[Israel.pm] Is University Really Necessary?

Elizabeth Sterling elizabeth at sparkthing.com
Fri Mar 23 01:09:35 PDT 2007

Clearly, I didn't go to the Technion, so I can't comment on that
particular university, but I do have a lot to say about higher
education in general.

First, let me say that I think that the whole "We won't hire you
without a degree" thing is utter bunk. I've gotten jobs many times
simply because I have a degree, and the employers haven't even
bothered to notice that none of my degrees are in CS or EE or in
anything even remotely related. I'm always amused by people's reaction
when they find out I went to UC Berkeley. It's often along the lines
of "They made BSD there!" as if that matters to a student in the
Social Sciences.

There is no question in my mind that it is entirely possible to be an
excellent engineer without a University education. I am a strong
believer in autodidacticism and there are some awesome hackers in the
international community who have learned everything they know about
computers without the structure of a university. My business partner
is an amazing individual, and he's always surprising me with his depth
of knowledge and engineering skill, but he's "only" got a high school

Mind you, I'm also a proponent of radical unschooling for kids, and my
eldest son (who happens to be at university right now) was unschooled
for 5 years. I think that he learned far more by building his own
linux distro, making independent movies, publishing comic books,
working at the Seattle Aquarium, and playing with role playing games
than he ever would have learned by wasting his time in a classroom
through high school. (Apparently, his university agrees... they
actively recruit homeschooled and unschooled students like my son.)

So, if the university isn't *necessary*, why go? Well, it's not
necessary, but it can be quite good. University is not the only place
where you can stretch your mind and learn new things, but it is one
option. Options are good, and there's no reason to throw the baby out
with the bath water. The structure of classes can help you to move
through material at a steady pace without distraction, and the support
of the teaching staff, tutors and fellow students can help get you
through the more difficult points in your learning.

There is also the fact that employers like to see a degree. Let's come
back to that for a second. Why do employers like to see that degree?
Honestly? It's because they need something external that they can use
to narrow down the field of potential employees. It's a lazy and
inefficient strategy, but it's the done thing, and so they keep doing
it. Then, of course, they complain about the quality of the people
they actually interview. It's insane. But, when you buy into the
system, you get what the system spits out at you. That's life. (On the
other hand, if you chose not to buy into the system, there's always
the uphill battle against the people who can't see outside of their
little boxes. That's also life.)

As for the question of whether you should go to university right out
of high school, I give a resounding NO (in the vast majority of
cases). As always, I leave the door open to those rare exceptions,
because we humans are such a varied lot and there's always someone for
whom going to university right out of high school really is the
perfect thing. Usually, however, I think that the time out of school
allows for a certain level of maturity, development, and recovery from
the burnout of the school system and these things all go together to
improve the actual results of the university education when it's
finally received.

- Elizabeth Sterling

"In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary
school computer labs ..., is the children are being trained to use
Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I consider that criminal, because children
should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not
running office automation tools."   -- Nicholas Negroponte

More information about the Perl mailing list