We’ve debated the value of schools in technology careers plenty of times on this site. I have been torn on the value of schools, and I tend to go back and forth as to whether I’d recommend them for many people. Right now I tend to shy away from schools, mostly because I think the ROI is hard for a college. Working in technology can be a great job, one that pays well, but the cost of a degree seems high. Especially when there are plenty of ways that you can learn the same skills.
I’m not saying that university makes you a better or worse developer or IT professional. I think that really depends on the individual. Plenty of smart people go through a university curriculum and go on to build great systems and applications. The same is true for self-taught individuals that learn on the job. Ultimately, you need to take responsibility for your own career, your knowledge, and your education, both in getting started and continuing as long as you work in this field.
However, I do think that your responsibility also extends to researching and learning about the way in which you choose to learn. If that’s a school, be wary of their claims. I ran across this piece about a school that was fined for their marketing. They didn’t quite lie about the results from the curriculum, but they were deceiving. I think everyone should understand that finding a job can be hard in your area, especially when you are getting started. Whether you come out of a school of some sort, or you’ve been building your own projects. Ultimately, you need to convince someone you can do the work they need done in a competent manner at some reasonable price.
Education has become a business, one where the profit and loss seem to be more important than the results experienced by their graduates. Some of the lack of success by schools is because students don’t make enough of an effort to become good at their craft. I see plenty of evidence of that, even in professional places, where workers aren’t learning to become better at their craft over time. That’s something we can all do, and it’s something I ask you to do on a regular basis throughout your career. However, some of the issues are inherent in modern curriculums.
As we look for more secure coding practices, ask for more testing, and still see frameworks and platforms continue to advance, I don’t know if schools can keep up? I’d like to think that there are enough professional teachers that could update and alter curriculums on a regular basis, perhaps even every semester, to adapt to the changing workplace. I’d like to see more practical projects, still taught using basic, well known principles in computer science, but using modern platforms. That might change the nature of the professor in colleges, but perhaps groups of colleges should jointly develop curriculums and keep them current over time. There’s still a place for teachers to learn and bring their skills to teaching, but using information that is evolving too rapidly for one person to manage.
I don’t know if we’ll get there, but regardless, each of you needs to look to improve your skills over time. Don’t expect that what you knew last year will be good enough for next year. Continue to learn, grow, evolve, and question the ways in which you build software and systems.