College, A Necessity for Programmers or a Waste?

March 4, 2016

Who knew a question with only two possible answers could be so difficult? College is hotly debated among software developers and techies alike for a good reason! If Steve Jobs and Bill Gates can drop out shouldn't we all try? The truth is for every Steve Job and Bill Gates success story there was probably a million dropouts who didn't hit it big. The bigger truth is if you are never willing to bet on yourself you'll only live a simple life. Software developers are dreamers and nobody can escape the exciting thought of being the next Steve or Bill, myself especially. I want to tell you how I made my decision about college. I won't try to intentionally persuade anybody's decision but simply give my thoughts on how I came to a conclusion for my personal circumstances.

To lay the landscape I wanna say I am in college and have been for almost four years. The goal for higher education was deeply ingrained in me by my parents growing up. I had aspirations of being a doctor and heading to medical school next. It's a no brainer that your doctor has to go to college and that made my first decision very simple. My real issue came when I decided medicine wasn't my passion, software development was. A Biology degree when applying for a software development job is equivalent to no degree thus I had a new decision to make.

What should I do?

My first instinct was to ignore the risk of graduating college without a computer science degree. I've heard countless stories about kids flying to San Francisco and doing exactly what they want while bypassing the college dance. To reinforce my belief I could succeed was that I've already developed and launched my own app for iOS. I've also been a partner in a successful business for two years now. It's only gambling if you don't know what you're doing and I felt pretty positive I did.

Aside from my confidence, I had no desire to sink time into structured education when I could spend that time learning on the job. At the rate that technology evolves I'd more than likely come out of college with obsolete education anyway. Self education offers you the ability to learn what you want when you actually need it which sticks better with me. Also I couldn't imagine spending money when I could be earning it doing what I love.

I've said all of that to tell you this, during my senior year and second semester I changed my major to Computer Science with a minor in Biology. Better late than never, right? Maybe...

What Changed your mind?

How could I trade time spent at my dream job for more college and not only at the cost of my time but money also? It's not simple and I can't say my logic will apply to anyone else's situation. Not that I'm some unique snow flake but because these decisions should always be made based on your personal circumstances.

I first started to doubt my decision after I placed Computer Science 1 on my schedule for my senior fall semester. I couldn't resist at least experiencing a single CS class because I'd never been taught by anyone but myself. I loved the class! It simply filled the basic gaps of knowledge I'd neglected to fill myself. I started to realize that my knowledge of software development was shallow and incomplete. I felt like I greatly benefited from that single class.

From that point I started to entertain the idea of a formal CS education more. If I was going to get a degree I knew that now was better than later. The natural complications of life would make it harder to return to college if I left and then tried to return.

My biggest reality check was when I wanted to apply for a software engineer internship at a large business. In the internship requirements it very boldly declared that every intern needs to be a Computer Science major of some type. The simple truth was not a single human would see my resume because their system would remove me before they got the chance. I could've applied to a start-up or a medium-sized business but then I'd just be banking on blind luck!

That was the final straw. If the ticket to get a simple internship was a degree I couldn't forego it. On its own that may not merit going to college for some people but it was the frosting on the cake for me. One extra year of college would mean thousands of more opportunities would be at my finger tips.

I also need to disclose that my parents are paying for my undergraduate degree. They both value a degree very highly so instead of a new car in high school I got my college education paid for (Thanks mom and dad). For some I know finances are the main factor but if you invest your money in a degree like computer science I'd still argue it'll pay for itself. If I had to summarize these are the  three main reasons why I stayed.

  1. More opportunities with a Computer Science Degree
  2. A well-rounded knowledge of Computer Science
  3. There will never be a better time in my life

Where from here?

So here I am looking at another year of school instead of graduating. It doesn't sound glamorous or as enjoyable as flying to Silicon Valley but I'm confident it'll pay off. I hope if you read this it'll enable you to come to your own clear conclusion. Although there are no certainties about which path is right I know getting my degree is the best one for me.

Thanks for reading :] . This post was very near and dear to me because it's where I'm currently at in life. If it helped you out or will maybe help someone you know I'd really love for you to share it. If you have anymore questions please leave a comment and I'll be happy to answer! Auf Wiedersehen!