[Israel.pm] Is University Really Necessary?

guy keren choo at actcom.co.il
Sat Mar 24 07:55:13 PDT 2007

Elizabeth Sterling wrote:
> 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.

lets hear, then.

> 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.

one thing that many people believe, and it is true to some extent, is 
that academic studies help you sharpen your mind - because there is a 
lot to learn in a rather short time frame, you have to learn how to
separate the wheat from the chaff, how to summarize things, and in 
general how to learn efficiently. since working in our industry often 
requires constant learning, this is an important quality.

another thing that a university degree shows, is that you are capcable 
of handling long-term projects (the project of finishing a degree).

you can call it bullshit - but it's a statistical issue - and when you 
have a pile of resumes, you need to filter according to something.

> There is no question in my mind that it is entirely possible to be an
> excellent engineer without a University education.

formally, without an academic degree, you're not an engineer :)

> 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
> education.

those are usually the exception. it is very hard to find them 
(especially in israel), and very hard to "put your hands on them" if and 
once you find them.

> 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.)

why did you send him to university, if you prefer that he learns on his own?

> 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.

you are making generalizations. there are people who need to university 
to enhance their abilities. there are people who don't. there are people 
who think they don't, while they actually do. there are people who won't 
be helped by anything.

nothing is necessary. but if something helps some people - that's good 

i have also seen many people who decided not to go to university (or 
haven't done so yet) - and in most cases, i wasn't too impressed with 
how highly they thought of themselves - ready to conquer the world. in 
many cases they put a lot of pride in things that i found trivial. it 
was not because they were not smart - it's because they did not see what 
the world already knows, and were busy re-inventing things that look 
very basic to university students (not graduates - often they forget a 
lot of what they learned by the time the graduated, because they learn 
for the exams, instead of learning for their knowledge).

again - i am not saying one cannot become a great programmer or a great 
thinker without the formal systems. i'm just pointing out that it does 
not happen very often, i.e. it's a system less reliable then current 

> 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.)

now you're doing in-justice to the people within the system. being in 
the system does not mean you become part of the system, or you become 
what the system tries to turn you into. in fact, "the system" here does 
not try to turn you into something specific. at least in the technion, 
in most courses, no one checks if you show up to class or not. no one 
checks if you prepare all classwork or not (this is different in 
different faculties - in EE they used to make you deliver enough home 
assignments in order to be allowed to take the exam. in CS - they were 
often optional, at least when i studied there). the things that they do 
force on you are a basic set of classes (about 60%-80% of the courses 
are mandatory, the exact amount depending on the faculty), and they 
force you to take (and pass) the exams. you can go to the library and 
learn whatever you want, you can sit in classes you're not registered to 
and listen, and can skip all lessons and like on the grass in the sun. 
this is not a high-school system.

> 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.

this, again, is different for different people. i went to the technion 
directly after school, and for me, personally it was beneficial. there 
were people who had preferred it the other way around (in israel, you 
normally need to go to an army service right after high school). there 
were people who went to the university 5-6-7 years after high school, 
and found it hard to adapt to the system - they forgot a lot since 
school, which made the first year hard. they needed to work full-time to 
support themselves. sometimes they already had a family - which made it 
even harder.

please don't talk in black-and-white about people - they are all 
different. _we_ are all different.


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