in Bioinformatics.
JOE: You know what, Jamison? I took two classes at the university. So, you can have mine.
JAMISON: Yeah. [Inaudible]
CHUCK: There you go. Between the two of you, you have a college degree.
DAVE: Isn’t that what a transfer is?
JOE: Yeah. [Inaudible]
CHUCK: How about you, Dave?
DAVE: I have a degree. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science.
CHUCK: Alright. Then you, Aimee?
AIMEE: I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Comm. So useful. Not. And the minor was in Journalism. And then I started to go back to school for Physical Therapy for two years but decided not to do that. And then I also started to go back to school for a Bachelor’s in IT and decided not to do that. So, that’s where I stand.
JOE: So wait, what was your degree in? What comm?
AIMEE: Mass Communications.
JOE: Mass Communications.
AIMEE: Totally not useful. [Chuckles]
DAVE: Oh, I thought you were saying Mathematics Communication, which also would be a really cool degree.
JOE: And hey, wait a second. You are communicating to the masses right now.
CHUCK: That’s right.
JOE: You are the only one with an appropriate degree.
CHUCK: Or in my case, I’m a massive communicator.
AIMEE: Yeah. It is kind of a blend now.
JAMISON: So, you got a history. You never got the answer from us, though.
DAVE: Oh, do you need one?
CHUCK: Let’s go back around the horn. Yeah, do you need a college degree? Dave, why don’t you just tell us?
DAVE: Well, we really, really got to frame the context before I can answer the question.
DAVE: Like for example…
JAMISON: Oh, this is way more than one word.
CHUCK: Okay, so this is ‘it depends’.
DAVE: Well, I mean I was going to say that in the United States the answer may be very different than in Germany. There are a lot more prospective computer programmers outside the US than in. I think most of us only really have context for inside the US.
CHUCK: It’s true.
JOE: Well, why don’t you answer it for both US and Germany then?
DAVE: Oh, well for Germany…
DAVE: I have no idea.
CHUCK: Oh, man.
DAVE: I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to this question. But I have a lot of really interesting data points that I’ll share over the course of the next hour.
CHUCK: Okay. Joe, what do you think?
JAMISON: No, with a big old asterisk next to it.
AIMEE: I’m going to say it depends as well.
CHUCK: Yeah, I’m firmly in the ‘it depends’ camp.
DAVE: I’d like to change my answer to a big old asterisk with a little ‘no’ next to it.
AIMEE: And I will say, definitely ‘depends on CS’. I’m less so on ‘it depends on just a degree in general’. But, still a little ‘it depends’.
CHUCK: So, let’s talk briefly about what a degree gets you. I’ve known several people who had Computer Science degrees or they went to a trade school and studied programming. And it made a big difference in their ability to get a job. It made a big difference in their ability to move up in the companies that they worked in. And I’ve known other people that don’t have degrees and seem to be doing just as well. So, does it depend on the person? It seems like to me at least, that’s what it is, is what job do you want and who you are.
JAMISON: I think a lot of it does depend in the person. I know I didn’t program until I started going to college. So, even though I don’t have a degree, I don’t think I would have a job [chuckles] as a programmer if I didn’t go to college and almost get a degree. So, I think you don’t need it but it sure can make some [things] easier. There’s this weird disconnect between… especially if you don’t go to college, if you come into programming through a less formal training route like a bootcamp or just teaching yourself, there’s this weird disconnect between you know how to program and someone will hire you for your first job. I don’t know how that ever happens. If you have a degree, there’s this defined… or if you’re in college there’s this defined pipeline to shuffle you into jobs. And if you don’t, it’s a lot fuzzier.
DAVE: You mean like there’s not like a super clear path for you then, as a [inaudible]?
JAMISON: Yeah. I mean, you can graduate from a bootcamp and then you go interview. And if you don’t any of those first jobs, I don’t know. What do you do? You just keep interviewing and hope someone hires you. But there’s not these… there are career fairs. But it’s the people that come to the career fairs at school are conservative and they’re used to… they’ve been doing this for decades. They’re used to hiring new graduates or students out of them.
JAMISON: It’s a lot messier in the bootcamp or self-taught world, I think. Not worse in any way. Just a lot of people are figuring out how to handle junior… how do we provide a good environment for junior developers? Is this a company where we can even hire junior developers and not have them be miserable or quit because we expect them to know things they don’t know? And I don’t know.
DAVE: Yeah. I think the whole software development industry as a whole, over the last five to ten years, has really undergone a big paradigm shift. Because for the first time in the industry, we’re in a place where there aren’t enough people to do the jobs we have. And so, they’re having to go to these alternative means for sourcing candidates to work for them. And they’re having to make changes to their processes and things that have been established as tradition for 30, 40 years. Like for example not necessarily sourcing 100% of your candidates from the local university.
CHUCK: So, one advantage at least to getting a degree is that you’re in an environment that has sort of a pipeline set forward that the people who want to hire college graduates are going to come and pull people from that pool?
JAMISON: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s a good way to think about it. And you’re also in an environment where there are lots of people with part-time jobs. And those are easy ways to get into programming jobs, because they’re used to hiring junior people or people that are less experienced.
JAMISON: And you’re a student, so most students don’t have as much responsibility as far as making money and supporting other people. And some people have different circumstances. But you can work these part-time jobs and get experience without needing to just immediately support yourself through a living wage, I guess.
CHUCK: I can jump on that. When I worked, or when I was attending the university here I had a job doing IT. And I helped administer or administrate or administration, or whatever you want to call it.
DAVE: [Laughs] ‘Administerize’ is the correct term.
CHUCK: Gotcha. I ‘adminiterized’ Linux servers and Windows servers at different points. I also did some NetWare work. But yeah, it was all sort of relevant. I didn’t go directly into a programming job when I graduated. But yeah, I had plenty of experience that helped me move along in my career to where I wound up.
DAVE: I would like to actually hear from each of you how you got to where you are today. And we’ve actually heard this a lot from Aimee, incidentally. Several times on the show, we’ve heard her story.
DAVE: Over the last two or three years, which I love. It’s an amazing story. And I think it’s actually becoming more and more representative of developers and the traditional classically trained computer science graduate is actually becoming, I would say, a minority among my peers and among the people I interact with. But Joe, what was your track? How did you get to where you are today? Educationally only, please.
JOE: A bit of luck. I am like Jamison, programmed in my teen years. So, I was lucky. I was working at a company that was doing some technical work and I had just, I don’t know, a light technical job. I wasn’t even doing real technician stuff. And then one other manager needed a programmer really desperately and asked my manager. And he said, “I don’t have any of my developers I could loan you. But I have a guy that’s taken some classes,” because I’d taken high school and a couple of college classes. And so, they handed me the Visual FoxPro books. And this was back in the days when you’d go down, when you bought a piece of software, you only bought it physically. There was no internet.
DAVE: [Inaudible] came in a box.
JOE: [Chuckles] It came in a box. And there were three huge books.
CHUCK: We knew that when you said FoxPro.
JOE: Yeah, [chuckles] yeah. Anybody who recognizes that name will get a laugh, a kick out of it. Huge, these huge big books in a big box. And it was over a three-day weekend and he says, “If you can do this when you come back, then I’ll hire you to work for me.” And it was supposed to be like a loan, but very quickly I became just a full-time programmer for him. So, there was definitely a lot of luck in me getting my first actual paying job. Right place, right time.
DAVE: And how long ago was that, Joe?
DAVE: Okay, cool…
JOE: Just shy of 20 years.
DAVE: Oh, wow. 20 years of Visual FoxPro, a career.
JOE: That would be awesome.
DAVE: Is Visual FoxPro a little bit like VBA or Microsoft Access, in spirit at least?
JOE: Probably closer to halfway between Access and SQL Server.
JOE: It’s more like a full programming language than Access is and it has kind of a database, a more production-worthy database behind it. But it’s not like a big full database like SQL Server. So, it was in a very weird position. There was a bunch of languages that evolved from it. Totally interesting story, not really, not germane.
DAVE: How long were you doing that before you moved onto your next thing?
JOE: Oh, a year, two years.
DAVE: Then what?
JOE: Three years. Then VB. Sorry, yeah.
DAVE: Then you went straight from ES 6, right?
JOE: [Chuckles] ’99 was VB. And then 2000 and 2001 was C#, whenever the first year that C# came out. We were using it in beta. We switched from VB to C#, the shop I was at.
DAVE: You did that for quite a long time, really.
JOE: Yeah, like almost 9 years. Almost a decade.
DAVE: What about you, Jamison? What was your path?
JAMISON: I took a Computer Science course my sophomore year of college. I liked it. I worked in a data entry job at this crappy tech company that preyed on students [chuckles] by promising to [who] wanted to work as programmers that they would be able to and then not letting them.
JAMISON: And just kind of dangling it in front of them forever. So, I worked there for a while. And then after that I became a web master at the Computer Science Department, which is basically I just was a PHP developer on a Drupal site. And then after that, I got my first, what I would consider real programming job off-campus at this place called SpotterRF that makes radars. So, they made radars. I don’t really know if they’re still around.
DAVE: Oh, yeah. You were working with AJ there, right?
JAMISON: Yup. Yeah, that’s where I met AJ. Yeah, so I took a class and liked it and then wanted to do it and was on the outside looking in trying to figure out how I could get into it for a while. I don’t know. It’s kind of [a boring story].
JOE: So, what were you studying when you took that first Computer Science class?
JAMISON: Nothing. [Chuckles]
JOE: Oh, you hadn’t decided.
JAMISON: I was studying, how do I figure out what to do with my life?
DAVE: So, you were a full-time college student at that point?
JAMISON: Yeah. I was a full-time college student, yeah. I had a friend who just out of the blue was like, “You might like this computer stuff.” And so, I took a class and I liked it.
DAVE: And this was how long ago?
JAMISON: I don’t know. Six years ago? Seven? Six or seven years ago. It’s not super long ago.
AIMEE: Yeah, that’s [inaudible] longer.
JAMISON: Yeah. I’m still pretty new to this whole thing. My most vivid memory of that class is sitting in the back just staring at Java keywords and not understanding what was going on at all, and then looking down to the front of the room and seeing this stupid kid just playing StarCraft because…
JAMISON: He knew everything already. Just sitting in the front row playing StarCraft. I don’t know why he even came to class.
DAVE: In the front row? Oh, man.
DAVE: He probably couldn’t test out of it. [Chuckles]
JAMISON: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
AIMEE: That’s sad. So, did that impact your decision as you were moving forward? Did that discourage you?
JAMISON: No. I was, because I felt like by the time the second level classes came along, everyone was equal. There were probably still some kids that were still far ahead, but if you had just messed around with computers a little bit your whole life, you probably still hadn’t done much of the second level class stuff. So, it evened out. I just felt dumb for a while and then I felt like everyone was equally inexperienced in what we were actually doing.
JOE: So, this is an interesting segue. And I know we’re not finished with this conversation and I want to go around everybody. But I’d like to at least bridge this topic just for a short quick second. And that is, I’ve read studies about going to really high-end universities and how that’s usually detrimental. And it’s not a good idea to go to the best universities in whatever program you’re interested in. And the reason being is that you have a much higher percentage chance of going there and feeling dumb in something that you love and then dropping out.
DAVE: Yeah, that was in Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, right? ‘David and Goliath’?
JOE: Yeah, that’s right. It was. That’s right. I forgot where I’d read that. So, I think the same thing applies here. Whatever you do, whatever path you take, whether that’s a university, there are great low-level colleges out there, not the ones that… the Caltechs or whatever, that are out there that will teach you just as good at programming. I’ve never once in 20 years I’ve interviewed a lot of people, never once have I cared what school they went to. Didn’t give a crap. I cared how well they interviewed, how well they solved problems and things like that. Never once gave a crap as to which university they went to. I don’t care if they went to MIT or the local community college. If they’re a good programmer, they were a good programmer.
So, if you’re looking at university, don’t go to the most expensive, most prestigious university just because you feel like that’s going to give you your best chance at getting in the industry. Unless you’re an overachiever and Evan Czaplicki or somebody and you’re going to invent a new language during your undergraduate. But don’t feel like that’s a requirement to getting into the industry, because it’s really not.
CHUCK: Yeah. I’ve found that pedigree only matters if you’re going into academia. Because then they could…
CHUCK: “Well, he graduated from Stanford with a PhD and a QRST.”
CHUCK: “And he invented six programming languages.”
JAMISON: It is. And now you are inadequate because you don’t have it.
JAMISON: Sorry. You missed out on a [QRST].
DAVE: I actually do have a QRST.
DAVE: I just forgot to put in on my LinkedIn profile. I’ll go and update that now.
JOE: I did have a similar situation to Jamison. I took a class at the university. It was my second computer science class and I thought I could skip the first two… this was back in the day and age that it was 201 and 202. And I thought I could skip 201. And I took 202 and flunked out of it. And I felt really dumb. And it was a point where maybe I would have thought, “Maybe I’m just not cut out for this.” But fortunately, I’d had a lot of successes earlier on where I felt really good and smart at programming. And so, I kept with it. But those experiences where you feel like, “Oh, maybe I’m not cut out for that,” you should ignore those experiences.
DAVE: Mmhmm. Well, to a point.
JOE: Just ignore them longer than you think you should ignore them.
JAMISON: One wrinkle on the college selection thing too, is there’s a difference between a college that’s prestigious because they’re a great research institution and college that is a good teaching school.
CHUCK: Oh, that’s so true.
JAMISON: Harvard doesn’t care about teaching. They care about being famous. And they’re famous because they have famous professors who are famous because they published a lot. And teaching is a burden to them. They do not want to teach. Grad students teach at most colleges. And then there are some colleges where their focus is on teaching undergraduates. And they’re very different experiences. If you want to do research and academia and you love that kind of life of the mind thing, then a research institution is great. If you just want to learn from people that really like teaching you and don’t resent you as time away from their actual job, and you do want to go to college, then you probably want to look at teaching colleges.
JOE: You can always go to a more prestigious university for your graduate level stuff and go…
JAMISON: Yeah, that’s almost…
JAMISON: A bigger deal than going there as an undergrad, if you do want to do academia.
CHUCK: Well, and I’ve known several people too that have gone to the community college, gotten an Associate Degree in something related and then they’ve transferred to the larger school and finished out a Computer Science or other degree.
JOE: The other smaller schools also could potentially be a lot more up-to-date in their curriculum.
JOE: So, that matters, too. So, anyway let’s continue on around. How about you, Dave?
DAVE: Oh, okay. So, when I was 18 years old the time came to leave the home and go to college, because that’s what you do. And so, I did, and enrolled in a four-year university in the Mechanical Engineering Program. It was a decent school. And I absolutely, totally hated it. It was awful. I couldn’t stand it. And after a year, I left on a two-year church mission which was a great time to reevaluate my life and think about what was important to me. And while I was there I got to work in the mission office for a little while, which of course involved a little bit of computer work. And like surprisingly many developers today, I was exposed to Visual Basic.
DAVE: And as much as we like to make fun of Microsoft especially the Microsoft of the 90’s, I really do believe ushered in a whole generation of developers who were able to get over that barrier to entry by just doing a little bit of Visual Basic. So, when I came back I decided to change my major to Computer Science after simply reviewing the list of courses you had to take. And I was like, just super excited by all these different concepts. Data structures, databases, AI, robotics, all these really cool topics I was just super excited to learn about. Got in and just totally fell in love, head over heels. Two and a half years later, I had my four-year degree. So that was like, I guess I was about, just a little bit shy of the four year mark total. And it’s just been great. So, unfortunately for me, and I think Joe maybe has some experience with this, too… Joe, you got your first job in the late 90’s, right?
DAVE: So, before the dot-com bubble.
DAVE: Or probably just before it. I got out of school right after the dot-com bubble burst. And it was just an absolute nightmare. I had…
JOE: Oh, really?
DAVE: Yeah, I had my fresh Computer Science Bachelor’s Degree in my hand and I interviewed at seven different companies. And I only got two of them to call me back. And one of them that called me back, I was one of 200 applicants for this position.
CHUCK: Oh, wow.
JOE: Oh my gosh.
DAVE: Yeah, this is 2003 guys. This is not a long time ago. And I made my way through the interview process, a couple of different rounds. And there were three of us that were going to be hired. And just by whatever lucky grace of who knows what, I got the job and started there. And it turned out to be not a job I enjoyed working at. We were doing some government contracts and it was Java. And I just didn’t really like it. But your first job never has to be great. I learned that from there, is that even a crappy first job is a great job in the industry, because you learn so much stuff. Even if you’re learning stuff that you hate. And so, then I got a job a year and a half after that at a much better place where I worked for seven years writing C++ code that was just wonderful. I worked with some of the most amazing smart people ever.
But really for me, what came out of my college education were three things, I’d say. Number one was I learned how to learn for the first time in my life, under high pressure, high volume learning, which was really good. Number two, I got some really good Computer Science fundamentals, not to mention life fundamentals, time management, getting exposed to a broad array of other subjects like biology and history and things that I just had never gone that deep into. But number three and maybe the most important thing, is some of my life’s most cherished relationships were formed while I was in college. And people I still keep in touch with to this day and even work with in some cases, were relationships I had formed while there. It’s like, when two of you are in this fiery furnace of affliction together, it forms a bond that sticks with you for life. And so, to me that’s one of the most valuable things that came out of my four-year college education, were these friendships that I have even today and just absolutely cherish. So, that’s something I still don’t know how to get anywhere else.
AIMEE: That’s a good point. I like that you brought that up.
DAVE: So, it’s Aimee’s turn, right?
AIMEE: Oh, well I thought we kind of already know my story. But…
DAVE: Give us a [inaudible].
JAMISON: Let me tell your story as I remember it.
JAMISON: So, you were wondering through the woods.
CHUCK: Once upon a time…
JAMISON: Yeah, and you happened upon a magical frog that told you where the secret cave with the mystical sword was.
JAMISON: And you drew it and lightning struck.
DAVE: And next thing you know, you were missing a kidney.
JAMISON: From inside the cave.
JAMISON: And then you heard, “You are now a developer” echo.
JAMISON: Just the words echo throughout the cave. And then that’s how it happened, right?
JOE: It was one of those Native American Indian sweat lodges, right?
AIMEE: [Laughs] I mean, there are some nuances that I haven’t completely talked about that I can talk about for two minutes really quick. So, like I had said skating was really my life and my parents didn’t really push college. They wanted me to go and just get that piece of paper but no real reason to go. So, that’s why I did the degree I did. And then, because the plan was just to continue coaching the rest of my life. But I was kind of… I married my husband and was just searching for my next passion. And I spent like I was saying some time going, taking the prerequisites and starting PT program. And that’s what turned me onto science in general. But once it got to the clinical portion, I couldn’t stand that portion. [Chuckles] So, I decided it wasn’t for me. That’s when I started looking… a long turn of events, but started exploring programming, encouraged by some developers that I was working with, then started the IT program. It wasn’t Computer Science. I just started with IT. But after doing that for two semesters, just decided to go the bootcamp route because it seemed like the overwhelming amount of advice I was getting was to do that. So, in a perfect world I would have preferred to go Dave’s route. But that’s the route I took.
JAMISON: It seems like a lot of it just depends on where you are in life. If you are 17…
DAVE: Yeah, definitely.
JAMISON: And you have the means to go to college, I think oftentimes that’s… you can do it without going to college at that age but it feels like a more secure path. But if you’re working full-time or you have to support a family or you have to pay rent or things like that, it can be hard to just check out of life for four years and go to school again.
DAVE: Oh yeah, so true.
DAVE: And not only that, but even if you are 17 or 18 considering college, you can really pay way too much money [for your college].
JAMISON: [Laughs] Yeah.
DAVE: And oh man, I was so lucky. But the school I went to had a nice inexpensive tuition. It’s a fantastic return on the investment. I didn’t have to take out student loans. I was able to work my way through school and start my job out of college without a pile of debt on my neck.
AIMEE: Yup, yeah.
DAVE: Just, if you’re going to do college, that’s the one piece of advice I give everyone. Please, don’t go borrow a hundred grand to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science.
JAMISON: Oh, man.
CHUCK: Uh oh.
CHUCK: Heavens, yeah.
AIMEE: Not worth it, yeah.
JAMISON: Yeah, and that will have a pretty decent financial return, but that’s still forever to pay that back.
CHUCK: Yeah. I have to say though, that my college experience did… I don’t know if I would have appreciated or gone the direction that I had if I hadn’t gone through college. I started out. I did electronics and stuff in high school. So, when I went to college, I said, “Oh, I want to be an Electrical Engineering major.” And after I started taking Computer Science classes that were prerequisites for my major, I realized that I wanted to do something with computers but I still really liked the hardware and stuff. And so, I switched over to Computer Engineering. And I also wound up working IT for the university. And I mentioned that before.
DAVE: Yeah, me too. That’s actually a really good opportunity universities provide.
CHUCK: Yeah. And so, I had a lot of different options. And so, as things went on, I actually got an internship writing patent applications, figured out pretty fast that I didn’t want to be that kind of lawyer.
DAVE: Or any kind, for that matter?
CHUCK: I was on the Student Council for the Engineering Department. And I was on the ballroom dance team. And so, I had these other things where I explored other interests. And I just don’t know that I would have had those opportunities if I hadn’t gone to college. And so, by the time I graduated of course, it took me six years to graduate because I goofed around until I got married and had a kid. And then it was like, “Crap, I got to get this thing done.” Then it was like, “Okay, what do I really want to do?” And that’s when I started looking at, “Okay, where am I going to get a job? Where am I going to do all these things?” And so, I finished my degree. I think it helped me get my first job. But I don’t think it was critical for me to get my first job out of college. And I actually wound up running a tech support department. I worked for them, or I worked there doing that for about a year and a half. And I picked up programming there as well.
And up until then, programming had just felt like a way to build little toy apps. And I didn’t take it seriously. And then we actually built an app that solved a problem, mainly managing hundreds and hundreds of requests for help with the product every day. And there was just no other way around it because they weren’t going to buy software to do that stuff. That’s how I got into programming. And then I worked QA for six months and then I moved from QA into programming. And I think I’ve told this story before, so I’m kind of summarizing. But I worked for several companies and then went freelance about five years ago.
And I think all of those experience added up to, “Okay, I like this. I don’t like this. I enjoy this. I don’t enjoy that. I like this about this job. I don’t like this about that job,” and eventually led me to be where I am now. And I think college does provide you a safe place to figure out, “Okay, I really don’t like my Mechanical Engineering classes,” or, “I really don’t enjoy my whatever else. I’m going to take some of these generals and figure out okay, I don’t want to be an English major.” So then, you can figure out, “This is where I want to be and this is where I want to wind up,” and then you can take the classes that are interesting to you. So, I think there is that for college.
Now that being said, if somebody has a good deal of experience or something, I can also see where you might not need college.
DAVE: Yeah, so let me tell you a few stories about that. So, I’m friends with a lot of accountants, for whatever reason. I’ve never met an accountant without a college degree. In fact, all the accountants I know have Master’s Degrees in accounting. That’s probably true for everybody here, right, of the accountants you know. But in our industry, I have worked with people with English majors, Psychology majors, no degree at all. I’ve worked with one kid who’s never even set foot in a school of any kind. He was 17 when we hired him. I’ve got another kid who’s 17 right now as well. He’s getting a Math degree. Lots of people who have no degree, a little bit of high school, all high school. It’s like…
CHUCK: Can I throw an anecdote in there?
DAVE: Yeah, sure.
CHUCK: When I worked at the university in IT, we were supporting the servers that ran the web applications that were built by the programming team. And I kid you not. No less than half of that programming team had law degrees.
DAVE: Oh my gosh. Yeah. And so, I don’t know if I know of any other field that’s considered, I’ll use the term ‘white collar’. I hope that’s not offensive. But I don’t know of any other field that’s white collar like software development where you have this much educational diversity. Do you guys have the same experience?
JOE: I don’t think I’ve had that much educational diversity. But I probably haven’t asked too many times.
CHUCK: Well, it usually shows up on somebody’s resume, right? And so, if you were hiring or reviewing somebody’s background, yeah I agree. I’ve seen people from just graduated from college all the way up to ‘I’ve been doing it 20 years’ and ‘never did go to school’, the people that have been in it for a year or two. And a lot of them perform at the same level.
DAVE: Oh, tell.
JAMISON: I’ve seen some of her talks but I don’t know anything about her background.
AIMEE: Chuck probably knows about her pretty well because I think she used to be a panelist on Ruby Rogues.
CHUCK: She was. But go ahead. I’ll let you tell it.
AIMEE: She was in the circus, wasn’t she? She was an acrobat.
CHUCK: Mmhmm, yup.
AIMEE: And spent a lot of time doing that and then discovered programming. And she’s incredible.
DAVE: An acrobat. [Chuckles] Wow.
CHUCK: Yeah, like professionally trained.
DAVE: I have an English degree. What’s your degree in? Acrobatics.
DAVE: I’m a classically trained acrobat.
AIMEE: Yeah, she was. She went to a program for it, if I remember correctly.
DAVE: Was it in Russia?
JAMISON: She probably more than anyone else qualifies the most as a ninja.
JAMISON: Because I bet a lot of those [skills are the same].
JOE: Yeah, ninja coder.
DAVE: So, she can look at the billboards and honestly respond. I will apply for your job.
JAMISON: Yes, I could do a back flip and kick you in the face.
JAMISON: That’s awesome.
DAVE: Yeah, that’s really great.
AIMEE: But yeah, there are so many different backgrounds.
DAVE: There is.
AIMEE: In the bootcamp I was in, it was interesting how many different people we had in there. We had an ex-lawyer, a lot of people without college. Gosh, everything. Ex-military.
DAVE: It’s a great time. And there seems to be no correlation between one particular educational background and success as a software developer. But there is one common thread that I have found that runs through all of the most talented, successful, happy software developers. And that is you have this certain passion for creating things, especially in a computer. So, you have this… you just love it. And it’s like, if you’re not thinking about anything else your brain will wander toward this after you’ve had some experience with it. And that is what I tell people. If you’re going to do a bootcamp or you’re going to go to get a Computer Science degree or something like that, number one thing you need to figure out as soon as possible is, is this really your passion? Because that is where you will be successful and happy.
AIMEE: Up until a couple of months ago, I really would beat myself up a lot about my degree. But I’ve worked with some other juniors and have talked to some other juniors who have more traditional backgrounds. And it’s so like you’re saying, Dave. It’s to me so much less about your education and more so about your drive. I’ve just been very surprised to see people who I would expect them to have a little bit more knowledge but their lack of drive prevents them from advancing much as a junior.
JAMISON: Yeah, we haven’t mentioned that about college, specifically. If you do college in general you learn a lot of life skills and time management things like Dave said. If you do Computer Science in specific, you learn things. [Chuckles] But…
JAMISON: Very rarely do they apply to most of the day-to-day work that you do. There’s some good background information, but you can pick a lot of that up without needing to go to college.
JAMISON: And there’s a lot of stuff that while I think it’s fascinating and I’m glad I learned it, I have not yet built a compiler or used an AI.
JAMISON: Or ever in any way had to analyze beyond counting for loops the big O of an algorithm or…
JAMISON: I don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff that you go [inaudible].
JOE: Wait a second. You don’t know the big O analysis for every app you write? Come on.
JAMISON: It’s one. It’s all one. I’m that good.
DAVE: Apps don’t have [inaudible].
DAVE: See, and I’ve had a little bit of the opposite experience than Jamison here. Maybe this is because it’s confirmation bias on my part where I say, “Oh, I enjoy Computer Science theory. Therefore I see it in my work every day,” as opposed to, I don’t know, the opposite. But I see applications maybe not every day but often where I go, “Oh, I’m so glad I know that.”
And I have one really interesting anecdote about that. A good friend of mine had a Computer Science degree, worked for several years, and then decided to go back for a Master’s Degree. And the reason he decided to go back is because he was really geeking out about programming language theory. And so, he was the kind of guy that writes Scheme for fun and just thought it was really cool. So, he went back for his Master’s Degree and it took him six or seven years to get it. After he got it he kept pointing out to me, he’s like, “Hey, I just made a decision that I wouldn’t have made if I hadn’t gotten my Master’s Degree.” And it was a very consequential decision about his code. And I was like, “Huh.” And he kept pointing this out to me probably every week or two. He would point out these things. It’s like, “I never would have done this before my Master’s Degree.” And again, maybe it’s confirmation bias, like he spent a lot of money and time so he’s looking for opportunities to say it was valuable. But at the same time, it definitely influenced him. And he to this day will say, “I am definitely a different,” and in his case he says, “better engineer than I would have been had I not pursued a more Computer Science theoretical education.”
JAMISON: Yeah. I think, maybe I didn’t make my point clearly enough. So, I also have done mostly web development stuff, which is I have not written a line of C++ code and been paid for it. So, I think some of it you deal with different levels of abstraction and do different things. But also, I wasn’t trying to say it’s not useful. I was trying to say you can do a lot of stuff without needing to know it.
DAVE: Oh, yeah. Yeah, totally.
JAMISON: And the things that you actually need to know for your day-to-day work you can pick up through other people that have been to CS degrees or blog posts with things like that. There are a lot of resources out there.
DAVE: Yeah. Yeah, I agree.
JAMISON: But I do agree that… yeah, it can make your life better.
DAVE: Yeah. And it’s like one of those engineering trade-offs you have to make. You’re like, “Is it worth four years of my time and a bunch of money to make me an incrementally better developer?” as opposed to zero use of my time or maybe six months of my time and very little money to be almost as good developer. And it’s a really hard trade-off to make especially when you’re outside the industry, I think.
AIMEE: I guess the point I was trying to make too was I totally agree that if you can get a Computer Science degree then that is really optimal. But if you have a Computer Science degree but you don’t have the motivation to stay sharp and keep learning, then I think you may come out behind somebody who does not have formal training.
DAVE: Oh, yeah.
AIMEE: Because especially, well it might not even be the case. It depends on the field that you’re working in. But if you’re working in web technologies, if you don’t have that drive, then that Computer Science degree, how useful is it going to be? I’m not sure.
JAMISON: Yeah, that’s a great point.
DAVE: That is so true.
JAMISON: It’s maybe 10% helpful and effort is 90%.
DAVE: Oh, yeah.
JAMISON: I don’t know what the percentages are, but yeah. [I agree with] that.
DAVE: It is like that. So, at my last job I interviewed, I can’t remember the math. I think I interviewed 400, 500 candidates while I was there.
DAVE: In seven years. And we started to see patterns. And one of the patterns we saw was that a Master’s Degree in Computer Science would actually hurt most candidates. And the reason was, they would come to us and interview and we would expect them to be really good. It was like, you just spent six years at least studying Computer Science. And so, we would ask them Computer Science questions. And it’s almost like the extra two years had hurt them in many cases as far as being able to be a real practical hands-on contributing member of our software development team for building products. And it was just the strangest phenomenon but we saw it time and time again. And not in all cases, but again this goes back to the point like there seems to be no correlation between your educational background and your… like the predictive power of your educational background and the success you’ll have.
JAMISON: I think Google actually wrote some stuff in a blog about this once where they did studies internally. And I don’t think it was looking at specific schools. I think it was just GPA. And they found that GPA had no correlation on how well they performed at the company.
DAVE: I’m not surprised.
JOE: Yeah. I would echo to some extent some of the concepts or things you talked about, about especially Jamison about a lot of the classic Computer Science stuff you don’t use in typical business programming. You can and there are opportunities for it. So, I didn’t get a degree. In the first 15 or so years, I didn’t know any of the classical Computer Science stuff. I knew what a linked list was, et cetera. But then I wanted to get a job at Google. And their engineering, their software engineering interview is heavy on the classics of Computer Science. So, I spent three or four hundred hours studying algorithms and data structures. And at the end of it, I did a lot better at my interview and I ended up not getting a job. But two or three years later, I’ve used that stuff so infrequently that I’ve lost a lot of what I had learned in that time frame.
JAMISON: You mean, you didn’t re-balance an AVL tree?
JAMISON: In your Angular app?
JOE: I didn’t. Now granted, the types of apps that I work on are not the types of apps… you know, the stuff that they work on at Google with search and ads and stuff, that matters.
JAMISON: Yeah, I want them to know how to balance an AVL tree.
JOE: Right, yeah.
JOE: They really need to know. But it’s a lot more important as a typical business programmer to be able to prototype rapidly and write soft-… there is definitely a trade-off between performance and algorithms and readability. And sometimes it’s a significant trade-off and sometimes it’s a minor or nearly no trade-off. So, a performant algorithm may not be any less readable than a non-performant one. But oftentimes performant ones can be. And you write apps where for the most part performance doesn’t make sense. And certainly optimizing prematurely is a bad idea.
DAVE: You know, I should dig up the old syllabuses from my old classes and go through each concept.
CHUCK: [Chuckles] Oh, man.
DAVE: And just put like a check mark next to the ones that I’ve used in the last five years. And then I could actually say definitively, “I actually used this stuff,” or not.
CHUCK: Yeah, but…
JAMISON: I think for me the most practically helpful things have been networking and operating systems, because it’s really nice to…
DAVE: Yeah, me too.
JAMISON: Know how things work under the layer of abstraction that you’re working in. I remember programming before that and it’s just this vague feeling of you’re floating on the sea of magic. Still, no one understands…
JAMISON: How their computer actually works.
DAVE: Yeah, true.
JAMISON: But feeling like you can understand it is kind of powerful and feels cool.
CHUCK: Yeah, the other thing I got out of a degree though is the discipline. And we’ve talked about that before. So, not everything you’re going to get out of your degree is necessarily the concepts.
JOE: Right. And let me say that I do love data structures and algorithms. I find them fascinating. And I think it’s something that people should know. But as a typical business programmer you use it very infrequently. I think they are good things to know. But I just think you use them very infrequently.
JAMISON: I started trying to write my own database a couple of months ago. Just not, I mean no one should ever use it and no one ever will. But I just wanted to know more about how they worked internally.
JAMISON: And that was the first time in post college life that I felt like, “Okay, yeah. I need to go Google B-trees again and figure out how these things beyond objects and arrays work and how to write them and stuff.” And there are lots of people that do work like that. But I don’t work with them and that’s not the kind of work my job involves.
JOE: Now, one thing that’s interesting though is interviews typically involve solving some kind of a program, right?
DAVE: It’s because interviews are the worst.
JOE: Yes, interviews are terrible. Most people interview terribly. And so, in that case you actually do need to know data structures and algorithms in most cases when they give you the interview problem, right? It actually matters. But then you get a job and they don’t really care that you apply that same knowledge as you program.
DAVE: Yeah. There’s this hilarious web comic where they have this interviewee going through this terrible, difficult programming challenge in the interview. And then it says, “Fast forward to day one on the job.” “Our designer wants this button five pixels to the left.”
JOE: So true.
DAVE: However, I will say that these interview questions, people do them, and I do them. I give them. I’ve received them. Sometimes it’s not so much about, do you already know how to re-balance a red-black binary tree? The question is are you willing to tackle a hard problem and ask good questions and explore problems collaboratively and work? And how do you think about problems? Or do you just throw your arms up and say, “I don’t know how to do that so I’m not going to do it,” or, “I would just google how to do that.”
DAVE: It tells you a lot about a person even if you’re not looking for the trivia knowledge memorization that they already have.
JOE: Right. You’re looking for logical problem solving skills.
JAMISON: If that’s the goal, I wish that more interviewers stated that explicitly. Like, we’re going to ask you these CS questions. They’re algorithms you might not know or you might. And we’re not interested to know if you have them memorized but to see how you solve them.
JAMISON: And I have been in an interview where they do that.
CHUCK: I think it really depends. I think it really depends though on the company and what they think they’re looking for and how they want to evaluate that. I also though believe that most companies when they’re hiring, they aren’t that explicit. And they don’t really think about that. They just think, “I need another programmer.” And so, they don’t really know what they’re looking for.
DAVE: Or worse, they think, “I need another Angular programmer.”
CHUCK: So, then what it comes…
JOE: Oh, I agree with that.
DAVE: By the way, that’s not a statement against Angular. That’s just saying they’re hiring for a very niche skill.
CHUCK: But ultimately then it’s all the things that you said, Dave, about programming basically boil down to making me feel good about the way I did the interview rather than actually being deliberate about interviewing for the skills that I want.
JAMISON: So, I wanted to ask Aimee about her experience in interviewing. I think you’ve talked about this a couple of times. But it’s relevant to this, especially because so much of the interview pipeline is geared towards Computer Science degrees and knowledge like that. What was it like to interview without that, I don’t know what to call it, traditional background?
JAMISON: What do you mean?
AIMEE: So, I got into this field because I thought it was fun. And I went into the interview like I have nothing to lose. If I don’t make it in tech or if I don’t make it in programming, then oh well, it wasn’t for me. I’ll go back to doing what I used to do. So, I don’t know. That’s been just a really help-… it’s a luxury that I have, I guess. I’m just very blessed that I can approach most situations from that perspective. [Chuckles] So, I don’t know. [Chuckles] Back to answering your question more specifically, yeah. I suppose that the problem solving, it just would depend on your experience. But I just tackled it based on what I knew.
JAMISON: So, you brought up a point about privilege and how you had this fallback plan. So, it wasn’t like your whole life was riding on it. Obviously you would have been disappointed if it didn’t work out.
JAMISON: But I feel like that’s kind of a theme in all of our stories. I think being able to go to college is definitely a privilege that not everyone has.
DAVE: Yeah, definitely.
JAMISON: And finding programming young is a privilege that not everyone has. That depends on your parents or your peers and everyone has different environments. And then being in a situation where you can afford to take time off even to do a bootcamp is a privilege.
JAMISON: What do you do if you don’t have the ability to go to college or maybe you’re already working and you can’t take time off work? Does that just mean you can’t really get into it? Or how do you get into the field if you don’t have the opportunity or the ability to just change your life around I guess, to focus it around learning this stuff?
DAVE: That’s a…
DAVE: That’s a really good… oh, do you want Aimee to answer that? Sorry.
JAMISON: No, I want anybody to answer that. I don’t know the answer to that.
AIMEE: I don’t know. I have just… advice I was given from that perspective. A lot of people encouraged me to go to the bootcamp. But one developer in particular was just explaining it to me like I was trading time for money. And he totally thought that I could continue learning on my own. So, I think it will be a much slower process. But…
JAMISON: Oh, was this before you were at the bootcamp? He said that you could not do the bootcamp and just spend more time but save the money?
AIMEE: Yeah, yeah.
AIMEE: And I don’t know. I would like to think that there are a lot of opportunities for scholarships out there and that sort of thing, even for college. I had a scholarship for my undergrad. So, you could hopefully look for opportunities like that.
DAVE: So Jamison, I don’t have an answer directly to your question. But I do have a comment on that, which is that right now in the software development industry we are absolutely starved for talent. Almost every tech company I know is trying to hire more people and…
DAVE: It’s hard to come up with people. And to answer your question, all the people that are working in programming now… not all. I shouldn’t say that. Most of the people I know who are working in programming are coming from a background of a certain privilege. And I guarantee that there are millions of people who have the right aptitude and have the desire and could be very successful in this industry but just don’t have access to it, because they don’t have the privilege. And I think you’re totally right. I think there are tons of underrepresented people that just will never… and it’s really sad. However, so that’s kind of the downer.
But the bright side is that I don’t think in the history of humanity there has ever been an industry that had as small of a barrier to entry as ours. If I wanted to be a blacksmith 500 years ago, I would have had to sign my life way into an apprenticeship for years. And that’s been true of almost every industry ever. But now, you really can in off hours assuming you’re not working three jobs to take care of a family of something which I know a lot of people are, you can do this. And so, that’s my one I think word of encouragement I would give to people who are wondering if they should get in. Try it, because the barrier to entry is low. And as hopefully you’ve heard today, people come from all kinds of backgrounds and are able to be successful in this industry. And so, I’d say try it. But yeah, the bottom line is, you’re right. It’s absolutely a point of privilege that we get to work in this industry and that we are given it basically on a silver platter.
JAMISON: So, you reminded me of a thing I wanted to bring up. Earlier when we were comparing the things you learn from a CS degree specifically, what does it mean that I can spend thousands of dollars for, at least depending on how [chuckles] fast I do my classes, years of my life going to school and get a job? And then someone else can study hard in their free time and go to a bootcamp maybe in six months and then come out and get a similar job? I think a lot of times there’s this defensiveness in people that have degrees because they invested so much time. If you can be as effective without one, why do you need one? Are you saying you… or do you think you can’t be as effective without one? And you yourself said you’ve worked with lots of people without degrees that are talented and pick up the concepts on the side?
DAVE: Were you asking me that question?
JAMISON: Yeah. When I said ‘you yourself’ I meant Dave yourself.
DAVE: [Chuckles] Okay.
JAMISON: Dave, Dave’s self.
JAMISON: I think [inaudible].
DAVE: Sorry, did I give the impression that I thought the college degree would make you more effective?
JAMISON: I don’t know.
DAVE: Maybe I implied that.
JAMISON: I’m just thinking like, if you could do it without a degree and with a degree, it seems like it’s harder to get a degree. So, why would you [inaudible]?
DAVE: So, why not? Yeah.
JAMISON: Yeah. Like you can’t be a lawyer without getting a law degree, right? You brought that up earlier. So, if there are these alternate paths in, what’s the value of the hard or the more time-consuming path, maybe?
CHUCK: I think another way to phrase this question is, under what circumstances does it make sense to get a degree over doing something else?
DAVE: I don’t know.
JOE: Well, I’ve been…
DAVE: It’s hard to answer that for generally, because I just don’t know.
DAVE: I mean for me, I really enjoyed it, but…
JOE: You’ve been teaching out at DevMountain, right, Dave?
JOE: And Aimee went to a bootcamp and I’ve been teaching at a local bootcamp, right? And I know that the hiring rate of the graduates for these more average type bootcamps is not like it is for Hack Reactor. And I would assume it’s also not much different or much worse than hiring rates for Computer Science degrees. So, I would think that would be one difference is, the likelihood of landing a job is higher at this time with a Computer Science degree. I think that’s a problem of just the shortness of your typical bootcamps. Three months is just a bit too short, other than for the really top achievers under your belt, to get a job. But I think that university degrees are far too long.
We hired a lot. When I was at a place where we hired a lot of brand new developers, we hired a lot form a place called [New Mount] which had an 18 month program. It was eight hours a day. And we love those guys, because they did real projects. It wasn’t like a CS degree where the only time that somebody with a CS degree’s going to come out knowing Angular is if they were doing it on their own, in this day and age for example. And if that’s what I’m hiring for. Again, you shouldn’t just hire for a very niche skill. You should hire a good developer. But that being said, relevant skills matter, especially when trying to land a job. And so, we loved hiring guys from this 18 month program.
JAMISON: Chuck, you were going to say something?
CHUCK: Yeah. Well, the other thing is Joe said top achievers. And it’s the top achievers who can sell themselves well enough for people to want to hire them.
CHUCK: So, it’s not even necessarily just skill level but they have to be able to convince somebody that they can get in and solve enough of the right problems to be worth paying.
JOE: Right. So, I think for top achievers it’s not nearly as big of a difference.
DAVE: So Jamison, going back to your question that was directed at me…
JAMISON: Oh, the question wasn’t specifically directed at you. The part about how you’ve worked with people that you said didn’t have degrees that were great, that was what I meant was directed at you.
DAVE: Oh, okay.
JAMISON: The question was…
CHUCK: But now that you’re on the spot.
DAVE: Oh, everyone. Oh, sorry. I’m just a little hot on the collar. So, I don’t know.
JAMISON: Oh, no, no, no. No, sorry.
DAVE: I’m just kidding. No, but I do believe this is a very personal decision. And like when it comes to the university and life, for me when I went to college I was thinking about a job after college a lot. But it’s so long and such an investment emotionally and time-wise that it became its own reward for me, at least. I really enjoyed it. I derived a lot of satisfaction from the classes I took. And exams sucked a lot of times, but at the end of the day, I was super satisfied with my experience and I really enjoyed it. I really wouldn’t trade it. But if I was advising someone who had the objective of getting into the industry and getting a job, the return on investment seems a lot lower with the university track than it does with almost any other track.
JAMISON: Okay. I have a question that is directed at you. You mentioned that you graduated in the end of or after the bubble burst?
JAMISON: I don’t know if we’re in a bubble right now, but it’s definitely…
JAMISON: A uniquely…
DAVE: Oh, yeah.
JAMISON: Rewarding time to be a software developer.
DAVE: I’ve been calling it the golden age.
JAMISON: Yeah, yeah. So, do you think if circumstances change, the answer will change? That it will be more liked or more valuable to get a degree again? That’s like my dad arguing with me about going back to those classes, coming out in this question.
DAVE: Yeah, I don’t know.
JAMISON: Like, “It’s fine now. But what happens in 10 years?”
DAVE: You know, I had college professors that would say things. In fact, it was the weirdest thing. But every class seemed to want to dedicate one lecture to convincing you to go to grad school.
DAVE: So, every class, it would spend an hour and just say you should. And some of the statistics they would cite were things like, “Over the course of a career, a Master’s Degree holding developer will make a million dollars more than a Bachelor’s Degree holder.” And just absolute crap statistics that I’m sure are just totally bogus today.
DAVE: And so, the answer that maybe your dad wants to say is, “Well, as soon as this bubble bursts, everyone who doesn’t have a Computer Science degree is going to be laid off.” And I just don’t know. And I actually highly doubt it, because I can’t… the last time I looked at someone’s education section on the resume once they have a few years of experience… I just don’t do it. I don’t look at GPA and I don’t look at the name of the school you went to. I don’t look at the degree you went to. In fact, I was surprised to find in several occasions after I’d hired someone that I had just hired an English major.
DAVE: I made fun of English majors for my whole college career. [Chuckles] And here I am hiring them without even knowing it.
JOE: Well, at least they weren’t a Mass Communications major.
DAVE: Yeah, no kidding.
CHUCK: I know, right?
DAVE: I just can’t imagine a world where it is so binary and so black and white that you could say, “Well, too bad you don’t have that CS degree. You’re going to get laid off with all the other suckers.”
CHUCK: Well, the other thing is that I’ve heard the same statistic that people with a certain level of education are going to make a million dollars more over the life of their career. But we’re talking about a 30 or 40 year career? How much does that really boil down to in a year? And the other thing is that most programmers I know…
DAVE: It’s $33,000 a year, by the way.
CHUCK: Oh, really?
DAVE: Well, oh never mind.
JOE: There’s no way that’s true.
CHUCK: There’s no way that’s true, yeah.
DAVE: Yeah, I know, I know.
CHUCK: But the other thing is that if you really look at, what does that really mean? What does that translate to in lifestyle? Most programmers I know make enough to pay all the bills and live comfortably. So, for a lot of people I know, the extra money isn’t going to make that big a difference.
JOE: It’s way more work…
JAMISON: So, the lifestyle thing is also… how much worse is your lifestyle [chuckles] as a grad student when you make zero money and you work 80 hours a week in a lab?
JAMISON: I don’t know anything about… I’m googling right now furiously. I don’t know anything about the trade-off of pay for advanced degrees. But I know that just a job in the industry versus a job as a grad student, it’s not even close.
JOE: Well, and if you get a grad degree, if it takes you two years, that’s two less years of your life you will work. So, that’s two years of your top earning potential that you will not work.
JAMISON: Yeah, it seems like the economic argument is missing the point of graduate school. I don’t think you go to graduate [chuckles] school because you [inaudible].
CHUCK: You want to make more money.
JOE: It’s way more important…
DAVE: But I think a lot of people do and did. And that’s why when I interviewed them at my last job, I was almost always disappointed, because I swear they went because they wanted to make more money, not because they were passionate about the field.
JOE: I think it’s way… if you’re talking about money, it’s way more important to be ambitious. That’s far more important than how many… what school you went to or how many years of school you went to. It’s just way more important to be ambitious, to be passionate, and to spend a lot of time and energy doing it, and care about what you’re doing.
CHUCK: And looking for the opportunities.
DAVE: Being entrepreneurial is probably more of a financial win than anything else we talked about.
JOE: Yeah, that’s [inaudible].
DAVE: So, can I throw in one more just weird point to stir the pot?
DAVE: So, I think the general conclusion from our discussion today has been that it’s really hard to justify a four-year degree if you’re only measuring the return on your professional life’s finances. However, I will say this. Some of these top tier schools produce some of the most amazing and smart people I have ever met. And I don’t meet them very often because for whatever reason, the circles I run in don’t tend to have Ivy League graduates in them. But I have worked closely with two MIT grads and I’ve communicated with one other just casually. And they, I know this is anecdotal, but they blow me away with their intelligence. It is just off the charts smart. I’ll say something and then they’ll say something and I’m just like, “Holy crap. You are like a god-like programmer. It’s just incredible.”
DAVE: And so, on the one hand it’s hard to justify that kind of expense. But on the other hand, if you want to rub shoulders with some of the world’s literally most intelligent people, you will find them in these Ivy League schools. So, if that’s your objective and you’re willing to spend the money for it, or you have a rich papa…
DAVE: That’s a good way to get it, I think.
JOE: Yeah. But how many guys went to MIT? You know, your statistics are…
DAVE: I said it was anecdotal.
JOE: Right. How many people went to MIT and were very average? Like Evan Czaplicki who invented Elm. He went to Harvard, obviously a top notch school, right? And there are a lot of Harvard graduates who are working at Google. But there are a lot of not Harvard graduates working at Google, too.
JOE: So, if you are a top achiever, then that can really make sense. And that’s really where we get languages like Elm. Nobody went to a community college and, well I don’t know about nobody.
JOE: I guess that’s unfair. This is actually one great thing about the industry, so I’m completely backtracking here. Computer Science and Astronomy, I’ve heard, are the only two industries where a guy in his garage can make a significant contribution to the industry.
DAVE: [Laughs] The garage contributor.
JOE: Yeah. Although I guess, with Astronomy it would be your backyard. But nonetheless, right?
JOE: You could find… anybody can find a meteor, could be the first person to discover a meteor and get it named after them and make a big deal. Anybody. We’ve seen some of the most amazing things come from the brain of one guy working on his own over a time period. And some of that is academically… like again Elm is a great example of that. One guy did it. Or it can be just a matter of work. Like Egghead.io was purely a matter of John Lindquist putting in time and effort for a while and now we have Egghead.io.
JAMISON: So, you said one guy did Elm. I think you’re discounting the support structure that he had, because he was at a university. He was working with professors as advisers. He was in a place where he had time to research all this stuff. I don’t know that if he was just off in the desert by himself pondering that he would have been able to come up with all these ideas by himself.
JOE: I assumed he was sitting in a yoga position on a mountaintop. But I’m again…
CHUCK: [Chuckles] Evan in the wilderness.
JOE: No, that’s a good point. That’s a great point, Jamison. So, maybe that’s not necessarily by itself the best example. And the same thing with John Lindquist at Egghead. I know he had a lot of support from the Angular team and stuff.
JOE: But nonetheless, really this is entirely different than trying to invent… like you can’t invent a nuclear bomb in your…
JOE: You can make significant contributions to the industry.
DAVE: You can. But there are contributions that do require a lot of professional training that you can probably only find in an academic environment, right?
JOE: And now you’re talking about training. I’m just saying a guy on his own. And again, you can get all that academic training without academia. I learned data structures and algorithms without ever attending a class. I certainly took the equivalent of many credits of classes, university-level classes, just finding my own training online and doing my own training. But it’s just, I just think it’s a really cool industry because you can make significant contributions to it. The guys who wrote jQuery for example changed the face of the web. And it was a few guys.
CHUCK: Yup. Alright, well I think it’s probably time to start winding this down.
DAVE: Okay, but we got to answer the question.
CHUCK: Yeah, so overall I’m going to ask again. Where do you come down with whether or not you need a degree or whether or not you should go to college I think is a better question. Dave?
DAVE: So, what was the question again? [Laughs]
CHUCK: So, should you go to college to get a Computer Science degree?
DAVE: I don’t know. Should I go to college to get a Computer Science degree at age 36? No. But should I have at age 17? Yes.
CHUCK: Okay. Joe.
JOE: I’m going to go with the no with an asterisk.
CHUCK: And what’s your asterisk? I’m just curious.
JOE: The asterisk, I think the asterisk is how self-motivated and high-achieving are you, yourself? So, when I first learned programming in high school, I fell in love with it. I did it every spare moment I could get. When I served my religious mission where I did not have a computer, I programmed on paper and taught myself C++ and object-oriented programming on paper. Because I loved it and I wanted to do it my spare time. So, if you’re that kind of person, no you don’t need a degree.
DAVE: If you thought linker errors were hard on a computer, try solving them on paper.
JOE: Yeah. I was programming on paper. So, if you’re that kind of person where you just love it, you don’t need the degree. If you’re shy of that, it potentially is a really good idea.
CHUCK: Alright, what do you think, Aimee?
AIMEE: Yeah, so I’m the big ‘depends’ again. I can’t give an answer. I think for me, the things that it would depend on would be your personality, your financial situation, those would be the biggest factors. If you have the finances, I think you should go. If you’re not of the personality that you’re extremely self-motivated, then you should go. If you are on the other hand then you can totally do it yourself, I think.
CHUCK: Alright. What about you, Jamison?
JAMISON: I wouldn’t be a developer without going to school. And I loved it. So, I think my answer is kind of like Dave’s. For me, yes. I had to go at 18 years of age. I was not motivated to do anything in life besides wakeboard. [Chuckles]
JAMISON: And I wasn’t good enough to make money on that. So, my goal in life really was to be a bum. But I have seen people be successful without it. So, I guess that’s the shrug ASCII art thing in Slack.
JAMISON: Slack shrug. That’s what it is.
CHUCK: Yeah, I…
JAMISON: I don’t know. You can do it without it. It can be great if you do it.
CHUCK: I’m kind of on the same page with the rest of you. The thing that I’m seeing is that if you don’t already have that drive, that fire in your belly, and you’ve been doing some development or been playing with it, and you’re thinking about it as a career, then go to college and figure that out. Go to college, take some classes, get some real development assignments under your belt and figure that out. But if you’re out there and you’re fired up and you’re driving it on your own, and you’re contributing to open source, and you can make it happen by yourself, then go out there. Build a couple of sample apps, show them to some potential employers, and get a job.
I’m not 100% convinced that either way is the right way for any large subset of the population. I think you have to gauge that for yourself. But if you don’t have that drive on your own right now, I think then getting a college degree is a good way to figure out whether or not you’re cut out to enjoy a career in programming.
JAMISON: I think I want to be careful too, to not make it sound like an insult or a character flaw to not have the drive…
JAMISON: To sit down with a piece of paper and write out C++ code. I think that’s the exception.
JAMISON: And there are a lot of people that…
DAVE: It might actually be a flaw if you do that.
JAMISON: Yeah. There are a lot of people that do great work and are passionate about things besides programming, but are still competent and successful developers.
DAVE: Yeah, sure.
JAMISON: I worry about the dogma of passion.
JAMISON: Passion is like…
DAVE: Or like the geek worship culture.
JAMISON: Yeah, yeah. I have passion for my family. And sometimes I have passion for programming. But sometimes I don’t. But I enjoy it. And I don’t think everyone has to fit the cookie cutter model of slamming Mountain Dew ’til 4am while you…
JAMISON: Write out your ray-tracer, bro.
JAMISON: And there’s room for a lot of different styles and interests in programming.
CHUCK: Yeah, yeah.
DAVE: That has really happened a lot over the last five, ten years, too.
JAMISON: Yeah, yeah.
CHUCK: I guess what I’m trying to say though is that I didn’t get my passion for programming until after I’d graduated. I had a degree in Computer Engineering. I was doing tech support over the phone and running a tech support department. And that’s when I found it. And if you’re not fired up about it, you’re not going to go out there and learn about it. And so, then if you put yourself in a position where you have to learn about it or flunk out, then that may be a healthy way to do it.
JOE: And to that same point, the best programmers are not the guys. There’s not a correlation between what the best programmer is and the guy that stays up all night slamming Mountain Dews.
JOE: Or the, wants to program on paper. Programming is not [inaudible].
JOE: You cannot measure it on one dimension. Some of the people that are some of the best programmers are the guys that don’t know a lot of data structures and algorithms and don’t go home and program. But they get stuff done and they do it on time. And they write clean code that’s easily readable. And they work well on the team. And they see problems successfully and they know how to deal with the personalities that go on, on a team. There are so many varied aspects. You really need everything. And there’s not one dimension. And so, it really has nothing to do with your effectiveness or the need for the industry for you to become a programmer.
CHUCK: Yeah. The other thing is we’ve only been talking on the access of technical skills that you pick up as part of your degree. We haven’t even talked about communication or teamwork or any of the other skills that you need. And sometimes, somebody just being there and being the glue or being the hub that makes everything else turn well, makes them a valuable programmer even if they’re not the top end technical skill on the team.
DAVE: Or like me. I’m the guy who just makes other people feel good, that they’re not just crappy.
JOE: Some people serve as [inaudible].
JAMISON: I am the 1x to make the 10x [worth it].
JAMISON: You couldn’t have the 10x without me.
DAVE: I love it.
CHUCK: Oh. Alright, should we get to some picks?
CHUCK: Before we get to the picks, we’re going to give a quick mention to our silver sponsors.
CHUCK: Alright. Jamison, do you have any picks for us?
JAMISON: I sure do. I have two picks. My first pick is this blog post that just popped up called ‘The More Things Change’. And it’s talking about React and Flux. And I love this idea of pendulums in technology. And things going out of fashion and then coming back in fashion in a slightly different style. I think it’s kind of fascinating. This is comparing the Flux architecture in React to this Windows programming model that people used when, I don’t know, before I was born. So, I’m definitely not familiar with it. But it’s really interesting to hear this experienced person talk about how the concepts behind Flux have been explored before. And he points out some of the problems that you might encounter in the future that he encountered in the past using the same pattern.
JOE: Oh, this is so cool.
JAMISON: I thought it was really cool. Yeah.
JOE: This is the coolest thing ever. Jamison, I’m so glad you’re on.
JAMISON: Oh, why thanks, Joe.
JOE: ‘Til just now. Just now, finally I’m glad.
JAMISON: It paid off.
JOE: Before not so much.
JAMISON: 182 episodes?
CHUCK: That’s right. We always wondered about you, since you didn’t have a degree.
JAMISON: Yeah. 182 episodes. Finally, finally I’m in the black, I guess. I don’t know.
JAMISON: In the positive.
JOE: Well said.
JAMISON: And then my next pick is another, I think it’s a write-up of a PyCon keynote or something. It’s by a woman named Allison Kaptur. I don’t know how to say her last name. But she works at Dropbox and worked at the Recurse Center before that. And she talks about the model of how to learn and the difference between growth mindset and fixed mindset in regards to your ideas about intelligence. The growth mindset is your intelligence can be influenced by your effort. Basically, you can learn things and improve your intelligence by working harder. And the fixed mindset is you’re just born with it and that’s how it is.
And she goes through a bunch of research and experiments demonstrating that people’s performance changes dramatically on difficult tasks depending on whether they think that hard work can make them smarter, basically. And then she applies it to programming and how we should have growth mindsets about programming concepts and skills and social skills and just any skill, how that can lead us to look for ways to improve instead of just say, “I’m bad at CSS,” which is a phrase I’ve uttered many times. I don’t know. It was a really good read and it has stuck in my brain in a way that few things have before. Those are my picks.
JOE: That’s interesting. I’ve said many times that Jamison is bad at CSS.
JAMISON: Yup. It is known. But it’s not, it’s not fixed. I can get better at CSS, Joe.
CHUCK: Alright Joe, what are your picks?
JOE: Oh, I’ve got so many. So, I think this is fairly apropos for this episode. I want to pick Aimee Knight.
JOE: Yeah, I’m going to pick Aimee Knight.
JOE: Because this is why, alright? Aimee was doing something entirely different and then went to a bootcamp and then got in the industry and she is successful at what she’s doing already. And I think that that is a great example for everybody. If you are doing something that you don’t love and you want to do something else and you find out or you think that maybe programming you might love, then go and do it. Because if Aimee can do it, you can do it.
JOE: And she’s a great example of just following where life leads you. And I think that’s really awesome.
AIMEE: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you. Because I’m sitting here like, “Oh god. I should quit my job and go get a [Computer Science degree] right now.”
AIMEE: No joke, no joke.
DAVE: Seriously? You were actually thinking that after this conversation?
AIMEE: I really am.
DAVE: Oh, Aimee.
AIMEE: I’ll just rehash the whole conversation so I’ll be quiet now.
AIMEE: But I appreciate it. We’ll see what happens. [Chuckles]
DAVE: I just seem like we made such an opposite conclusion as a group. [Chuckles]
AIMEE: I know. But yeah, it just… so, that’s one thing we didn’t get to, is when you don’t have that. For some people, they might still feel inadequate. But whatever. I’ll be quiet now.
JOE: Alright. And my second and final pick is Star Wars Battlefront. They just had the beta this last weekend and I played a fair amount of it. And I’m really excited for when it comes out in a month or something. So, super excited for it. I was playing on a PC but it’s also on the consoles. So, it looks like a really fun multi-player and single player game. Very excited. Star Wars. Got to love it.
CHUCK: Man, I kind of want to dig into this now with Aimee.
AIMEE: You know, it’s a popular topic. I keep saying, “Maybe in two years or something I will quit my job and go back to school.” But we’ll see. I love school, too. I just love learning.
CHUCK: Yeah. I’m just, I’m not convinced that…
DAVE: Hey, episode’s over, dude.
DAVE: You had your chance.
AIMEE: [Inaudible] I know, I know.
CHUCK: I know.
JOE: I feel the way Aimee feels. I’ve always wanted to go back and get a degree. But it really is for my own edification.
JOE: I don’t feel like it will make me make more money.
JOE: Or anything. Just I think it would be fun.
CHUCK: That’s fair.
AIMEE: Yeah, [inaudible].
JOE: And I never got the college experience.
CHUCK: That’s fair.
AIMEE: It’s my curiosity.
JAMISON: Joe, I hate to break it to you, but if you go back right now, you would miss some parts of the college experience.
JAMISON: With a family, a wife, some kids.
DAVE: No, one part he’ll get. They’ll make fun of him pretty good.
JOE: Well, the one part that I want to have is being surrounded by people in an academic environment. No.
JOE: I don’t care about [inaudible].
JAMISON: You don’t care about putting on a backwards baseball hat to cover your bald spot?
JAMISON: And saying, “What’s up, fellow kids?”
CHUCK: Alright. Anyway, onto Joe’s first pick. If you want to emulate Aimee, then pick what she picks. What are your picks, Aimee?
AIMEE: Okay. So yeah, okay good. I’m glad that you said that, because my first pick is really awesome. It’s not programming. But I want to pick something called Amazing Grass. And hear me out before you mind goes in the gutter. It’s not what you think. It is, it’s like this green drink that you can mix up with your juice or something. I haven’t been sick to the doctor in probably a year and a half ever since I started taking that stuff. So, with allergy season and fall and whatever, go check this stuff out. So, that’s my first non-programming related pick.
And my second pick, I was doing a lot of Angular 1. And I enjoyed a short blog post this week on, I think it was someone from PayPal. And he talked about some of the refactorings that they did on their Angular 1 app to prep for Angular 2. So, it’s a short read. And I thought it was pretty good. So, that’s my second pick.
CHUCK: Alright. Dave, did we get your picks?
DAVE: Not yet, but I’d be happy to share them with you now. So, my first pick is an XKCD comic from a long time ago. I actually can’t tell when it was published because I don’t think he shows dates on here. But anyway, the comic is this conversation happening between two people where one says, “I used to think correlation implied causation. And then I took a statistics class and now I don’t.” And the other person says, “Oh, it sounds like the class helped.” And then other guy says, “Maybe.” I thought that was a good one.
DAVE: Let’s see. My other picks today are the city of Lviv, Ukraine which was a beautiful city where I learned that when a person from Ukraine says two things, to believe them. The first one is, “It’s going to be cold today.” If a Ukrainian says that to you, believe it. And the second one is if they say, “This is really old,” also believe it. This is a city where a 100-year old building is young. And it’s beautiful, gorgeous city full of amazing, cool people. Those are my picks for you today.
CHUCK: Alright. I’ve got a couple of picks. The first pick I have, I’ve been doing Periscopes which are, they’re live broadcast videos. You get to see my face talking to my phone. And I’ve just been talking about stuff. It’s kind of a video journal. Things I’m thinking about, stuff like that. And so, if you’re interested in any of that you can go to CharlesMaxWood.com. I’ve got what, like five videos up or something as we’re recording this. So, it’ll be more by the time this goes live, because I’ve been doing it every morning at 9:30am Mountain Time. So, if you get on Periscope and you follow me and then you want to follow up with that, you could do that at 9:30am Mountain Time. I’ll put a link to Every Time Zone that shows you what time that is in your time. But anyway, that’s something I’ve really been enjoying. And for me, it’s just a way to think out loud and other people seem to like hearing me think out loud. So, that’s that.
The other pick I have, I just read a book called ‘The Positioning Manual’ by Philip Morgan. And I highly, highly recommend it. If you’re freelance, then it’s essential reading. If you’re not, then I still recommend it just in the sense that it is about positioning for technical firms. So, it really is essential for freelancers figuring out who they’re going to serve and how they’re going to serve them. But I think it behooves everybody to figure out where you want to work, what kind of problems you want to solve, who you want to solve them for, and what kind of job you want to have. So, I recommend it to just about anybody who’s trying to make a career change or figure out, maybe a different vertical or a different group of people that you want to do work for. So anyway, those are my picks.
And I also want to remind you to go check out JS Remote Conf. It’s JSRemoteConf.com. I am just starting to pull together speakers. The call for proposals is open until December 14th. Mainly just because that’s my birthday and it was a date that came to mind when I was looking for dates.
JAMISON: That’s such a good way to do it. Well done.
CHUCK: That’s right. And the early bird also ends on December 14th. I’m hoping to have the schedule up way before then. But my wife and I are having as baby somewhere between now and then. And so, it may or may not get pushed back just a little bit. So anyway, JSRemoteConf.com. Go sign up if you’re interested at all in how it all works. You can ask me or ask anyone who’s gone to Angular Remote Conf or went to JS Remote Conf last year and find out what they thought. Or last year being this year, I guess. And yeah, it’ll be in January. It’s the 14th through the 16th. Like I said, you can find it at JSRemoteConf.com. And yeah, we’ll wrap up. Thanks for all the amazing discussions, guys. And we’ll catch you all next week.
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