Re: [OFF TOPIC] College Degree

  • From: Bill Ferguson <wbfergus@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: cicciuxdba@xxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 8 Dec 2009 07:42:28 -0700

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

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.

-- Bill Ferguson

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