Like all great debates there seems to be two irreconcilable sides to the great education question of “Should I go to university?”. On the one side there’s the drive from parents, many of whom grew up in times where tertiary education was a precious resource, who want to give their children the very best chance at getting somewhere in live. On the other side is the self-taught movement, a growing swell of people who’ve eschewed the traditional progression of education and have done quite well. This in turn raises the question of whether further education is a necessity in today’s society or whether it’s all a giant waste of time that could be better spent pursuing the career of your dreams in the field of your choosing.
From a statistical point of view the numbers seem to favour pursuing some form of education beyond that of a secondary level. Employment rates for people with university level education are far higher than those without and it’s quite typical for a university educated graduate to be earning more than the average wage. Facts like these are what have driven the tertiary education levels in Australia from their lows in the post World War 2 era to the dizzying highs that we see today. This trend is what inspired the Howard government to create things like the New Apprenticeship System in order to boost the industries that relied on people eschewing university education in favor of learning a trade. Indeed not going to university, at least in Australia, would appear to be outside the norm just as going to university used to be.
It should come as no surprise then that I am a product of the Australian university system. Being one of the lucky (or not so lucky, depending) people born before the cut off date I was always a year younger than most of my class mates which meant that, since I skipped the traditional gap year that nearly all Australians seem to take, I managed to graduate at the same time as many of my peers despite my degree being 4 years long. Like many of my fellow students I was fully employed long before graduation day and had a career path mapped out that would see me use my degree to its fullest potential. Whilst I have been extremely fortunate in my career I can’t say that my degree was 100% responsible for the success I’ve enjoyed, nor for others who’ve walked similar paths to mine.
Now there are some professions (law, medicine and I’d like to say engineering but everyone’s a bloody engineer these days) where university is a legal requirement and there’s no getting around that. However for many other industries a degree, whilst seen as a useful “foot in the door” for initial job applications, is ancillary to experience and length of time in the industry. Indeed my rise through the ranks of IT support was mostly on the back of my skills in a chosen specialization with the degree just being a useful footnote with many not even realising that I was one of the few people in the IT industry legally allowed to call myself an engineer. The question then, for me at least, shifts from “should I go to university” to “what value can I derive from university and how is that comparable to similar time in industry?”.
It’s not exactly an easy question to answer, especially for an 18-year-old who’s fresh out of college and looking to make a hard decision about their future career. Indeed at the time I made the decision I didn’t think along those lines either, I just felt that it was probably the way to go. About 2 years into my degree though I was soon jealous of the money and progress that my friends were making without going to unversity and began to question why I was there. Upon reflection I don’t believe my time at university was wasted but the most valuable skills I learnt whilst there weren’t part of the syllabus.
This, I believe, is where you need to make a personal judgement call on whether university is right for you. The most valuable things I learnt at university (critical thinking, modularity, encapsulation, etc.) aren’t things that are reserved for the halls of an education institution. If you’re autodidactical by nature then the value proposition of higher education might very well be lost on you. When I started out at university I was definitely not an autodidact as I’d rarely seek to improve myself mentally beyond what I was required. Afterwards however I found myself craving knowledge on many wide and vast subjects, reveling in the challenge of conquering a new topic. This is not to say that university is a clear path to becoming like this, and indeed it seems to have the opposite effect for many, but it sure did wonders for my fledgling mind.
My main point here is that there’s no definitive stance on whether university is right for you or not and anyone who tells you that is at best being misguided. To truly understand if higher education is the right path you must reflect on whether you can attain knowledge in other ways and in similar time frames. It’s a deeply personal thing to think about, one that requires an objective view of your own abilities and desires, and sometimes you won’t be able to make a logical decision. In that case it’ll come down to what you feel is right for you and, like many of my friends found out, you’ll eventually figure out if it was right for you or not.
It’s never too late to start learning again.
The first five minutes you spend meeting someone make an impression that is hard to change once they’ve made up their mind about who you are. Show up to a professional interview these days in anything less than a suit and tie you’ll probably find yourself walking out of there with not a whole lot to show for it, no matter how well you fit the job. If you start with a solid first impression it is much easier to convince people of your way of thinking, whether that be giving you a job or inviting you up to their boudoir.
The same can be said for your online profile. In essence this is the parts of yourself that you have either purposefully put up there, social networking or otherwise, or have been put up there for you. Whilst it is still a new practice many employers now screen employees through a quick Google search, a hunt around Facebook or other social networking sites and then do the traditional call up to your referees. It’s that first look up of you online that could sway an employer one way or the other, and whether you think that’s fair or not is really beside the point.
I’ll be honest and say when I first thought of this blog I thought it would be a great platform to launch myself from professionally. There’s nothing better then handing a new potential employer or client a business card with your website address on it because, guaranteed, they’ll look it up to see what kinds of things you get up to online. Unfortunately for me, employers who overlook the card and go for a straight Google will probably find my Facebook page long before they find this, since it seems to come up at the top of the results all the time (Yes, yes Googling yourself is sad. But you knew I was a geek before you got here, right?).
Just like the real world though it’s not like this isn’t a manageable part of your professional and personal life. Really it’s all about putting on that suit for your online personality. The general sentiment I get from other people is that they feel Facebook is some kind of secret safe haven away from all the dangers of the Internet where they can bare all and not face repercussions because of this. When in reality, you should really treat it as you would in real life, if you wouldn’t want to share something would you really give them access to it?
I guess I’m fairly lucky when it comes to my online personality. The first two links are for Facebook and LinkedIn, which is probably what I want most of my employers to see first. My friends and I have an unspoken agreement where we don’t put up potentially damaging or criminal content (not that I’d have any of that anyway! ;)) and LinkedIn doesn’t really give you any avenues to make a complete fool of yourself. Going through the rest of it there’s a couple things from back in my programming days on google groups, and some references to other Klemkes around the world.
So treat your online self as you would your real self. Buy it a suit, let it go and party but make sure those two things don’t cross unless you want them to 🙂